Table of Contents

Table of Contents II

Search This Blog

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Case of Cornelius and the Holy Spirit

There are many who believe beyond doubt that Cornelius was saved at the time the Holy Spirit came upon him and his household.  It is a topic that ought to be discussed.  While I have written once before on this subject more needs to be said as there has been some objection to what was written. 

I know of no person who claims to be a Christian who would deny the fact that the very first gospel sermon ever preached after Christ's death, burial, and resurrection was in the city of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter two.  Neither do I know a man who would deny but what the words spoken by Peter were given by the Holy Spirit. 

The reader ought to note and carefully digest what the Holy Spirit, speaking through Peter, said on that occasion in response to those who asked "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37 NKJV)  They had heard the sermon Peter preached, believed it, and now these men who were "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37 NKJV) find themselves in need of forgiveness.  What is Peter's reply speaking by the Holy Spirit?  It is "Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38 NKJV) 

Now note, when does the Holy Spirit speaking through Peter promise these believers they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?  Is it before repentance and baptism for the remission of sins or after?  The answer is evident.  This raises a question.  Is there one gospel in one location and another in a different location so that we can never really know what the gospel is?  Does the Holy Spirit preach one message concerning salvation in one location but a different one elsewhere?  Does God show partiality toward some?  Are some saved one way and others in a different way?  The Bible says, "there is no partiality with God" (Rom 2:11 NKJV) and Paul says there is but "one faith" (Eph. 4:4) while saying also of one who preaches another gospel "let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8). 

All of this being the case then how does one account for the fact that in the account of Cornelius' conversion we have the Holy Spirit arriving before, rather than after, baptism?  Has the Holy Spirit suddenly changed his mind on repentance and baptism being for the forgiveness of sins as he formerly taught?  And, if he has changed his mind this one time is it possible he may change his mind again?  Has he changed his mind on there even being but one gospel? 

The answer is obviously no.  What the Holy Spirit taught on the day of Pentecost he also taught approximately 10 years later at the household of Cornelius.  Repentance and baptism still retain the same position in God's plan of salvation for man as they did on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. 

How then does one account for the Spirit arriving before baptism in the case of Cornelius?  If one reads carefully all of Acts 10 and 11 he will see God's reason.  The gospel was meant to be preached to all men of all races and nationalities.  And, yet, quite a number of years have gone by since Pentecost and where are we at?  We are still at the point where the vast majority of Jewish Christians cannot believe the gospel is for Gentiles as well as Jews.  Judaism, out of which they came, had been an exclusive religion to the Jewish race.  Yes, there were proselytes to it but there was never a Great Commission in Judaism to go out into the world and make converts of the Gentiles. 

Even Peter, an apostle, though inspired so he could teach and preach without the possibility of error, does not fully comprehend the meaning of the message Christ taught in Matt. 28:18-19--the Great Commission.  This was nothing new for prophets often did not know the full import of the inspired words they spoke. (see 1 Peter 1:10-12) 

In reading Acts 10 one learns by seeing Peter's initial reaction to the heavenly sent vision he had that Peter was still observing as law the dietary restrictions found under the Law of Moses all the while living under the law of Christ.  Then in verse 28 of chapter 10 he says, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.  But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean."  This was the purpose of the vision—to bring about a change in Peter's attitude toward going to the Gentiles. 

Note the word "unlawful" in that verse.  Up until the time of this vision Peter was lacking a full understanding of how the Law of Moses had now been completely done away with.  He was still, up to this time, concerned about dietary commands and keeping a distance from Gentiles.  It took the vision of the sheet let down from heaven and the Spirit speaking to him directly (Acts 10:19-20) to convince Peter it was God's will to go to the Gentiles and preach. 

Why did the Holy Spirit fall upon Cornelius and his household before baptism for the remission of sins?  Was it because that was the means of salvation or because Cornelius was already a saved man without repentance and baptism?  No.  It was because it was going to take a miracle, not now so much for Peter because he seems to be getting the idea, but in order for the whole Jewish Christian body to come to an understanding that the gospel was for all and not just for Jews and to get them out preaching and teaching the Gentiles.  In fact, when the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household the Bible says of those Jews who had traveled with Peter that they were "astonished" that this had happened, that God would grant this to Gentiles. (Acts 10:45) 

When Peter went back to Jerusalem, to show you and me how great the prejudice was against the Gentiles, the Bible says, and it is speaking of Jewish Christians (read the context), that "those of the circumcision contended with him." (Acts 11:2 NKJV)  Peter had to rehearse the whole account of what had happened to silence his critics but having done so they realize for the first time that "God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life." (Acts 11:18)  The world has now changed in that henceforth the gospel will be preached to all men everywhere as God intended but it took a miracle to get the job done.  They, the Jewish Christians, would never have been convinced without it.  They now confess, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life." (Acts 11:18 NKJV) 

Thus we have the real reason the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household prior to baptism.  It was not for the forgiveness of sins for the gospel had not changed.  Peter still needed to "command them to be baptized." (Acts 10:48)  But, who really commanded them to be baptized?  Was it Peter the man or the Holy Spirit?  If the Holy Spirit commanded it why did he do so?  

I know one who argues that Cornelius and his household were already saved having received the Holy Spirit.  Yet, the Holy Spirit commands them to be baptized.  Is this baptism to be for some other reason than what the Holy Spirit first said in Peter's inspired sermon in Acts 2:38?  Is baptism for one reason or purpose at one time and place but then for another reason in another time and place? 

God granted, in the case of Cornelius and his household, the Spirit prior to baptism (baptism for the remission of sins which the Spirit taught in Acts 2:38) for a special reason but the reader must bear in mind that God knows our hearts and what we will do before we do it.  God knew Cornelius would obey the command and be baptized for the very reason those on the day of Pentecost were--because they believed every word Peter spoke and part of that word was baptism for the remission of sins (or to be saved which is one and the same thing).  This is as it was on the day of Pentecost for the message never changed.  What was preached in one place was preached in every place. 

They were the things the angel said Peter would tell them--"tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved." (Acts 11:14 NKJV)  An essential part of that word that we know Peter spoke was baptism for the text says "he commanded them to be baptized."  (Acts 10:48 NKJV)  Without preaching on that topic Cornelius and his household would have no idea of what, why, or how. 

Yes, some say baptism is just a symbol or a picture and is meaningless other than as a symbol.  Tell Peter that.  Better yet tell the Holy Spirit he did not know what he was talking about in Acts 2:38 on the day of Pentecost.  If those in the audience on the day of Pentecost were saved without baptism they did not know it for they are asking what they must do after they had already come to faith.  Furthermore, Peter did not know it for he told them what to do.  That is pretty much the end of the story. 

Yes, the case of Cornelius was unique and an exception to the rule but it is not the only such case for when God has seen a need he has acted for the specific purpose he had in mind.  Saul was converted and became the apostle Paul but not because he heard the gospel in the normal way and responded.  We doubt that would ever have happened with Saul left to his own devices with the attitude he had.  But, God acted directly and the Lord appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus.  Why, because he had a special reason for doing so.  The case of Cornelius is similar in that regards. 

I close with this.  One who has objected to my position has said that 1 John 4:13 means Cornelius was saved before baptism.  I deny that.  1 John 4:13 is the word of God and truth.  But, the case of Cornelius and his household, like the case of Saul in his conversion, was a special act of God for a specific purpose God had in mind but neither set aside the commands God himself had given.  Cornelius still had to be baptized for the remission of sins and Saul still had to do the same (Acts 22:16).  God is not in a battle with his own law.  

I might add this as I close.  What if Cornelius that day after receiving the Holy Spirit had responded to Peter's command to be baptized by refusing to do it?  Would he have been saved?  The Holy Spirit does not force a man to do right against his will.  What if Cornelius had said no?  If he was already saved and baptism does not matter, as so many teach, it is hard to see how a refusal would have mattered.

[To download this article or print it out click here.]









No comments: