He Who Fears God and Labors at Righteousness

Do you ever wake up in the night with scary revelations from God?

I do. Not real often, but it has happened several times over the last three decades. At the start, I hated it. I would wake up with this idea in my head, and I would be somewhat excited about it. Then I would compare the idea with Scripture, and pretty much every time I was astounded at how verses I had wondered about just clicked into place.

I remember one night, God—I’m pretty sure it was God—asked me, “Is there anywhere in the Bible that ‘the Word of God’ is used as a reference to the Scriptures in general.”

My memory was better then, so I started racing through the New Testament in my head. I couldn’t think of anywhere. So I got on my computer and searched every occurrence of “word” in the New Testament, nearly 300 of them, and there were no such occurrences.

You can read my conclusions, because I found some AWESOME stuff reading the New Testament all night that nighs, at >http://www.christian-history.org/the-word-of-god.html.

If you think you have a biblical reference where “the Word of God” means “Bible,” the way we use it today. Let me know.

I was so excited that night I was throwing my hands in the air because I was learning that the Word of God is in us and can be powerfully used by us. The Word of God, in any form, transmitted from one person to another gives them access to all that God has to say. It was the most awesome revelation of my life.

Then as the excitement wore off, I realized … “Oh, oh.”

I might think it was amazing; I might be delighted as things that had puzzled me were solved with pristine clarity from Scripture; but what were other people going to think?

Even though Protestants are a remarkably novel brand of Christianity, they don’t approve of novelty any more than the early churches did. I have long experience with people freaking out about my revelations no matter how clearly scriptural they might be. As Mark Twain once said (paraphrased from memory):

Laws are written on sand; customs are written on brass. Break a law, and you may well get away with it. Violate a custom, and your punishment will be swift and sure.

So here’s tonight’s middle-of-the-night revelation, another one that seems, well, pristine. I like that word because for me it indicates cleanliness. There is no mess to clean up in Scripture, no verses to explain away, just click, click, click, as verses slip into place like puzzle pieces.

There’s a big mess of tradition left to mop up. It will be a disgusting job, I’m sure.

He Who Fears God and Labors at Righteousness

Have you ever wrestled with this statement from Peter?:

In every nation, the one that fears [God] and labors at righteousness is accepted by him. (Acts 10:35)

Do you believe that?

I didn’t. I immediately rectified that once I noticed this verse on about my 20th read through the Book of Acts, but before that I did not know that God accepts those of any nation who fear God and labor at righteousness.

I used to believe that without believing in the name of Jesus, there was no way to be accepted by God. I used to believe that works had nothing whatever to do with our relationship with God unless we were in the Anointed One, in Jesus. Outside of him, we are all condemned, hopelessly lost no matter what we do.

But Peter says that’s not true.

Cornelius Accepted while a Lost Gentile

Peter was talking to Cornelius, a Gentile, when he said those words. Cornelius was not a follower of Jesus. In fact, no Gentiles at all were followers of Jesus. In a few minutes, Cornelius was going to become the first one.

Why Cornelius?

Was it a random choice by God? Was it chance? Was it the sovereign election of God?

Sure, it was the sovereign election of God, but it was not a random, unconditional election. It was entirely conditional. God himself said so. (Election is always conditional. Being elected is entirely in your control. Go do 2 Pet. 1:5-10. Verses 3-4 talk about getting the power to do verses 5-10, but verse 10 says being elected is up to you.)

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius … devout, and someone who feared God with all his household, who gave many alms to the people [i.e., the Jews], and always prayed to God. He saw in a vision … an angel of God coming to him, and saying … “Your prayers and your alms have come up as a memorial before God.” (Acts 10:2-4)

While Cornelius was separated from the commonwealth of Israel, while he was still a sinner, God paid attention to his generosity and his prayers (said an angel of God) and accepted him for his fear of God and labor of righteousness (said Peter).

Do you believe that?

Do you, or I, have a choice but to believe it?

The Whole World Makes Sense Again

It’s not just the whole context of Scripture, but the whole tenor of life on earth, which says that God rewards good and punishes evil. Consider this passage from the Old Testament Scriptures which is quoted in the New Testament Scriptures …

The one that would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. Let him eschew evil and do good. Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears attentive to their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. (1 Pet. 3:10-12, quoting from Ps. 34:12-15)

Is this only true for Christians?

God … will repay everyone according to their deeds. To those who, by patiently continuing to do good, seek after glory, honor, and immortality, [he will repay] eternal life. But to those who are contentious, and who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [he will repay] indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that does evil, of the Jews first, and also of the Gentiles. … For when the Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do by nature the things that are contained in the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves. They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifies, and their thoughts all the while either accuse or excuse one another. (Rom. 2:6-9,14-15)

I have heard for years that the apostle Paul was speaking hypothetically in those verses. IF it were possible for any human to “patiently continue to do good” or obey their conscience, then God would repay them eternal life and their thoughts would excuse them.

That’s one hypothesis, but hypotheses are made to be tested. The hypothesis is “no one except Jesus can live righteously enough to please God.” The conclusion of that hypothesis is that Paul was speaking about something that cannot happen in Romans 2.

I present Cornelius as refutation of that hypothesis.

I also present Job, Noah, and Daniel.

  • “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1).
  • “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations … And the Lord said to Noah, ‘Come, you and all your house, into the ark, for you [singular] have I seen righteous before me in this generation” (Gen. 6:9; 7:1)
  • “‘Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, they would only deliver their own souls by their righteousness,’ says the Lord God” (Ezek. 14:14).

Unless You Are Born Again

Jesus says that we will not enter the kingdom of God unless we are born again. He says it twice! That should put some emphasis on it!

But what are we to do with Enoch, who was caught up to be with God? What are we to do with Moses and Elijah, who talked to Jesus when he was glorified before his disciples, an event Jesus described as “the kingdom of God coming with power” (Matt. 16:28-17:9; Mark 9:1-10; Luke 9:27-36)?

Jesus tells us that many shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11). We might argue that these many from the east and west are born again Christians, but what about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? They were born again?

Our typical Protestant answer is that their justification came from looking forward to the Messiah. Though they were before his time, his blood applies backward to them as followers of God.

Okay, let’s grant that as true. Then why can’t Jesus’ blood just as easily apply forward in time to those who have not heard the Gospel, but who have “feared God and labored at righteousness”?

Why only Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, and Job? Why not Cornelius?

Why not Frank, your next door neighbor, who lives more righteously than most Christians? (Note: Frank is purely hypothetical, which is apparently our word of the day.)

Why not Kakukau, whose name none of us can pronounce because he speaks in clicks like the rest of his African tribe, who has never had opportunity to hear that God has a Son he sent to earth to be King of the universe? (Kakukau is hypothetical, too, but the clicking language is not.)

Of course, all of this misses the point. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Enoch, Elijah, and Noah were not born again. Even if you want to apply the blood of Jesus back in time to account for their righteousness, they were not born again any more than Cornelius was before Peter arrived. Yes, Cornelius was born again afterward, but it is God who said Cornelius would be rewarded for his works before he ever met Peter, and Peter said Cornelius was accepted for his fear of God and labor in righteousness before he preached to him.

God Is Not Partial

As I looked at these verses, I was amazed at the constant use of “God is not a respecter of persons.”

As a side note, whenever I write about the warnings of Jesus and the apostles against the idea that you can live in sin and enter the kingdom, I am amazed at how often they say, “Don’t be deceived about this!” Nonetheless, The deception in that area, among Protestants, is rampant.
   Nor do I want to leave the Catholic and Orthodox alone on this matter. Their doctrine on faith and works may be much better, but their warnings toward their own members are as pitiful as the Protestant’s.
   I base that not only on my own upbringing as a Roman Catholic, but on the testimony of Catholic and Orthodox friends when I ask them about these things.
   We Christian leaders, of any brand, are woefully irresponsible about presenting the claims King Jesus makes upon his disciples. In general, we fail miserably at “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).
  • Peter told Cornelius that God’s acceptance of Cornelius made him realize God is not a respecter of persons (i.e., is not partial; Acts 10:34).
  • I quoted Romans 2 earlier. Right in the middle of that passage is “There is no respect of persons with God” (v. 11).

Perhaps the most poignant comment to Christians about God’s impartial judgment is in Ephesians 5:

For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor greedy man … has any inheritance in the kingdom of the Anointed and of God. Don’t let anyone deceive you with empty words for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Do not be partakers with them. (Eph. 5:5-7)

The import of this verse is unmistakeable. Don’t be deceived. If you live like the sons of disobedience, God will judge you like the sons of disobedience, and you will inherit wrath rather than the kingdom of God and his beloved Son.

In case that’s not clear enough, Peter tells us:

If you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to everyone’s work, then pass the time of your sojourning in fear. (1 Pet. 1:17)

If God tells us to beware because he is not a respecter of persons, and he means that we will not have an easier judgment than those outside the faith, then does it not follow that he is not a respecter of persons to the lost as well? In other words, if Frank, your unsaved neighbor, does good more than you do, he will receive a better judgment than you will.

God does not distinguish between those who find the story of Jesus believable and those who do not. He distinguishes between those who do his will and those who do not.

We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him. (Acts 5:32)

And being made perfect, [Jesus] became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey him. (Heb. 5:9)

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. (Matt. 7:21)

Being born Again

The purpose of being born again is to empower us to do righteousness (Rom. 6:14; 14:9; 2 Cor. 5:14; Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 2:11-14). He did not die to give unrighteous sinners the right to hide behind Jesus’ righteousness and escape judgment. That is a myth.

Little children, do not be deceived, the one who continues practicing righteousness is righteous as he is righteous. The one who continue practicing sin is of the devil. (1 Jn. 3:7-8)

The new birth is an incredible thing. When a person is born again “old things have passed away; all things have become new; now all things are of God” (2 Cor. 5:17). It is a transformation. Through his great and precious promises, we escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. Through his Spirit we become partakers of his divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

As those who practice righteousness, we are given the blessing of God’s righteousness (1 Jn. 3:7). As those who trust God like Abraham and David, we are given the blessing of Abraham and David (Rom. 4:1-8). We walk in the light, and God does not impute sin to us, but instead we are cleansed continually by the blood of Jesus (1 Jn. 1:7).

We enter the family of God, which exhorts one another daily (Heb. 3:13), gives thought to encouraging one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24), and takes special care of one another (Jn. 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 12; Php. 1:27-2:4; etc.).

All of this makes “patiently continuing to do good” a normal thing for the born again. As Paul puts it, if we will sow to the Spirit and not grow weary in doing good, we will reap a reward of eternal life (Gal. 6:9-10).

What a gift we have received from God!

Not Being Born Again

The Scriptures say repeatedly that God will punish those who do not obey the Gospel.

We bring danger when we bring the Gospel. Because the Gospel comes with the witness of God to the spirit of man, when someone rejects the Gospel, God feels that he has been called a liar (1 Jn. 5:10-11). Those who hear the Gospel are accountable for what they have heard.

The problem, however, is that without the Gospel and all its benefits, men are fighting a losing battle against the flesh, the devil, and the world. We all once walked according to the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience, and we were dead in our sins because of it (Ephesians 2:1-3). The Gospel provides the power to triumph in that battle.

I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes … for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Rom. 1:16-17)

This is all true!

What is also true, both in Scripture and in what we see around us, is that some, who have not heard or accepted the Gospel, pursue righteousness with a good heart, patiently continuing to do good works, even though they have not received the incredible power of the Holy Spirit.

If it is possible for Abraham, why would it not be possible for some person in the jungles of the Philippines? Why would it not be possible for Frank, your hypothetical neighbor?

Cornelius pleased God, and so God sent Peter to him with the Gospel. He was transformed, and he would walk the rest of his life with the power of the Holy Spirit. So would his family.

But God was pleased with Cornelius and his good deeds before he became a Christian.

How many times have you experienced a person slowly coming to Jesus because of the godly life of a Christian or Christians? Such people begin to modify their life based on the example of the Christians. They see the reality and the goodness of God in their behavior. At some point that person decides they will make the same commitment to God that they are seeing in the Christian or Christians around them.

God does not miss those who choose to do good in the world. He rewards those. The best reward of all is that he sends a preacher (a poorly used term these days) to them like he sent Peter to Cornelius. Then what they are struggling to do out of a desire to please the law they find in their conscience becomes behavior powerfully changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Nonetheless, he notices.

Yes, God saves people out of the most terrible sins. When the apostle Paul was still Saul, he was breathing threats against the church of God when God found him.

Did God randomly choose Paul as his vessel?

No, Paul had some qualifications. He was a good Jew in regard to what he knew, but he was an enemy of God because he didn’t believe in the Messiah. That ignorance would not have excused him eternally, but it did bring the mercy of God. Paul says God chose him because he behaved “ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). Paul was a foolish but devoted follower of God.

God takes notice of the righteous, even the misguided righteous. This notice does not equal salvation, but seeking to be righteous will put you at the front of the line in receiving God’s proclamation of the risen King and for being taught his new law. As Jesus said, “Keep seeking, and you will find” (Matt. 7:7).

Let us not mistake the Gospel of the kingdom for the bizarre idea that God has given up on the idea of doing good or that he has stopped rewarding those who do good. Jesus did not die to make God merciful. He was already merciful. Jesus did not die to make the judgment easier. The judgment of God was already just. Jesus died for us. He did things we could not do for ourselves, reconciled us to God, and then transformed us so that we could remain in that reconciliation.

Preaching the Gospel

I would be remiss if I did not mention that much of what we call Gospel preaching is not the Gospel at all. Saying the right words is simply not enough. Paul rejected the preaching of those who only had words:

I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power, because the kingdom of God does not come in word, but in power. (1 Cor. 4:19-20)

It is not our words that matter, it is the demonstration that we provide.

My message and my preaching were not in enticing words of men’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. (1 Cor. 4:2)

In far too many cases, both our preaching and demonstration is of carnality and weakness, not Spirit and power. Can we blame US citizens for rejecting the message that they can remain in slavery to their flesh? How real does a free ticket to heaven sound where there is no demonstration of a changed life?

Jesus said the world would be convinced when they saw our love for one another (Jn. 13:34-35) and our unity (Jn. 17:20-23). Paul testified of the incredible power of such a demonstration, which rendered preaching in entire provinces unnecessary because everyone already knew the power of God through the love of the Christians! (1 Thes. 1:5-10).

When we slap a bumper sticker on our car that says, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven,” we might as well display one that says, “Jesus is powerless; we have nothing but words for you.”

We are not “just” forgiven. We are forgiven, but we are also justified and sanctified by the Spirit of our God. We are taught the commandments of Jesus (Matt. 28:20), and we fulfill them (1 Jn. 2:3-4) because sin does not have power over us. That is the difference between law and grace: grace overcomes the power of sin and of the flesh (Rom. 6:14: 8:1-4).

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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15 Responses to He Who Fears God and Labors at Righteousness

  1. Ben says:

    Interesting stuff, Paul.
    I must admit I find it somewhat lamentable that there appears to be a need for personal revelations and debate in order to understand (or establish?) doctrine regarding salvation even to this day.

    If only we didn’t all need to personally figure out Christianity for ourselves by understanding the 2000 year-old Scriptures from scratch!

    I think Wildswanderer brought up a good point that can apply to all of us: “It seems you are being rather selective in your choice of verses. We can all pick out verses to back our view and ignore ones that don’t.”

    So, I’m trying to follow your main points, checking them with my answer key, er, Catechism 😉 and I think you are possibly on to something here. These paragraphs in the CCC might help explain what you are getting at, if your revelation was from God and if I’m understanding you correctly:
    CCC 846-848
    CCC 2008-2016

    God bless!

    • paulfpavao says:

      Lol. Thanks, Ben. I am well aware and understand where you are the “answer key.” I don’t trust it, but I welcome any challenges for me you have from it.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Oh, I should add, and you may know, that I agree that it is “lamentable that there appears to be a need for personal revelations and debate in order to understand (or establish?) doctrine regarding salvation even to this day.” I very much agree, and “lament” is an accurate word for how it makes me feel.

    • paulfpavao says:

      From Ben’s first set of paragraphs (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 846-848):

      “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

  2. It seems you are being rather selective in your choice of verses. We can all pick out verses to back our view and ignore ones that don’t. My neighbor can’t be justified to God without faith, no matter how much good he does or how Christ like he seems.
    If he could, he would have reasons for boasting.

    It’s very true that some unredeemed persons can do much good, and be more Christlike then some Christians. This has always raised questions in my mind about total depravity, but regardless, the blood of Christ is the only thing that can bring them to right relationship with God.

    • paulfpavao says:

      You’ll have to trot out the verses you think I didn’t select. Your answer is a list of Pietist (a very influential Lutheran movement of the 17th-18th centuries) traditions that were unknown to historic Christianity. If you give me actual verses, I’ll address them.

      Two points, if you’d like to address them:

      1. It sounds to me like you are ready to defend that God is a respecter of persons, sending a more righteous non-Christian to hell, while a less righteous Christian goes to heaven. I would say that Matthew 7:21-23 and 25:31-46 are direct arguments, by our King Jesus himself, against your position.

      2. I would argue that you are making a false assumption about faith in God. You are assuming, when I talk about someone who has not heard the Gospel or who has not ever seen a believable Gospel demonstrated, that such a person has no faith. I disagree. I think Gandhi had more faith in the real Jesus, the one we Christians and Gandhi call “The Truth,” than most Christians, and that he said truer things about the One known as the Truth than most Christians. Thus, my argument would be that Gandhi had a faith in both the Truth himself–the Logos, the Son of God–and an inkling that Jesus was the Truth come to earth.

  3. Evan says:

    In Paul’s post and all of the comments so far we are debating who is acceptable unto God and based on what “qualifications.” I’ll submit this for consideration as this one defies the imagination (at least it does mine).

    In the book of Revelation we find the phrase “kings of the earth” mentioned a total of 7 times in Rev 6:15; 17:2,18; 18:3; 18:9; 19:19; 21:24. In all of these verses without exception, the context depicts the “kings of the earth” as God’s sworn enemies except that in the last reference to these kings in verse 21:24, it says: “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.”

    If these are the very same kings of the earth referenced elsewhere in Revelation, how are they allowed to enter the gates of the New Jerusalem? Moreover v27 states: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Thus we have a dilemma. To argue that these are not the same kings I believe goes against applying a consistent hermeneutic as we allow for consistency in the first 6 references but allow for an exception only in the 7th. But on the other hand, to argue that these are the same kings appears to go against everything that we have been taught because only the saved dwell in the New Jerusalem. We know that Scripture does not contradict itself so the fault must somehow be in our understanding of it.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Hmm. The symbolic part of the book of Revelation is what you’re appealing to? I would want some direct answers to what I asserted before I could give credit to an argument pulled from the Revelation. Nonetheless, I will address it.

      1. The verses you give support my thesis. The kings of the earth will bring their glory into New Jerusalem. This is not a condemnation in the end.

      2. Rev. 6:15 says that the kings of the earth, as well as everyone else, were terrified when they saw the judgments of God. John was terrified in chapter one when he saw Jesus glorified. That reaction does not make John nor the kings of the earth evil or enemies of God.

      3. Rev. 17:2, to me, says that the whole earth was drawn to false religion (“the great whore”). 17:8 tells us that the whore reigned over them. Same with ch. 18. The issue is that the whore of Babylon was deceiving the whole world and the kings of the world.

      4. Rev. 19:19 says that the world deceived by the great whore gathered together to fight against the King, who was prophesied in Psalm 2, though there was no real battle. The King simply overthrows the devil at that time, freeing the nations from his bondage.

      5. In the end, Rev. 21:24 says these kings bring their splendor into the kingdom of God.

      6. It is very risky to interpret even verses that say “all” or “everyone” as meaning “all” or “everyone.” That is true in the Bible. That is true in English, and that is true in Greek and Hebrew. Some kings of the nations deserve judgment, and I am sure they will never bring their glory into New Jerusalem. Some, maybe only a few, deserve life, and they will bring their glory into New Jerusalem.

      7. I think we assume we know more about the everlasting Kingdom of God than we do. Christians are promised to reign. Over whom? If Christians are the only ones who receive a judgment of life, and they all are rulers, over whom do they rule?

  4. Evan says:

    Perhaps the meaning of Acts 10:35 also fits well with the scenario laid out in Matt 25 where Jesus describes the judgment of the sheep and goat nations. The sheep are those peoples who have acted righteously and did good deeds to the brethren and thus find God’s acceptance and entry into the millennial kingdom. Perhaps they are representative of the Franks of this world.
    This post reminds me of an elderly Japanese woman whom I had the privilege to meet when I was employed by a hospice agency. She was in her nineties, terminally ill and essentially bed bound. On my visits she would consistently voice her desire to go outside instead of remaining in her home. When I inquired as to why she felt that way, she explained to me that she was used to being outside. Her husband died at an early age and by necessity she had to toil in the sugar cane fields of Hawaii cutting cane by machete for the sugar plantation. She did this for most of her adult life in order to support herself and her young children. She did this six days a week and I naively assumed that she had Sundays off. However she replied in the negative saying that Sundays were reserved for doing house cleaning, laundry, gardening etc. In other words this lady had no days off and paid vacation was unheard of on the plantation. Suffice to say I was and still am humbled by this woman’s hard work and dedication to raising her family – no welfare or food stamps in her day. I don’t think I could do what she did. And I think she was a Buddhist or at least came from Buddhist upbringing. Was she saved? I don’t know. All I know is that she sacrificed her life for her family and in doing so displayed Christ-like characteristics and values – more than my life so far. Brings to my mind verses like 1 Tim 2:15; Jn 15:13.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Exactly! I think God gave me a new perspective, a new idea yesterday. I don’t think he gave me a supernatural ability to explain it. Thanks for the help. See my response to Stuarts_One for a similar way of expressing this idea.

  5. sean says:

    Wow, Paul overall what your saying has some legs, but brother it certainly is a stretch. I think what Jon has replied in his answer is valid, because in the end Cornelius and his house had to take water baptism into Jesus’ name and wash away there sins call on the name of the Lord.

    I admit we can argue that Cornelius was certainly accepted by God before water baptism took place because they received the Holy Spirit, but as Jon pointed out they did have to hear the good news and believe. Upon their faith in believing in their hearts Peter’s message, then the Holy Spirit filled them – which does prove your point of preaching the true gospel and power.

    But my overall answer to you hypothesis is this, Acts 17:31-32 “30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

    Repent = Matanoeo – a change of mind and purpose.
    Change of mind = now Jesus is God’s only way to Him
    Change of Purpose = Enter the Kingdom of God and do the works of the King

    • paulfpavao says:

      Thank you for your very polite reply :-). I wish I was better at talking like that.

      My response to you is that I think I made allotment for what you are saying. I don’t think I said anything that disagrees with your comment of yours, just stretches it some, as you put it. Because of Cornelius’ pursuit of God, God sent Peter to him. He did not leave Cornelius without knowledge of the Gospel, and the Scriptures specifically say this was because of Cornelius’ pre-Christian righteousness.

      How does this differ from Abraham? How does this differ from Noah or Job?

  6. Jon says:

    Once again, Paul, I am in heartily agreement with about a third of what you write, not totally convinced by another third and very frustrated and vexed by the remaining third.

    The way you present the Gospel, to my ears, always comes down to this (hence the vexation):

    “We are forgiven, but we are also justified and sanctified by the Spirit of our God. We are taught the commandments of Jesus (Matt. 28:20), and we fulfill them (1 Jn. 2:3-4) because sin does not have power over us.”

    -“Well it seems to still have power over me”

    “Then you are damned, and your profession is worthless”.

    -“Great, thanks, that’s really Good News.”

    Now, I don’t doubt God’s sanctifying power, but I just come back to how this looks everyday in normal life. I (we) still sin, I (we) still find things difficult, I (we) still neglect to to good things despite good intentions, I (maybe not we) still find it hard to worship God because I can’t quite get it out of my head that he might be a overbearing, unforgiving, kill-joy tyrant.

    Concerning Acts, despite the fact that you downplay the forgiveness of sins, it seems to be the first and central thing that is proclaimed, before transforming power:

    Acts 2:38
    And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    Acts 5:31
    God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

    Acts 10:43
    To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

    Acts 13:38
    Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.

    Acts 26:18
    So that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

    I have recently been listening a lot to a bloke called Tullian Tchividjian who’s preaching I know you would sharply disagree with. Nevertheless, I think he’s onto something with is emphasis on transformation coming AS A RESULT of forgiveness from and acceptance by God, rather than being the CAUSE of those things.

    As for Cornelius, I’m kind of with Luther on this one:

    “Our opponents come back at us with Cornelius. Cornelius, they point out, was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people and prayed God always.” Because of these qualifications, he merited the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. So reason our opponents.

    I answer: Cornelius was a Gentile. You cannot deny it. As a Gentile he was uncircumcised. As a Gentile he did not observe the Law. He never gave the Law any thought. For all that, he was justified and received the Holy Ghost. How can the Law avail anything unto righteousness?

    Our opponents are not satisfied. They reply: “Granted that Cornelius was a Gentile and did not receive the Holy Ghost by the Law, yet the text plainly states that he was a devout man who feared God, gave alms, and prayed. Don’t you think he deserved the gift of the Holy Ghost?”

    I answer: Cornelius had the faith of the fathers who were saved by faith in the Christ to come. If Cornelius had died before Christ, he would have been saved because he believed in the Christ to come. But because the Messiah had already come, Cornelius had to be apprized of the fact. Since Christ has come we cannot be saved by faith in the Christ to come, but we must believe that he has come. The object of Peter’s visit was to acquaint Cornelius with the fact that Christ was no longer to be looked for, because He is here.”

    (From his Commentary on Galatians)

    • paulfpavao says:

      I don’t have much confidence that our interchanges will get easier, especially because of one thing you think I believe because it would be basically true. Hopefully, we’ll both get something out of the interchange between us that’s worth the vexation … though you don’t bother me as much as I bother you (I think).

      What does me no good is quiet disagreement. Well, rude and foolish disagreement, based only on tradition, does me no good, either, but you’ve never done that. Whether I like what you say or not, I find it helpful. Even if you don’t change anything I believe, you affect how I say it all the time–though you may not be able to tell.

      I don’t think the Luther exchange you gave applies to what I said. I don’t say that Cornelius “deserved” the Holy Spirit or that he had the Holy Spirit. I am saying that God accepted him for his good works. That’s not an interpretation, that’s just a quote.

      What does “accept” mean? Whatever it means, I suggest that it does not and cannot mean “condemned to hell.”

      You asserted that I believe “We are forgiven, but we are also justified and sanctified by the Spirit of our God. We are taught the commandments of Jesus (Matt. 28:20), and we fulfill them (1 Jn. 2:3-4) because sin does not have power over us.” True enough.

      I spent a number of years questioning my own salvation because of my temper and my lust. From what I could read in Scripture, I couldn’t see how I would be able to enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21,25; Eph. 5:5). Mind you, I was not physically committing adultery, but “looking on a woman to lust after her” seemed impossible for me to overcome.

      Someone once said, “I will preach the Gospel truth even if that truth condemns me.”

      I lived that way for years. My experience of God was very real. I had amazing experiences, amazing guidance, and I was growing in the knowledge of God and his ways, but I was easily thrown into lust and anger.

      Over time, I grew desperate. The desperation was made worse by Jesus’ prayer in John 17. The world, Jesus suggested, would believe he was set by God because of the unity of his disciples. I looked around and I saw no unity, no love between the brethren, no holiness, and I used to ask Jesus in prayer why I should believe in him. The fact was, I couldn’t help it. I did believe, and I was compelled to be deadly honest with what I saw in the Scriptures … even if it condemned me.

      When I got hold of the early Christian writings, it didn’t help. They were stricter than me, not less strict. They emphasized obedience more than me, though they emphasized the mercy of God as well. It did help in that they seemed to have no problem testifying that as a group, they were sexually pure in their minds as well as in their bodies.

      I had long periods of success with lust, keeping my eyes where they belonge and my thoughts where they belonged, followed by a flurry of giving in to lust in my thoughts. I only had so much success with my “outbursts of wrath.”

      Only finally finding the church delivered me. I confessed my struggles and failures to the men, and I talked to my kids, my wife, and my friends every time I got angry. (I wasn’t violent, just vocally inexcusable.)

      The Scriptures say that the church is part of the answer. “Exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest anyone be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).

      The problem we have here is that what I say is not just Scripturally verifiable, but it is the Gospel as taught consistently and without exception by the early churches before the great fall during Constantine’s reign.

      If you think I don’t emphasize the forgiveness of sins enough, along with the Gospel that you say (accurately) that I teach, then who knows, maybe you’re right. My emphasis on mercy is a lot stronger in person, when people come to me for counsel. It is true that you cannot repent and be set free while you think God hates you, is against you, or is constantly mad at you. Well, I won’t say “cannot.” It’s a real hindrance, though.

      There is a teaching I give occasionally called “God Is Not Disappointed with You” just to get people to understand that God is trying to get you from where you are to where he wants you, but he is not deceived into thinking you are somewhere else along the path than where you are. He’s not shocked by your sin, confused by it, or sickened by it. It’s exactly what he expects from you, and he wants to work with you right where you are. It is while we were yet sinners that God gave his Son to die for us. He was not thinking, “Gosh, I sure hope they see this and stop their ridiculous, icky behavior.” He was saying, “Here is a reconciliation offer. You give up the life you’re living, enter my kingdom, and I’ll teach you a much better one. Even better, I’ll give you the Holy Spirit so that you are not a servant, but a Son, having my nature.”

      Our response is, “How can I when I am unworthy to enter your house?”

      His response is, “Old things have passed away; all things are new. Your sins are wiped out. Come on in.”

      One last response:

      You see a different emphasis on mercy in the Scriptures you listed and what I say. I don’t. Maybe I’m deceiving myself, and if someone besides you wants to back you up on that, I’ll listen, but I’m already trying to listen, so I would need some help. Acts 5:31 in particular seems to say exactly what I say. The requirement for forgiveness has always been repentance. Jesus didn’t have to die to obtain mercy from God for us. Ezekiel has three passages telling us that God was always merciful to the repentant, even before Jesus died.

      I emphasize repentance because that is what was lacking. God’s mercy wasn’t lacking. Isaiah 55:7 tells us he had abundant pardon for the repentant even under the Old Covenant. Romans 3 tells us that repentance was beyond us. Romans 7 tells us the same thing, and Romans 8 tells us that Romans 7 is what he corrected.

      I am well aware that we love him because he first loved us, but the love he showed to us in reconciling us to God requires us to repent. These two passages especially put incredible emphasis on that:

      “So God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18)

      “[I declared] that they should repent and turn to God and do works befitting repentance.” (Acts 26:20)

      That last one is a summation by Paul of what he was teaching. Repentance is the gift of God, and it allows forgiveness. I don’t know how to interpret the Scriptures any other way, and for centuries after the apostles, no one else in the church knew either.

      • Theodore A. Jones says:

        “For it is not those who hear the law who ate righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.ROM. 2:13 There are no exceptions. And you both need to understand that Paul is not referencing the Sinai code of law.

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