The record of the conversion of Cornelius and other Gentiles who gathered with him to hear Peter preach the gospel is found in Acts 10:1-11:18. Let us again raise and answer some questions about this section of scripture [see last month’s issue of TRUTH for the first six questions in this series].
(7) What does it mean that God shows no partiality/is no respecter of persons? That is exactly what Peter told the Gentiles: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34,35). All humans are of equal value and importance in God’s sight. For personal salvation, the Lord requires the same thing of all people. The conditions of salvation are universal, making it the “common salvation” (Jude 3). God accepts all those who receive the gospel, regardless of who they are: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him” (Romans 10:12). Because of God’s fairness, He deals with humans without any type of favoritism or prejudice.
(8) Was Cornelius already saved before Peter came? There are sincere saints who believe that Cornelius was living during a transition period after the church’s establishment on Pentecost and that his character and God’s recognition of his prayers would indicate that Cornelius already was in a saved relationship with God before Peter preached to him. Yet, the Lord’s angel instructed Cornelius to send and call for Simon. Why do that? “. . . and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved” (Acts 11:13,14). Why was Peter going there? To preach the gospel so Cornelius and others could be saved. That does not sound as if they were saved prior to hearing and receiving Peter’s teaching. Peter preached to them about how to have their sins remitted (10:43). Also, the Jewish brethren concluded that the Gentiles’ reception of the gospel in this instance showed that God had granted to the Gentiles “repentance to life” (Acts 11:18). Their words implied that Cornelius repented. Which people need to do that? Those who are in sin.
(9) Do men receive remission of sins by faith? Hear Peter’s message at Cornelius’ place: “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (10:43). In the context, the “Him” noted is Jesus. Yes, redemption/remission of sins comes via faith. Those who stand justified before God are believers in the Christ, “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1). One who denies this truth denies one of the most clear, fundamental teachings of the New Testament.
(10) Was Cornelius saved by “faith only?” As we just noted, remission of sins comes to believers in Jesus (10:43), but the Bible does not say that this man or any others were justified by “faith only/ alone.” In fact, in the case of Cornelius, what do we see? He (and those who obeyed the gospel with him) repented (11:18). Repentance is something in addition to believing. We recall also that Peter came to tell words by which Cornelius could be saved. What is the only command from Peter to Cornelius that is recorded in the Bible? “And he commanded them to be baptized” (10:48). Baptism was an additional condition of the man’s salvation, so, no, he was not saved by “faith only.” According to God’s word, when one is justified before Him, it is “not by faith only” (James 2:24).
(11) In what way did Cornelius receive the Holy Spirit? It was not by the laying on of the hands of any apostle (like we see in Acts 8:14-19 and 19:5,6). Instead, the Holy Spirit was poured out directly on Cornelius and on those with him. As Peter spoke, the Holy Spirit “fell” on those who heard him, and this is called “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (10:44,45; cf. 11:15).
(12) Was it a common thing for people to receive the Spirit in this manner, or was this a special event? When Peter rehearsed with Jewish brethren what took place when he went to the Gentiles, he noted, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (11:15,16). Peter acknowledged that the Spirit fell on the Gentile listeners, like He had on them (the Jewish apostles) “at the beginning.” To what “beginning” does Peter refer? He is talking about the Holy Spirit being poured out on the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, as the apostles were filled with the Spirit, Who empowered them to speak in tongues (Acts 2:4; 1:8). Several years had passed from the events of Acts 2 to those of Acts 10. Yet, when Peter wanted to compare what happened at Cornelius’ house with a similar occurrence, he went all the way back to Jerusalem and the beginning of the church to find something comparable. So, we conclude that what transpired with Cornelius (direct outpouring of the Spirit on humans) was a special event.
(13) Why? Why did Cornelius and his household receive the Holy Spirit in this manner? God willing, next month we will tackle this question, along with a few others, in our final segment of this study.
— Roger D. Campbell