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The Conversion Of Cornelius
The conversion of the first Gentile to the gospel of Christ is recorded in Acts 10:1-49 and is retold by the apostle Peter in Acts 11:1-18. There are many good lessons for us to learn from his conversion and, in this article, we would like to examine some questions that often arise from this particular case of conversion.
Did Morality Save Cornelius?
"There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway." (Acts 10:1,2). There is no mistaking the fact that Cornelius was as good a man as you would want to meet. The word "devout" means that he was religious. Many people are "religious" but this does not mean they fear God and have raised their family to do the same but Cornelius had. Cornelius also practiced his religion by helping people in need and he prayed to God at all times.
There would be many people, preachers included, who would have no doubts that if Cornelius had died at this point in his life he would have gone to Heaven. They believe that if a person is good, honest, pays his debts, is a good husband/wife and father/mother, there is nothing else for a person to do to be saved and God surely would not bar such a person from entering Heaven. The problem with this thinking is that it is merely an emotional argument and not based upon what the Scriptures teach.
What do the Scriptures teach? In verses 5 and 6 Cornelius is told: "And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do." The Scriptures tell us that Cornelius had something else he needed to do. When Peter rehearsed this conversion in chapter eleven, he said, "Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." This clearly shows that though Cornelius was a good moral person, he was not saved. This is one lesson we must learn: Morality alone does not save!
Was Cornelius Saved By Having A Miraculous Experience?
Acts 10:3 says, "He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius." In many religious circles, people are ask to tell their "experience" which is the evidence of the Lord saving them. While an angel did appear to Cornelius, he did not tell Cornelius that he was saved. Instead, he told Cornelius to "...send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do." Why did the angel not tell Cornelius and save Peter all the trouble of coming from Joppa to Caesarea? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 4:7- "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." God intends for the gospel to be taught by human beings to human beings; not angelic beings to human beings. This is why the angel did not tell Cornelius nor does an angel tell anyone else what to do to be saved. Even the Lord Himself did not tell Saul what to do to be saved but, instead, told him to go into Damascus and it would be told him what to do. (Acts 9:1-6).
The appearance of the angel to Cornelius was not to give him an experience for him to go to Peter and have Peter to declare him to be saved because of the experience. The lesson for us to learn is that neither an appearance of the Lord nor angels is to serve as evidence that we are saved.
Did Holy Spirit Baptism Save Cornelius?
Many contend that because Cornelius and his house received Holy Spirit baptism, this was in order to save them. Indeed, the Holy Ghost came upon them as it also had come upon the apostles in Acts 2. "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days." (Acts 10:44-48). In rehearsing the story, Peter said, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:15-17). The Jews, which accompanied Peter, were astonished for they were seeing the Gentiles receive the Holy Ghost but this is only the second time this had occurred. Peter points out to the Jews in Jerusalem that the Holy Ghost fell on them (Cornelius and his house), as on us (apostles) at the beginning(day of Pentecost, Acts 2).
No, the baptism of the Holy Ghost was not an everyday occurrence in that day nor in this day. In fact, these are the only two recorded cases of Holy Spirit baptism in the New Testament. The apostles received it because it was a promise from Jesus to enable them to remember the truth Jesus had taught them (John 14:26). It also enabled them to confirm Godís word - "And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." The reason Cornelius and his house received Holy Spirit baptism was for the same conclusion the Jews in Jerusalem reached: "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life."
For the Holy Spirit to be given to Cornelius and his house was evidence that God included the Gentiles in His scheme of redemption. That is why Peter proceeded to command them to be baptized. Holy Spirit baptism did not remit the sins of Cornelius and his house for that was never the purpose of it. Holy Spirit baptism was a promise and never a command. What is a command is the same thing Peter commanded - water baptism. The things Peter taught Cornelius resulted in their being baptized. This is exactly the same thing that resulted in Acts 2 when Peter preached to those in Jerusalem. When they asked, "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."(Acts 2:37,38).
Today, we can be saved from sin by doing what Cornelius did. Not by just being a good moral person. Not by some miraculous experience. Not by expecting to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we must hear Godís word and do what it says by being baptized in the name of the Lord.
---E.R. Hall, Jr.
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