1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (Acts 10:1–2, NKJV)
People devoted to their families, jobs, and country are assets to any society. Those who respect God, pray, and are generous bring honor to themselves by blessing others. Cornelius, the centurion, was such a man. Just in his dealings with his fellow man, he had a good reputation among those who easily could be his adversaries (Acts 10:22). Many would say such people will surely go to heaven. Yet, for all his good traits, Cornelius was lost. His morality could not save him. His prayers did not save him. An angel appearing to him did not save him (Acts 10:3-4). The angel told him to send for Peter, who would tell him what he “must do” (Acts 10:6). Peter preached the gospel to him so he could be saved (Acts 11:14; 15:7-9). Peter told this moral, devout, prayerful, charitable person to “fear God and work righteousness” to be accepted (saved) by God (Acts 10:34-35). Peter commanded Cornelius “to be baptized in the name of the Lord” after hearing and believing the gospel (Acts 10:48). Good, moral people continue to need salvation from sin (Rom. 3:23). Their salvation is in Christ through His gospel, nothing else (Acts 4:12; Rom. 1:16; 6:17-18).
“Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7, NKJV)
Disputes over personal liberties had strained relations between brethren in the church at Rome. The Holy Spirit guided Paul to write a lengthy explanation of the Lord’s will so they would “receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). The weakness of which he speaks describes personal scruples of conscience over matters indifferent to God (Rom. 14:3, 5). Such differences are not to become wedges of disruption among the saints. Since God receives Christians who hold different consciences in matters He treats as indifferent (like dietary choices), so must we (Rom. 14:2-6, 7-13). Far from endorsing unity in moral and doctrinal diversity (as many assert by misusing this passage), the apostle advocates unity of diverse consciences over liberties approved by God. (Morality and doctrine are not issues of indifference to God; therefore, they do not fit here, Galatians 1:6-10; 2 John 9.) The critical condemnation of personal liberties must cease (Rom. 14:13)! We avoid being stumbling blocks and we exemplify Christ’s acceptance of us by receiving (welcoming) one another with our different conscientious scruples over (non-sinful) liberties. Christ’s unselfish sacrifice and God’s “patience and comfort” toward us are landmarks to imitate so we may be “like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:1-3, 5). This glorifies God.
endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3, NKJV)
Jesus prayed for the unity of those who believe on Him through the words of His apostles in John 17:20. In fact, He prayed “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jno. 17:21). The plans for unity men have devised are a far cry from this. Many Protestant denominations advocate some form of ecumenism (or in today’s vernacular, “acceptance” and “inclusion”), both doctrinal and moral. This is unity in diversity, which essentially means we will “agree on the core issues of the gospel and agree to disagree on everything else.” The Father and the Son do not agree to disagree (see John 17:21). Our question is: Who decides what are the core issues of the gospel? You? Me? A church? A council of churches? Someone else? Very problematic. The lowest common denominator prevails in these quasi-unity movements. The apostle Paul said Christians must endeavor to keep (watch, guard) the unity that proceeds from the Spirit of God, and to do so with the uniting principle or bond of peace (v. 3). The Holy Spirit has revealed the gospel of Christ that calls us all to partake of the promise in Christ (Eph. 3:4-6). We will find our answers to what Bible unity looks like in the Bible, not in the creeds of churches and the philosophies of men (Col. 2:8).
“(for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth),” (Ephesians 5:9, NKJV)
Goodness signifies an honorable moral constitution that is borne as the Spirit’s fruit in the life (Galatians 5:22). In the absolute sense, God alone is essentially and consummately good; we have all defiled goodness through sin (Matthew 19:17; Romans 3:12, 23). Yet, in Christ, goodness is revived (Romans 12:2). Moral goodness is to be the character and conduct of Christians. Barnabas, for example, was a “good man” (Acts 11:24). He was morally honorable, possessing a nobility of character that was beneficent and charitable toward others. Like the other essential qualities of the fruit of the Spirit, goodness is not restrained (“against such there is no law,” Galatians 5:23). It is not selfish and self-seeking in its treatment of others. Moral goodness not only enlivens one’s soul to develop the moral likeness of Christ, it seeks to relieve and refresh others with righteous examples and exhortations of truth. Moral goodness is not prudishness, it is honorable before God and among men. Goodness benefits one’s own soul, and the general welfare of others. Therefore, goodness compels us to “cling to what is good,” and to then “do good to all” (Romans 12:9; Galatians 6:10).
For the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been continually unfaithful to the Lord. (2 Chronicles 28:19, NKJV)
The Lord allowed the kingdom of Judah to be oppressed by enemy states during the 8th century B.C. Assyrians, Edomites and Philistines plundered Judah because king Ahaz was “continually unfaithful to the Lord,” and because he “encouraged moral decline in Judah” (2 Chron. 28:16-18). It is undeniable that our country has been encouraging moral decline for a very long time. The “sexual revolution” of the 1960s promoted fornication and adultery, fracturing the home and paving the way for accepting the homosexual lifestyle as normal and natural (which it is not, cf. Rom. 1:24-28). Alcohol and other drugs decimates lives and destroys families (1 Pet. 4:1-5). Pornography has captured and corrupted souls – fueled by passion and internet accessibility on cell phones, tablets and computers. “Sin is a reproach to any people,” and America is no exception (Prov. 14:34). The Old Testament shows that God does not long endure any nation that mocks faith in Him as it rushes headlong into immorality. Now is the time for our nation to heed the warning God gave Israel: “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!” (Ezek. 18:31-32)