Cornelius was a Gentile, one who was outside of God’s people (the Jews). Although he was a God-fearer, he was unsaved.Even after Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, Peter himself had to answer for why he was even associating with a Gentile (cf. Acts 11:1-18).
The response to Peter’s association with Cornelius tells you that Gentiles were considered to be destined for eternal damnation in those days.Yet and still, he was called a “God-fearer.” His God-fearing status, however, was not enough to save him. He wanted to be saved, according to Peter’s confession: ”
“And he [Cornelius] reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (Acts 11:13-14, NASB).
Peter’s confession tells us that Cornelius wanted to be saved; his desire was for salvation — for himself and his family. This fact alone testifies to the truth that being God-fearing isn’t enough to be in right standing with God. One must confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in Him in order to be saved.
Many Christians will agree that the gospel is central to salvation; one cannot be saved without it. General revelation is not enough, neither is the human conscience or the moral law. None of these will save anyone.
Where Christians disagree, however, concerns the means of salvation and how the unreached are saved. There are a number of Christians who argue that the only means of salvation is the gospel by way of a human missionary; the gospel cannot come through dreams or visions.
If it does, then converting the unreached through dreams and visions cancels the Scripture concerning the need for a human missionary: “how then will they call on Him in whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14)
God uses men and women to give the gospel message because this is what He delights in doing; however, even in the time of the apostles, teachers, and prophets in the early church (Acts 11:1; 13:1), The Lord Himself appeared to Paul on the Damascus road and won Saul to the faith (Saul’s name was later changed to “Paul”; see Acts 9).
Not only did The Lord appear to Saul from heaven (and scared the men who were with him, since they did not see Jesus but only heard His voice, 9:7), The Lord also gave Paul a vision of what would take place after his blindness: Ananias would lay his hands on Paul and the new believer would regain his sight (cf. Acts 9:12).
Paul also points to his special revelation encounter with Christ in his letter to the Galatians:
“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).
Even after his encounter on the road to Damascus, he states, “I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus” (Gal. 1:16-17, NASB). As can be seen, his revelation was from The Lord Himself — and it was authenticated later by the apostles as a testimony to its truthfulness and divine origin.
None of this discredits the idea that The Lord works through the common means of a missionary to spread the gospel; however, what it does is demonstrate that God’s power and sovereignty are not limited to human missionaries.
A. The Problem With the “Missionary Only” View When Discussing the Unreached (Unevangelized)
There are a number of conservative Christians who argue the “necessary missionary” view with regard to the unevangelized or unreached, saying that Rom. 10: 14 is the final word on the subject. I disagree with them in stating that the missionary is the only way the individual can be saved with regard to the gospel.
What is the argument that sums up my disagreement with the “necessary missionary only” view?
I disagree with them because of a few reasons.
First, I think it makes salvation too dependent on man. That’s right: Calvinists are most likely to argue this position. While they think they hold strongly to God’s sovereignty, I think they drop the ball here in a major way. When we say that the person can only receive the gospel by way of a human missionary, we’re saying that if a human missionary cannot get on the island (for whatever reason: gov’t. persecution, etc.), then the individual will die and go to hell.
Why? The individual ends up in hell not because he or she doesn’t believe; not because the individual was not receptive to the gospel; rather, the individual goes to hell because of my inability to get the gospel to him or her. When did salvation ever become dependent upon me?
Is salvation dependent upon a person? Yes! That person just so happens to be Christ instead of me! Salvation is all of Christ and He offers it all of His grace and mercy.
If it is Christ’s gospel message, then why should I be surprised if He should use a dream or a vision to reach the unreached?
If Calvinists believe in the sovereignty of God as much as they say, you wouldn’t know it when it comes to the issue of the unreached population.
If, right now, someone on an island will go to hell because I cannot afford to cross the seas and preach the gospel to them, then God’s plan of saving the nations will be thwarted because of me. If I can keep people out of heaven by not traveling to distant lands to evangelize them, then my power of choice (whatever free will I have) trumps God’s sovereignty.
In this mindset, Calvinists implicitly (though reluctant) turn into a disguised group of Open Theists. Is Christ not divine enough to use the supernatural to win humanity to Himself?
In the end, I want to affirm the supernatural Almightiness of God, while also affirming my responsibility to spread the Good News of the gospel of salvation.
Paul got it right when he said that, though he was bound and in chains, the Word of God would never be chained and imprisoned (2 Timothy 2:8-9). As a missionary who was imprisoned for the gospel, Paul realized that he had physical limitations: he couldn’t travel and preach the gospel in chains, nor could he travel when he was placed under house arrest (see the end of the book of Acts).
While in prison, however, he realized that the Word of The Lord was going forth, and that The Lord would use Paul’s imprisonment to further the spread of the gospel.
- What about if it happens that missionaries find themselves imprisoned, after they land in an area where the gospel has never been before?
- Should they despair when in chains?
No; they should rejoice because The Lord will still win souls, even when they are unavailable to proclaim His message.
When Christians claim that, should they not preach the gospel, the souls of billions will be lost, they are in effect claiming that they have the power to usher souls into heaven (and power to usher souls into Hell).
I disagree with this, however: did Christ not die for them? Does He not love them? Did The Lord not send His Son to redeem them?
If so, then should He not be The Lord who has power and control over the salvation of those whom humanity cannot reach? If He does not, and salvation is based upon human performance in evangelism, then I fear that we are endorsing a false gospel. Paul himself had a desire to reach the unreached:
“And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written,
‘They who had no news of Him shall see; and they who have not heard shall understand'” (Romans 15:20-21, NASB).
If the gospel is central to salvation (and it is), and there are no missionaries to preach the gospel to individuals, will not God reach the unreached?
It has often been said that The Lord preaching the gospel to the lost is humanity’s way of dodging its responsibility to take the Good News of the gospel to all nations.
This is not true; rather, humanity must acknowledge that it has limits, that there are geographic barriers to the gospel in which missionaries are denied entrance into foreign countries and territories. While we are bound in chains and limited to geographic locations, The Lord is not:
“He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).
The Lord determined the geographic locations into which men and women would be born, but He did this so that “they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him.”
God wants men and women to seek Him based on what they see in creation as well as their knowledge of the moral code in their heart and conscience. To those who seek Him with the little light they have, The Lord will send the gospel light in a supernatural form. All who experience eternal torment do so because of their unbelief, not their access (or lack thereof) to the gospel.
Special thanks to Martin who posted this in the comments section below. I thought this was good that I wanted to add it to this article.
You can skip to the 4:15 mark where he starts to talk about exactly what was mentioned above in this article.