[Gospel+Way Update] Conversion of Cornelius - Gospel Way Update for Jan | Gospel+Way
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** David E. Pratte
** 316 North St., Utica, OH 43080
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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
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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