Are all religious people right with God? If they are 'doing their duty,' being sincere and not doing anyone any harm, surely they are right with God? The book of Acts opens a window through which we see the evangelistic work of the early church. They evangelised among all people, some who in their own mind believed that they were already saved and that they didn't need to be converted.

Today many people are Christian in name only. It's an accident of birth that they are born into a Christian family. But they have never been 'born again of water and the Spirit.' (John 3:5) They go to Church, but Christ is not in their lives. They sing hymns, but don't know Him.

Are we arrogant to say that even religious people need to be converted? Certainly not. Let's look at some examples from the Bible.

The Example of Cornelius

Cornelius was a religious man. His life was a model. He was a God-fearing man who prayed and gave generously to the needs of others. Yet the Lord told him to send for Peter who would tell him how to be saved from his sins (Acts 10-1-2;11:14).

Today there are people like Cornelius. They are good people who live good lives. They are sincere, decent, pious people, but like Cornelius their beliefs need some fine-tuning. They have a Christian vocabulary, but the reality of the gospel is missing.

The Example of Saul (Paul)

If sincerity could provide a passport to heaven then Saul, later to become the Apostle Paul, was in the fast lane to heaven. Saul was sincere but he was sincerely wrong, though he didn't realise it at the time. Saul was fanatical in his opposition to the gospel and tireless in his persecution of the church. He genuinely believed that his campaign of persecution had the endorsement of God himself. To have suggested that he be approached with the gospel would have been regarded as a disastrous decision – a bad joke. But God wasn't laughing.

God had been working on Saul's heart for some time, even when he was persecuting the church. While on the road to Damascus Jesus confronted him: 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' (Acts 26:14)

The expression: 'It is hard for you to kick against the goads' tell us that within Saul's life a civil war was raging. The teachings and miracles of Jesus were well known to him. And, being a Scripture scholar, he knew the prophecies that the coming Messiah would fulfil. And all of them were pointing to Jesus.

The tension he was experiencing, being pulled away from his present beliefs towards something entirely new, was coming from God. Saul was finding it hard to cling to his religion that was crumbling under the divine weight of truth. He could no longer continue kicking against the divine nudging of God. He would have to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Ananias, a devout disciple, was sent by the Lord to Saul and said, 'And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' (Acts 22:16) He was baptised, calling upon the Lamb of God for pardon. And he received it.

Both Cornelius and Saul believed in God, prayed daily, practised charity, were devout in the practice of the religion, were genuine in their convictions -- yet both needed to hear the saving message of the gospel in order to be saved.

Today the same redemptive message must be embraced by all people, irreligious and religious people alike, if reconciliation with God is to become a reality.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like to have a look at the rest of our 14-part study on the topic of salvation. Please click here to access this material.