Over thirty years ago I heard a preacher shock most of the Lubbock Christian College student body when, during chapel, he said, "Cornelius was a damned good man." When we got over the shock of a preacher using such language we realized that he was right. Let me rewrite that with the punctuation in the right place. "Cornelius was a damned, good man."
Look at what the Bible says about Cornelius before Peter preached to him. "There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always." (Acts 10:1-2) How many Christians would like to be described that way! How many of our neighbors think such a description applies to them. Most people would say that this describes a man that God would not think twice about including in His book of life. In fact, many people say that he already had salvation because all it takes on man's part is to tell God in prayer that you turn your life over to him. And yet God considered that Cornelius was a damned, good man.
Because there had only been Jews in the church for about ten years, many Christians at the time considered Cornelius a damned, good man who could not become a Christian. After Peter preached to Cornelius and Cornelius was saved, many of a party of Jewish Christians that the Bible calls "the circumcision" objected to Peter's actions. This group, who clearly did not constitute all Jewish Christians, believed that only good, orthodox Jews could be Christians. Cornelius was worse. Cornelius was a damned, good, Gentile man.
When Peter went to Cornelius he repeated the history of Jesus, a history that he said Cornelius already knew. That good man already knew about Jesus the Messiah. He prayed to God and did righteous works. Nevertheless, there was more that God wanted. Until he heard that and obeyed, Cornelius was a damned, good man.
What did Cornelius require in order to become a saved, good man? He needed to put on Christ (Gal 3:27). On the shavuos (Pentecost) after Jesus was crucified a number of damned, good Jews asked, "What must we do to be saved?" (Acts 2:37) Peter's response to them was the same as to Cornelius. To the Jewish group he said, "Repent, and be immersed by the authority of Jesus the Messiah." (Acts 2:38) In the case of Cornelius he "commanded them to be immersed by the authority of the Lord." (Acts 10:47) Until that time Cornelius was a damned, good man.
What happened to Cornelius after he was baptized? The scriptures do not say. Did he give up his army job? I don't know. Did he convert a whole century of Romans? It would be nice to think so. There was a whole division of the Roman army who were Christians. All we can be sure of, however, is that after he obeyed Peter's command Cornelius was a saved, good man.