[Gospel+Way Update] Conversion of Cornelius - Gospel Way Update for Jan | Gospel+Way

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Mon Jan 2 12:17:30 PST 2017

     ** David E. Pratte
     ** 316 North St., Utica, OH 43080
     ** On the web: www.gospelway.com or www.biblestudylessons.com
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     Bible students,

     Lessons about Salvation from Cornelius

     Does the conversion of Cornelius and his household prove that 
sinners are saved by faith alone without baptism? Does the coming of the 
Holy Spirit on Cornelius prove people are saved before baptism, or must 
a person be baptized as a necessary condition in order to receive 
salvation from sin? What does the gospel of Jesus teach?

     This is the subject of this month's Bible study article, which is 
included below in plain text format. To read this article online, go to 
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     The Conversion of Cornelius:


     Some people believe that, when Peter told Cornelius words whereby 
he would be saved (Acts 11:14), he told him to believe and he would have 
remission of sins (10:43), and Peter later said God cleansed their 
hearts by faith (15:9). They received the Holy Spirit before they were 
water baptized (10:44-48). We are told that God would not have sent the 
Holy Spirit upon them unless they were already saved (Rom. 8:9; 
Ephesians 1:13,14). So they must have been saved by faith alone before 
water baptism.

     I encourage the reader to study the following response in 
connection with our article about the Purpose of Baptism and the article 
about Saving Faith (Faith Only vs. Obedient Faith). These free articles 
give a proper background for the following comments. They may be found 
at www.gospelway.com/instruct/ (see the section about forgiveness).

     Now please consider the following points:

     1. Please see our article about saving faith (mentioned above) for 
a careful study of verses regarding faith (Acts 10:43; 15:9). "Faith" 
here is general and includes all that people must do to be saved. 
Specifically, Acts 10:43 says faith leads to remission, but the same 
apostle Peter had earlier preached that one must be baptized for 
remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Acts 15:9 says God purified their hearts 
by faith, but according to this same apostle Peter we purify our souls 
in obeying the truth (1 Peter 1:22). There is no conflict. As we have 
seen, saving faith includes obedience, including baptism.

     Acts 15:11 says Jews and Gentiles are all saved the same way. Many 
other Scriptures show that this way is the way of obedient faith, 
including baptism (see Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3,4; 
Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21; and again, please see our article about 
the purpose of baptism as mentioned above).

     2. Peter told them words whereby they would be saved (Acts 11:14). 
But what is the first thing he told them? He said that, to be accepted 
by God, everyone in every nation must fear God and work righteousness 
(i.e., obey God, as described in Rom. 6:17,18 and Hebrews 5:9; see also 
Matthew 7:21-27; 22:36-39; John 14:15,21-24; Acts 10:34,35; Romans 
2:6-10; Hebrews 10:39; 11:8,30; Galatians 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9; 
James 1:21-25; 2:14-26; Luke 6:46; 1 Peter 1:22,23; 1 John 5:3; 2:3-6). 
No one can be accepted by God (i.e., saved -- 11:14) until they do what 
God says to do. The case of Cornelius proves the very point we have been 
making: we are not saved by "faith alone" but by fearing God enough to 
obey Him. Saving faith is obedient faith. When Peter later told them to 
believe (10:43), they would not conclude this was "faith only" without 
obedience, since Peter had already told them that obedience was 
essential to be saved.

     3. Peter came to tell them words whereby they would be saved 
(11:14). But the words he told them included water baptism (10:47,48). 
When the Holy Spirit fell, Peter had not completed his instructions 
telling. He was still in the process of telling them them words whereby 
they would be saved (10:44); in fact he was just beginning when the 
Spirit fell (11:14,15). He told them they must work righteousness (obey 
God) to be accepted by Him (saved), but he had not yet told them 
specifically what work they must do. So after he had been interrupted by 
the coming of the Holy Spirit, he completed telling them what to do to 
be saved, and he said to be water baptized. Telling people what to do to 
he saved includes telling them they must be baptized in water, just as 
in many other passages we have studied (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 
2:38; 22:16; etc.).

     4. The Holy Spirit fell, not only before they were water baptized, 
but also before they had confessed Jesus! While Peter was in the process 
of telling them what to do to be saved, the Spirit fell on those who 
were listening (10:44; 11:14,15). Cornelius and his house did not say 
anything in response to Peter's teaching till after the Holy Spirit 
fell. If the coming of the Holy Spirit before water baptism proves that 
water baptism is not essential to salvation, then it just as logically 
proves confession is not essential to salvation, since the Spirit also 
came before they confessed! Yet we know that confession is essential in 
order to he sawed, just like we know baptism is essential in order to be 
saved -- from other passages (Rom. 10:9,10 and Acts 2:28; Rom. 6:3,4; 
etc.). So, we must conclude that the coming of the Holy Spirit did not 
prove Cornelius was already saved, or else we have contradictions in the 

     5. If receiving miraculous signs is the proof of when a person is 
saved, then what about examples of people who did not receive the 
miraculous sense of the Spirit until after baptism (Acts 8:12-17; 
19:1-6, etc.)? If Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13,14 prove that Cornelius 
was saved at the point of a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, 
before water baptism, then why don't the examples in Acts 8 and 19 prove 
that, in those cases, people believed and were baptized, but still were 
not saved until later, when the Holy Spirit came?

     6. Cornelius' household spoke in tongues when they received the 
Holy Spirit (10:46). Must people today speak in tongues as a proof they 
are saved? 1 Cor. 12:28-30 says they do not need tongue-speaking to be 
saved. So the coming of the Holy Spirit in Cornelius' case must have 
been something unusual. It was not the typical pattern for salvation. If 
so, then why try to use the coming of the Holy Spirit here to establish 
a pattern of salvation for today? The truth is that miraculous 
manifestations of the Holy Spirit, as described in Cornelius' case, did 
not come at the exact moment a person was saved. It might come before or 
after being forgiven, but the coming of this miraculous power is not to 
be taken as proof of the point in time when one is forgiven.

     7. In several other Bible examples, people received miraculous 
powers of the Holy Spirit at a time when they clearly were not "saved" 
or pleasing to God. Some people even spoke by the guidance of the Holy 
Spirit at a time when they were not yet in a pleasing relationship to 
God. Examples include Balaam (Num. 22-24; cf. 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; 
Rev. 2:14), Balaam's donkey (Num. 22:28-30), King Saul (1 Samuel 
19:18-24), Caiaphas the high priest who later condemned Jesus (John 
11:49-53), and Cornelius' household (Acts 10 and 11).

     Note also that the Corinthians had been converted, yet they later 
became displeasing to God even though they still had spiritual gifts -- 
1 Cor. 12-14, cf. chap. 1-4,5,11, etc. So it is a mistake to conclude 
that, just because people received or possessed miraculous gifts of the 
Spirit, that proves that they were saved or pleasing to God.

     8. The truth is that, in the first century, just as there were 
different kinds of faith and different kinds of works, so people 
received the Holy Spirit in different ways or manifestations. Rom. 8:9 
and Eph. 1:13,14 refer to the indwelling of the Spirit, which is not the 
same thing as the miraculous powers received by Cornelius and sometimes 
received by other people. All saved people have the Holy Spirit 
indwelling them (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; etc.). But for 
all people, salvation and the indwelling of the Spirit come as a result 
of water baptism, and not before.

     Acts 2:38,39 says that the gift of the Holy Spirit comes when 
people have been baptized for the remission of sins. This is available 
to all people, therefore it cannot be miraculous powers of the Spirit 
(see notes above). It must be the indwelling of the Spirit.

     1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19,20 -- Saved people are a temple of God, 
and the Spirit of God dwells in us. This is true because we belong to 
God, having been bought with a price (redeemed by Jesus' blood). But 
baptism is the point at which the blood (death) of Jesus is applied to 
the sinner, redeeming him and putting Him in Christ - Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 
3:26,27; Acts 22:16. The sinner is then saved (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 
3:21), so the Lord adds him to the church, the body of people who have 
been purchased or saved by His blood (Acts 2:47; 20:28; Eph. 5:23,25).

     Romans 8:9 -- If the Spirit of God (Christ) does not dwell in us, 
then we do not belong to Christ. But as shown above, we belong to Christ 
when by faith we have been baptized. So the Spirit dwells in all true 
children of God, and He begins to dwell in us at the moment we become 
God's children (not at some later point).

     See our web site at www.gospelway.com/instruct for a fuller 
discussion of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (see the articles in the 
section about God/Deity).

     9. But receiving the Holy Spirit with miraculous manifestations was 
different from the indwelling of the Spirit. Miraculous powers came to 
some people sometime later after they had been forgiven (Acts 8:12-17; 
19:1-6). Other people never received miraculous manifestations, even 
though they were saved (1 Corinthians 12:4,7-11,28-30). And other people 
received miraculous manifestations at a time in their life when they 
were not yet in a pleasing relationship to God (see the examples above). 
So it is a mistake to think that the point in a person's life at which 
he receives miraculous manifestations is the point at which he is 
forgiven or that it is the point at which the Holy Spirit begins to 
indwell him. The indwelling of the Spirit and miraculous powers from the 
Spirit were two different things that began at two different times in 
people's lives. To learn more about the miraculous manifestations of the 
Spirit, please see our article about direct revelation and miracles for 
today www.gospelway.com/instruct/ (see the section about God/Deity).

     10. The purpose of miracles (not the indwelling) was to "confirm 
the word" being spoken by a man of God (John 20:30,31; Mark 16:20; 
Hebrews 2:3,4; Acts 14:3; etc.) In Cornelius' case, the purpose of the 
miraculous coming of the Holy Spirit was to confirm the message Peter 
was preaching that all nations (Gentiles as well as Jews) could be 
accepted under the gospel if they would fear God and work righteousness 
(10:34,35). Miraculous confirmation of this was needed because it was a 
new doctrine, which the Jews would tend to reject, because they thought 
the gospel would be just for Jews like the Old Testament had been. Peter 
used the revelations he had received plus the miraculous coming of the 
Spirit on Cornelius as God's confirmation of his message that Gentiles 
were subject to the gospel just like Jews. He used this to convince the 
Jews who came with him (and later the Jews at Jerusalem) to see that God 
will willing to save Gentiles like Cornelius. The gospel was not just 
for Jews. Cornelius' example teaches the same lesson to us (Acts 
10:28,45-48; 11:1-18, esp. vv 2,3,17,18; 15:5-11).

     So, the miraculous coming of the Holy Spirit did not signify that 
the Gentiles were already forgiven. Rather, it served to prove that 
Peter was right in preaching to the Gentiles. The terms of salvation 
were the same for both Jew and Gentile (Acts 15:11). Peter was telling 
the Gentiles what to do to be saved (11:14), and the instruction 
included baptism for Gentiles (10:47,48) just like other Scriptures 
teach (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; etc.). But the Jews would never 
have believed that the blessings of the gospel applied equally to 
Gentiles, unless they received confirmation that the doctrine was from 
God. This is why the Spirit came on the Gentiles before they had been 
baptized. Without such miraculous manifestations, the Jews would never 
have been willing to baptize them!

     So the unusual coming of the Spirit before conversion is due to the 
unusual circumstance that these were the first Gentile converts. It does 
not in any way prove they were saved before baptism. They were saved by 
obedient faith, including baptism, as taught in other passages studied.

     (C) Copyright 1998, David E. Pratte

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