“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sin through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43, NIV)
If I understand my historical-critical method and my ground-up Bible study tools, the key issue in Acts 10 has to do with insiders and outsiders, Jews and Gentiles.
In our context, though, the big question does not seem to be whether belief in Jesus is enough to make Gentiles righteous before God, but whether we need to believe anything at all. In verse 35 Peter says that all who fear God and do right are accepted by God. But even inside the church in our day people sound like they are arguing that you do not have to believe in Jesus Christ or fear God in any way. Just be our own lovable selves, and God would be unjust to do anything but give us a big high five at the pearly gates.
A Facebook friend of mine recently posted a question to his non-church-going friends. He wanted to know why they did not go to church. One response turned the question back on my friend. Why, the person asked, should I bother with church at all. My life is good just as it is. Why do I need church?
It strikes me more and more that most of the people in our context are like the ones Moses warned about in Deuteronomy 8. They think they neither need God nor have received anything from God. Most of us are like the ones mentioned in the Psalms who say “What do I care about God? He will not notice me.” Most of us are the people the prophets aimed their arrows at.
Cornelius and his household were not. They were “devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (10:2). He was ready to hear the news of Jesus Christ as good news because he was already conscious of his need for God.
In the church these days, it feels as if we spend a lot of time trying to talk people living in a Deuteronomy 8 mindset into changing their ways. We worry about being credible to people who say in their hearts, “I don’t really need God but if he can do something for me, well maybe.” Peter was guided to the Spirit to the place where men and women were eager for the good news and longing to know God better. What would it look like if the church today followed his example?