Staring at him in awe, he said, “What is it, Lord?” The angel told him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have ascended as a memorial offering before God.” (Acts 10:4, CSB)
Several years ago, I became a surrogate grandmother to the daughter of friends. We spent a lot of time together as her parents worked many long hours. Although they were not a religious family, they didn’t mind her going to church with me. She loved it.
Fast forward a few years to when she was seven years old. As I babysat her one evening, she suddenly stopped playing, turned to me, and solemnly asked, “Is it enough to be a good, or do you have to have the Holy Ghost to go to heaven?” Where did that question come from? As you can imagine, I was a little startled to hear a young child ask such a profound question. (Applause for her Sunday school teachers!)
She isn’t the only person to ever ask this question.
Another friend often referred to others as being a “good Christian person.” But to him, that description had nothing to do with biblical salvation. It just meant they were law-abiding and nice to other people. In his mind, being good was sufficient.
Is being good, good enough? Or does God require more?
As I read the story of Cornelius in Acts 10, it reminded me of my young friend’s question. Many assume “being good” is sufficient. If I’m kind to my neighbors, don’t cheat on my spouse, and occasionally give a little money to charity, doesn’t that make me a “good Christian”? Surely that means I will go to heaven.
When we read Cornelius’s story, we discover he really was a good man.
“He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God.” (CSB)
Devout, reverent, prayerful, and generous. Those were wonderful qualities and pleased God, but salvation requires more than just being good.
An angel appeared to Cornelius in a vision and instructed him to send for Simon Peter. “He will tell you what you must do” (verse 6). While what he was doing were good things, it wasn’t enough.
When Peter arrived, he gave Cornelius’s household the same message as what he preached on the Day of Pentecost: repentance, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). And then it happened!
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word . . . For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God . . . And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” (Verses 44-48)
This Roman centurion and those gathered with him that day received the same experience as those present in the Upper Room at Pentecost.
Why would anyone choose to settle for just being “good” when their very being could be transformed by the power of the Living God dwelling inside? And that’s what I asked my seven-year-old friend that day. “Why wouldn’t you want the Holy Ghost?”
In Acts 19 Paul met twelve disciples of John the Baptist. Paul quickly got to the point. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” When the men answered that they had not heard there was a Holy Spirit, Paul explained more. They were no doubt good men, but God had a greater experience for them.
“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:5-6, NKJV)
Acts 2:39 tells us that this experience is intended for everyone—and that includes us today.
“For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:39)
Don’t rely on just being “a good person” to make it to heaven; be filled with His Spirit. My young friend received her own experience just a few months after our conversation. It’s for adults, children, and you as well. Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?
Lord, I realize that I do not have the power to transform my life on my own. Fill me with Your Spirit and make me into the new creation You desire me to be. I want all that You have for me. I want Your Spirit living inside.