Is Being "Good" Enough for Salvation?
In Acts 10, we are introduced to a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman centurion. The passage says of him that he was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed always to God.” In verse 22, we see that he also had “a good reputation among all the Jews.” Just about everyone would describe Cornelius as a good man.
Similarly, in Acts 8, we are introduced to a eunuch from Ethiopia, a trusted servant of the queen of Ethiopia. This man had traveled a great distance to worship in Jerusalem. And as he was returning, he was reading from the book of Isaiah, trying to figure out what Isaiah was saying in chapter 53. Here is another example of a man trying to serve God. I think most people would describe this eunuch as a good man.
These two men were from different nations, different cultures, and entirely different ways of life. Yet they had two things in common. They were both seeking to please God – they were “good men.” But they also had this in common: they were lost. Too often we judge by our own standards. We see a man of admirable qualities and we think, “that’s a good man.”
We compare his faith, commitment, honesty, and purity to our own character and sometimes, sadly, we are on the losing side of that comparison. Surely this “good man” is right in the sight of God? No. No one is “good enough” to stand before God by virtue of his own righteousness. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even good men have sinned. Even good men need to hear and obey the gospel.
Both of these men needed to hear the gospel. So, through the providence of God, men came and preached the gospel to them, they believed, and they obeyed the gospel by being baptized, immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 8:35-38; Acts 10:46-48; Acts 2:38). This is the real test of a good man: does he believe and obey the gospel when he hears it?
I find it interesting that in both of these stories, God intervenes supernaturally. An angel tells Philip to meet the eunuch’s chariot on the road to Gaza. An angel appears to Cornelius instructing him to call for Peter. Peter also has a vision instructing him to go to Cornelius. Yet, God relies on people to do the actual preaching and teaching. Paul describes this method of spreading the gospel in 2 Corinthians 4:7 as having “this treasure in earthen vessels.” The gospel is a priceless treasure, but God has seen fit to use the earthen vessels of human beings to hold and to share that treasure.
There are many, many people in our society who are looking for God. They are often earnest and faithful in what they believe. Sometimes their commitment can put us to shame. But we need to remember Cornelius and the eunuch. A desire to know God and a commitment to personal moral purity is not enough to save anyone. Only Jesus Christ can save. These earnest people need to hear the truth of the gospel. Are you going to be the earthen vessel that shares that treasure with them?