Cornelius is described in Acts 10:2 as devout and God-fearing. His burgeoning belief in the God of the Jews was evidenced by his lifestyle: ‘he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.’ (Acts 10:2) Nonetheless, he had not become a Jew and been circumcised and therefore to Jewish eyes, he was still pagan.
Many people can pinpoint the exact moment they became a Christian (and for Cornelius, this was a very precise moment!) What is not often recognised, however, is the journey to faith often involves steps on the way. Luke clearly recognised the value of the movement from paganism to ‘God-fearing’ before Christian conversion, and so should we.
C. S. Lewis is probably one of the most famous ‘gradual’ converts. At the age of seventeen, he was an atheist, declaring to his friend Arthur Greaves, ‘I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.’ In 1929 he described himself as a ‘dejected and reluctant convert’, believing in God, but not yet in Christ. It was only in 1931 that he became a Christian and subsequently became one of the most famous apologists for Christ in recent times.
Life is a journey and we may not know where on that journey to Christ an individual is. We should not despise those who, like Cornelius, still have some way to go, but we can seek to point everyone to Jesus as they travel.