The book of Acts is often called “The book of Conversions.” That’s because it contains numerous stories of people “converting” to Christianity. Bible students will want to be careful with their labels for Bible books, particularly this one. It’s just a short hop from thinking of Acts as a book of conversions to thinking that it was written to tell people how to become a Christian. This is decidedly not its purpose, nor is it the purpose of any book in the New Testament.
What we do have however is a book that, as a consequence of it’s theme, tells the story of various people who became Christians – and how. These stories involve nameless people who are none-the-less faithful devotees of the God of the Bible. They involve people despised and rejected by the Jews, high officials in foreign countries, opponents of Christianity, and, on one occasion, people you would have thought would already be considered Christians, but because of a flaw with their first baptism, have to be baptized again.
The “christianizing” of Cornelius is an important story. It is told three times: once by Luke, once by Cornelius, and once by Peter. What I find amazing is not that Cornelius became a Christian, but the he needed to become one. After all, he was a devoutly religious man to begin with. He worshiped the right God. He was a man of ethical principles. He was a hands-on leader in his family. Why did he need to become a Christian? Wasn’t he already a Christian?
The answer is “no.” He had yet to hear the story of Jesus. He had yet to be obedient to Jesus’ command to be baptized. He had yet to receive the Holy Spirit. No one can be saved without coming into contact with Jesus and becoming a disciple. No matter how good and respectable you might be, no one comes to God on the terms of one’s own goodness and position. Everyone must yield to the Lordship of Jesus.