10:35 accepted with him. This is an extremely significant revelation. Before Christ, the Gentile nations were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). It was possible for a Gentile to become a proselyte to Judaism, but most Gentiles never even had any knowledge of this possibility. With the substitutionary death of Christ for the sins of all men, however, both Jews and Gentiles can be saved simply by grace through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, multitudes of people through the centuries since have lived and died without ever hearing the gospel, and the same is true today.
A perennial question has to do with the possibility of salvation for such people, and Peter’s testimony to Cornelius seems to suggest a possible answer. Almost three thousand years ago the prophet Hanani said that “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (II Chronicles 16:9). No one can ever be saved simply by working righteousness, for, as Solomon said: “There is no man that sinneth not” (I Kings 8:46). Nevertheless, God so loved the world that He sent His Son! He would “have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4). Consequently, God honors those who come to fear the true God of creation and sincerely try to “work righteousness” in accord with the witness of God’s law in their own conscience (Romans 2:15) and any other true light they may have received (note John 1:9). Although this in itself was not sufficient to attain salvation, in either the case of Cornelius or that of others in similar situations, nevertheless God in grace sent Peter to Cornelius to give him full understanding of the saving work of Christ, and Cornelius responded with true faith. Although it is not possible to be dogmatic, it may be that God will respond in similar fashion to others who respond to the light that God has provided for all men in nature (John 1:9; Romans 1:20), as well as conscience.