Peter was the first person in the history of the world to discover how and why people become Christians.
First and foremost, Acts 15:11, he understood that it’s purely “through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we are saved.” It’s not because of anything we do that we become Christians, it’s all God’s doing, as we see in the meeting God set up between Cornelius and Peter in Acts 10.
The reason God set up that meeting was because, in Peter’s words in Acts 15:8, “God knows the heart,”and in Cornelius God saw a very good heart. The man and the timing, then, were just right for the first Gentile in history to hear “the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,” Acts 10:36.
It all began, then, with God noting a man with a good heart, and God then sending Peter to get the message about “peace through Jesus” to him. So now we have two stages in why people become Christians – the first being a good heart, followed by hearing the good news about Jesus.
The “good news” part is then explained in Acts 10:37-43. This is the gospel in its purest state, boiled down to its raw basics, making it digestible and easy to understand for all people through the centuries. And in verse 44 this was all that was needed for “the Holy Spirit to come on all who heard it.”
And the reason for the Holy Spirit coming on them was to “purify their hearts,” Acts 15:9. So the conversion of those first Gentiles to Christianity began with a good heart, was followed by hearing the good news about Jesus, which heard and believed opened up a lifetime of the Holy Spirit transforming their hearts into the very likeness of Jesus’ heart.
So what was in Peter’s ever so basic message that got through to Cornelius and his household so quickly and so profoundly? According to Acts 10:38 it was what the Holy Spirit did in Jesus’ life. It gave him the “power” to go “around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” And to people with good hearts that had a huge and immediate appeal. But why?
Because doing good and healing was what their good hearts were all about too. Cornelius loved doing good and helping people in need, and now he was hearing that the heart of God – displayed in bright, shining reality in the life of Jesus – was just like that too.
And unlike their Gentile gods, the God seen in Jesus was very much into healing too, and healing in two striking ways – first of all in the “forgiveness of sins,” verse 43, but also in God “appointing Jesus as judge of the living and the dead,” verse 42.
Both parts to a Gentile would have sounded amazing, because their gods weren’t about forgiveness at all. Their gods must be kept happy, or else, but Jesus pictured a God of mercy, kindness and compassion. And then to hear that Jesus was also a “judge of the living and dead” – well, what a huge relief that was, and what peace of mind it would have given them, to know that a great God really did exist who had the power to deal fairly and justly with every human, dead or alive, whether good, bad or evil.
By contrast, think of all the innocent people who’d died at the hands of their Gentile tyrants, who’d been held back from their potential by the selfish and greedy, who’d never known love or appreciation, who’d lived in fear of punishment for every tiny infraction, whether guilty or innocent. That was the world and culture they’d lived in, as do so many people today, but here was wonderful news of a God with absolute power who was nothing like that.
And the Gentiles loved it. And to know that this powerful Jesus chap was also alive and well, despite being killed, was icing on the cake. He was real, alive and powerful enough, therefore, to deal with everything that was so wrong in their world, and he could heal the damage done too.
Combining Acts 10 and 15, then, we have two clear reasons why people become Christians: it’s two goods, a person’s good heart to begin with, followed by the good news about God’s heart seen in Jesus, leading to the Holy Spirit then healing and polishing their hearts throughout their lifetimes.
Is that it, though? No, there’s one more “good” that explains why people are so drawn to Christianity. But more on that in part 3….