I was on Staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, now Cru, from 1974 until 1978. I still get the Alumni newsletter, Connections.
In the October 2017 Connections I was encouraged to read the comments of Cru President Steve Douglass about Cornelius in Acts 10. While he is not an exegete or a theologian, he makes some great comments here:
Even before coming to understand about Jesus, he was a devout person who feared God, gave generously to those in need, and prayed regularly…The huge impact of what happened through Cornelius didn’t unfold until the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15…Peter stood up and validated spreading the gospel to the Gentiles…God could have used other people and methods to open that door. But He chose to use Cornelius. Why? At least in part, because his life was a light for God, shining brightly to all around.
Unless we come to Scripture with a strong preconception, we will clearly see what Douglass sees. Cornelius was a devout person before he believed in Jesus and was saved (cf. Acts 11:14). His prayers and alms pleased God, though he was still unregenerate (Acts 10:1-5). Indeed, the reason why God sent the Apostle Peter to him was because he had been seeking God (Acts 10:4-8). When he arrived, Peter led Cornelius and his household to faith in Christ and everlasting life (Acts 10:43-48; 11:14; 15:7-11).
Many Calvinists say that unbelievers are like cadavers. They say that unbelievers cannot understand anything in the Bible. Unbelievers cannot believe anything God says. Regeneration must precede faith to give them the ability to respond. While that may seem logical and God-honoring, it is not what the Word of God teaches. Unbelievers are not like cadavers. Unbelievers can understand and believe and respond to what God says. Cornelius did and as a result he heard the message of life and was born again.
Now it is true that no one seeks God if left to his own initiative (Rom 3:11). But since God is seeking all (John 12:32; 16:7-11), anyone and everyone can respond to His drawing by seeking God. See Acts Cornelius in Acts 10, Lydia in Acts 16, the Bereans in Acts 17:11, and the Athenians in Acts 17:27.
To God be the glory. No one could be born again unless the Lord Jesus Christ removed the sin barrier at Calvary (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). No one would come to faith in Christ apart from the wooing ministry of God (John 6:44). But Christ died for all. And He is drawing all (John 12:32). The fact that God gets the glory does not mean that unbelievers are lumps of stone. Unbelievers can respond to general and special revelation. And if they do, God will keep giving them more revelation. Ultimately God will open their hearts (Acts 16:14) that they might believe the promise of life.