“So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:18
The Jewish believers were surprised that God would include non-Jews. Yet in the Old Testament God often included Gentiles—Rahab, Ruth, Jonah going to Nineveh. So why the surprise? In the incident with Cornelius, the Gentiles didn’t become Jews in order to be saved. They didn’t have to get circumcised or adhere to other forms of Jewish practice. God accepted them as they were. Likewise, he accepts us. We don’t have to go through certain ceremonies or perform certain rituals in order to get God’s attention or his acceptance. We get God’s attention by having the right heart attitude.
The believers said that God has granted, “the Gentiles repentance that leads to life.” When Paul writes to Timothy he says something similar, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2: 25). Repentance isn’t something that we are required to work up by ourselves. It’s a gift which God grants us and it leads us to know the truth about God and his plan of salvation through Jesus. Salvation is described as “life”. Real life is living the way God intends with our spirits connected with his spirit.
This was a highly significant moment in the life of the church. The realization hits the believers that God’s plan of salvation really is for everyone. Before this happened poor Peter was criticized by believers for doing what God told him to do! (verses 2-3). Even amongst committed believers, there will be times of misunderstandings. God will act in ways that upset our preconceived ideas, yet his plans are always so much better than ours.