When Was Cornelius Saved?

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: Acts 11:5-18


I.         Sometimes is it useful to examine the Scriptures in detail, to get more out of an account

            A.        Today we will be looking at the conversion of Cornelius, recorded in Acts 10 and recounted in Acts 11. It is also mentioned in Acts 15.

            B.        Obviously, something significant and important took place when Cornelius and his household were converted.

II.        Cornelius’s Past - Acts 10:1-2

            A.        Cornelius was in the Roman army

                        1.         He served with the Italian cohort (or band) stationed in Caesarea.

                                    a.         A cohort was a company of approximately 600 soldiers

                        2.         As a centurion, he had charge over 100 soldiers, making him the equivalent of a captain in today’s army.

                                    a.         Polybius in his book History, wrote this about centurions, “Centurions are required not to be bold and adventurous so much as good leaders, of steady and prudent mind, not prone to take the offensive or start fighting wantonly, but able when overwhelmed and hard-pressed to stand fast and die at their post.”

            B.        Surprisingly, this rock-steady man in the Roman army was a worshiper of God.

                        1.         He is described as a devout man.

                        2.         In Acts 10:22, his own followers describe him as a righteous man

                        3.         He had a good reputation among the Jews, though he was a gentile. Not a small feat given how much the Jews hated Gentiles in general.

                        4.         He was good to people, giving gifts of charity (alms) when opportunities arose.

                        5.         He had a good influence on other people

                                    a.         His whole house feared God - Acts 10:2

                                    b.         When an opportunity came to hear a message from God, he pulled in friends and relatives - Acts 10:24

                        6.         He was a man who continually prayed

                        7.         He was obedient to the Lord’s command - Acts 10:5-8

                                    a.         Even though an angel of God was there, Cornelius was directed to send for a man living in a small town with a common tanner.

                                    b.         He had to wait several days, yet we see his eagerness - Acts 10:32-33

                                    c.         He was receptive to God’s desire before even hearing Peter speak.

            C.        Think about the devotion that would be required for a man who lived and worked among idolatrous people.

                        1.         Paul described the Gentile society as thus - Romans 1:29-31

                        2.         Peter, describing the difficulty Christians had in the Gentile society, stated this - I Peter 4:3-4

                        3.         Cornelius would have been an outsider.

                                    a.         He was still a Gentile. He had not converted to Judaism

                                                (1)       The Christians in Jerusalem objected to Peter’s visit to a Gentile who was uncircumcised -Acts 11:1-3

                                                (2)       Peter was prepared for the request by a vision of unclean food - Acts 10:28

                                    b.         He was not a Christian, having not been taught

                                    c.         His strong faith in God existed without external support

            D.        Yet, God said he needed to be saved - Acts 10:30-33; 11:13-14

                        1.         The words Peter would tell him would bring salvation to Cornelius and his household

                        2.         You know, there are a lot of good people in this world today. People who are not nearly as devote as Cornelius, but good people none the less. Yet they do not think they need to be cleansed by the blood of Christ.

                        3.         God, in their view, would not destroy a good person.

                        4.         In other words, their hope of a heavenly reward is based upon their own moral goodness. They hold to the fact that by being good, they will have earned a place in heaven.

                                    a.         Yet all of man’s “goodness” is not enough - Romans 3:23

                                    b.         Salvation does not come of ourselves - Ephesians 2:8-10

                                    c.         It takes the blood of Christ - Ephesians 2:11-13 – such described Cornelius’s situation

            E.        Objections

                        1.         But wasn’t he devout?

                                    a.         Yes, but other people are described as devout who have not been saved

                                                (1)       In the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia, Paul met and talked with devout, God-fearing proselytes of the Jewish religion - Acts 13:43

                                                (2)       Yet, many of this same group rejected the message a week later - Acts 13:44

                                                (3)       Among the gentiles were devout women - Acts 13:50

                                                (4)       But they were prodded into persecute Paul and Barnabas

                                    b.         Ananias was devout and a Christian - Acts 22:12

                                    c.         Hence, we must conclude that Christians should be devoted to God, but every devout person is not a Christian.

                        2.         But wasn’t he God fearing?

                                    a.         Yes, along with his household, but it obviously wasn’t enough in God’s eyes

                                    b.         No one can say they are without sin - I John 1:10

                        3.         He was even evangelistic before his conversion, as he brought friends and relatives in to hear Peter preach. But even that wasn’t enough.

                        4.         He did charity work. He continually prayed to God. He was a righteous man in the sight of others (Acts 10:22), but he wasn’t a saved man.

                                    a.         Yet, he was a man whom God would welcome - Acts 10:34-35

            F.        What we learn ...

                        1.         Salvation is for all men - Titus 2:11-14

                                    a.         Not just for the corrupt and despised, but it is also for the good and admired people.

                                    b.         Because no person is good enough - Romans 3:23

                        2.         God wants people to do good - Titus 3:3-8

                                    a.         But our salvation is not based on the good deeds that we have done - Titus 3:5

                                    b.         While we cannot earn or merit salvation, it does not imply there is nothing to be done.

                                                (1)       God told Cornelius to send for Peter.

                                                            (a)       God did not tell Cornelius directly that he would be saved.

                                                            (b)       God didn’t even send Peter to Cornelius.

                                                            (c)       He made Cornelius get his own preacher!

                                                (2)       Cornelius had to listen to what Peter told him - Acts 11:13-14

                                                (3)       Cornelius knew he would have to do the things that Peter told him to do - Acts 10:33

                                    c.         God had works for Cornelius to do - Ephesians 2:10

                                                (1)       Those works did not earn Cornelius salvation

                                                (2)       But salvation would not have been given to Cornelius if he did not do them.

                        3.         It doesn’t matter if we or other think that we are righteous.

                                    a.         To declare ourselves righteous is simply being self-righteous

                                    b.         Paul wanted a righteousness that was not his own - Philippians 3:9

                                    c.         The Jews established their own righteousness, but it wasn’t God’s - Romans 10:3

                                    d.         Loving God with our whole being means yielding to all his commands - John 14:15

                        4.         Cornelius did not trust in his righteousness.

                                    a.         God gave him orders, and he hurried to obey

                                    b.         What about you?

III.       Cornelius was a man who prayed and whose prayer was heard by God - Acts 10:1-4

            A.        Have you heard those who tell us that to be saved we just need to get down on our knees and pray to God for salvation and it will be granted?

            B.        Cornelius was praying at the ninth hour (about 3pm) - Acts 10:30

                        1.         It appears this was his customary time for prayer.

                        2.         Josephus states in Antiquities 14.4.3 that public sacrifices were offered in the temple “twice daily, in the early morning and about the ninth hour.”

                        3.         At this time of offering the Jews customarily prayed - Acts 3:1

                        4.         While not a Jew or a proselyte, this does show that Cornelius followed the Jewish practices of his day.

            C.        Cornelius was not just a man who prayed, but a man whom God heard pray

                        1.         His prayers and alms were described as ascending before God as a memorial before God - Acts 10:4

                        2.         It is an allusion back to the sacrifices done before God in the Old Testament - Leviticus 2:1-2

                        3.         As the Psalmist requested - Psalm 141:1-2

                        4.         It is not odd, the Christian’s deeds are described in a similar manner

                                    a.         Philippians 4:18 - Their gifts to Paul were a sacrifice to God

                                    b.         The sacrifice of praise and good works - Hebrews 13:15-16

            D.        It was a memorial before God - God took note of it

                        1.         The greatest fear of man ought to be being forgotten or forsaken by God - Matthew 27:46

                        2.         Deeds can bring remembrance - Matthew 26:13

                        3.         Our partaking of the Lord’s Supper reminds us of Christ’s death - I Corinthians 13:23-26

                        4.         God does not need man to remind Him of our existence, but the language describes God’s acceptance of Cornelius’s prayers and deeds. It tells us that God took note of what Cornelius had done.

                                    a.         God will not forget our work - Hebrews 6:10

            E.        The fact that God heard his prayer shows he was one willing to obey - Proverbs 28:9

            F.        Some might say, “Ah! Now I have you! God doesn’t hear the prayer of the sinner, so Cornelius must have been saved.”

                        1.         The concept comes from John 9:31.

                                    a.         Note that it is what the blind man has stated.

                                    b.         The Pharisees had labeled Jesus a sinner - John 9:24

                                    c.         The blind man could not comment on Jesus standing - John 9:25

                                    d.         But he did note that he must not have been such a sinner that God was against him

                        2.         The fact that God heard Cornelius’s prayer shows us that he was not a rebellious sinner, but a man willing to obey God. We already noted that Cornelius was such a man, but it doesn’t reflect on his current status of being saved or not.

            G.        Cornelius prayed, but the answer to his prayer was not salvation – at least not directly - Acts 11:13-14

                        1.         In this case, the answer was no different from what Paul was told - Acts 9:6

                                    a.         While waiting Saul prayed - Acts 9:9-11

                                    b.         Yet the prayers of Saul did not bring him salvation

                                    c.         When Ananias visited Saul, he was not told to keep on praying for salvation - Acts 22:16

                        2.         The answer to his prayer was directions on how to learn to be saved.

            H.        What commands were given to others?

                        1.         Acts 2:37-38 - These people were told to repent and be baptized.

                        2.         Acts 8:4-5, 12-13 - These people believed and were baptized

                        3.         Acts 8:35-39 - This person heard, confessed his belief, and was baptized.

                        4.         Acts 16:13-15 - Even though they were in a place of prayer, it was Paul’s preaching that opened Lydia’s heart and the result was that she and her household were baptized.

                        5.         Acts 16:30-34 - The jailer was told to believe, he and his household heard the word preached, and immediately they were baptized.

                        6.         Acts 18:4-5, 8 - Paul taught and many Corinthians responded by listening, believing and being baptized.

                        7.         Acts 19:4-5 - Paul taught some Ephesians that they needed to believe in Jesus and on hearing this they were baptized.

            I.         What command was given to Cornelius?

                        1.         Acts 10:33, 42-43, 48 - These people were commanded to believe and be baptized.

                        2.         Was Cornelius told anything different?

            J.         What we learn is that the desire for salvation, expressed in prayer, is not sufficient to bring salvation to a person. God expects more from us.

IV.      Cornelius experienced miracles

            A.        Cornelius was visited by an angel - Acts 10:3-7

                        1.         This is not the first time that an angel has intervened to instigate a man’s conversion - Acts 8:26

                        2.         Though the angel appeared to the man to be converted in Acts 10 and to the preacher in Acts 8, the purpose was the same – to bring the preacher together with a person needing the message of God.

                        3.         In both cases, the angel did not do the preaching, but arranged for a man to teach another man.

            B.        As we read through Acts, not every conversion was accompanied by angels appearing. But each conversion follows a similar pattern.

                        1.         A man teaches the gospel

                        2.         The listener response to the message

                        3.         Hence we conclude that the supernatural actions on God’s part doesn’t overrule the requirement for a man to teach the gospel - Romans 10:13-17

            C.        Why then the miracles?

                        1.         The gospel was in the process of being revealed and confirmed - Hebrews 2:3-4

                        2.         The revelation would be done once - Jude 3

                        3.         But the spreading of the gospel was done by men - II Corinthians 4:7

                        4.         In no case did an angel teach someone the gospel so that they could be saved.

                                    a.         Saul saw and heard a vision of the Lord - Acts 9:3-5

                                    b.         But he was directed to wait for a man to teach him - Acts 9:6

                                    c.         Ananias was contacted by an angel, but he had to go to Saul - Acts 9:10-18

                        5.         Hence we conclude that while confirmation of the gospel was needed in the original delivery, it does not take a miracle to hear or accept the gospel - I Corinthians 1:21

            D.        Could it happen today?

                        1.         Some claim a miraculous event

                                    a.         It would not be worth arguing since I wasn’t there.

                        2.         Instead I would be interested in what was told to them

                                    a.         Is it similar or different from the teachings of the Bible?

                                    b.         If different, then ... - Galatians 1:8

                        3.         Next ask, what do you teach now?

                                    a.         If the Holy Spirit is guiding them and teaching them, the Spirit would not contradict today what He taught back then.

                                    b.         If there is a difference, then the conclusion must be that it is not the Spirit

                        4.         What do you do?

                                    a.         In other words, what evidence is given to you by God to support your claim

                                    b.         Cornelius began speaking in other languages as evidence that he received the Spirit.

            E.        Notice that Cornelius’s claim was not based on his word only

                        1.         Peter received a vision that collaborated what Cornelius saw.

                                    a.         The same is true of Paul and Ananias – two separate visions that confirmed what happened

                                    b.         Note, by the way, that Peter’s vision was the second miracle involved in Cornelius’s conversion

                                    c.         A third divine event occurred when Peter was directly told to go with Cornelius’s men - Acts 10:19-20

                        2.         Few today offer collaboration. It is their word only, and as Jesus said - John 5:31

            F.        You know despite these miraculous events, Cornelius still needed to hear words from Peter in order to be saved - Acts 11:13-14

                        1.         And so do you

V.        Cornelius receive the Holy Spirit

            A.        There are a variety of phrases describing what happened

                        1.         The Spirit fell on them all - Acts 10:44; 11:15

                        2.         The gift of the Spirit had been poured out on them - Acts 10:45

                        3.         They had received the Holy Spirit - Acts 10:47

                        4.         They had been baptized in the Spirit - Acts 11:16

                        5.         God gave them the same gift - Acts 11:17

                        6.         God gave them the Holy Spirit - Acts 15:8

            B.        The event was the same as what happened at the beginning of the church - Acts 11:15-17

                        1.         It almost sounds like two different times: at the beginning of the church (i.e. Acts 2) and when the apostles believed. Yet, the apostles believed on Jesus before his death (Matthew 16:18)

                        2.         The answer is that their earlier belief was not based on full knowledge

                                    a.         John 16:12-13 - Apostles not ready to hear everything

                                    b.         After his resurrection, their minds were opened - Luke 24:44-49

                                    c.         Yet, they still didn’t understand everything - Acts 1:6-8

                                    d.         The Holy Spirit would remind them of everything when they were ready - John 14:25-26

                                    e.         Hence Peter is placing the beginning of the apostle’s faith at the time when all the facts came together. Faith was not true faith until they had the truth to believe in.

                        3.         What happened at the beginning - Acts 2:1-4 – Notice the similarities

            C.        The event was not common place

                        1.         The fact that it reminded Peter of what happened at the beginning implies that it had not been occurring since the beginning.

                        2.         There are quite a number of conversions mentioned between Acts 2 and Acts 10

                                    a.         In particular details are given of the Samaritans in Acts 8:12-17

                                    b.         Notice the differences

                                                (1)       They were baptized, but did not receive gifts of the Spirit immediately

                                                (2)       Even though Philip was present who had the gifts of the Spirit, these people had to wait until apostles came from Jerusalem

                                                (3)       The Spirit came by the apostles’ hands - Acts 8:18. But at the beginning and for Cornelius the Spirit came directly by an act of God

                                    c.         Hence, we must conclude that receiving the gifts of the Spirit by the hands of the apostles was not baptism in the Spirit

                                                (1)       Otherwise Peter would have been reminded of more recent baptisms in the Spirit, instead of reaching all the way back to the beginning.

                                    d.         Since baptism in water came before receiving the Spirit in Acts 8 and it came after receiving the Spirit in Acts 10, we must conclude that they have separate, unrelated purposes

            D.        Let us take a brief side-track. Frequently there is confusion when baptism is mentioned as to which baptism occurred. There is baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit

                        1.         Baptism in the Spirit was administered by Christ

                                    a.         John promised that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit - Matthew 3:11

                                    b.         When we read of the two events that are called the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we see that no man was involved

                                                (1)       It came from heaven - Acts 2:2

                                                (2)       God gave them the gift - Acts 2:17, 32-33; 11:17; 15:8

                        2.         Water baptism is administered by men - Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:38

                        3.         Baptism in the Spirit was promised by Christ - Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8

                        4.         Baptism in water is commanded

                                    a.         Peter commanded it of Cornelius - Acts 10:48

                                    b.         Ananias told Saul to be baptized - Acts 22:16

                                    c.         Jesus commanded that his disciples do so - Matthew 28:19

                                    d.         A command can be obeyed, but a promise cannot be obeyed. A promise must be given.

                        5.         Baptism in the Spirit was accompanied by signs - Acts 2:4-8; 10:44-46

                        6.         Baptism in water did not confer miraculous gifts - Acts 8:12, 16

                        7.         All Christians were not baptized with the Spirit.

                                    a.         Recall those between Acts 2 and Acts 10

                                    b.         All Christians could not perform miracles - I Corinthians 12:28-30

                        8.         All Christians were baptized in water - Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27

            E.        Isn’t the baptism received by Cornelius the gift of the Spirit promised by Peter in Acts 2:38-39?

                        1.         The promise of the gift of the Spirit would come after repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins

                        2.         Cornelius received the Spirit before he was baptized.

                        3.         Hence, it was not the same gift promised.

                        4.         Also note that the gift promised in Acts 2:38 was universal. All who received remission of sins would receive this gift

                                    a.         Yet, as we noted earlier, every one did not receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit or miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

                                    b.         Yet, there is a gift of the Spirit promised that all who have the sins remitted would have - Ephesians 1:13-14

                                    c.         This gift is not one which is accompanied by miraculous signs, but it is a gift that every child of God would possess.

            F.        What purpose did baptism in the Holy Spirit serve?

                        1.         The first baptism of the Spirit

                                    a.         To teach and remind the apostles - John 14:26

                                    b.         To give the apostles power to be witnesses - Acts 1:8; Hebrews 2:3-4

                        2.         Let us first address what Cornelius’ the baptism of the Spirit did not come to do

                                    a.         The Spirit did not come to make Cornelius acceptable to God

                                                (1)       Cornelius was a God-fearing man - Acts 10:2

                                                (2)       He had a good reputation - Acts 10:22

                                                (3)       As Peter said - Acts 10:35 - Cornelius was already acceptable to God

                                    b.         The Spirit did not come to give him faith.

                                                (1)       Cornelius already believed in God.

                                                (2)       Faith comes from the word of God - Romans 10:17

                                                (3)       By hearing the word of the Gospel, Cornelius believed - Acts 15:7

                                    c.         Nor can it be claimed that the Spirit came to give salvation

                                                (1)       Again, such is not stated of Cornelius or any other that the Spirit coming upon a person makes them saved.

                                                (2)       In fact, there are instances when the Spirit came upon those we know were in sin

                                                            (a)       Saul while looking to murder David - I Samuel 19:18-24

                                                            (b)       Balaam while trying to make money - Numbers 23:1-5; II Peter 2:15

                                                            (c)       Here we have a better case because at least Cornelius was a godly man.

                                                (3)       Because the Spirit comes upon a person does not imply that the person was saved or had become saved.

                                                (4)       In other New Testament cases, the Spirit came upon those already saved

                                                            (a)       The apostles were chosen by Jesus and were baptizing prior to His death - John 4:1-2

                                                            (b)       The Samaritans believed and were baptized prior to receiving the gifts in Acts 8

                                                            (c)       Those at Corinth were baptized prior to the receiving the gifts - Acts 18:8

                                                            (d)       The same at Ephesus - Acts 19:5-6

                                                (5)       As we pointed out, not everyone received gifts, but all Christians did receive salvation from their sins.

                                                (6)       Besides, Cornelius was told that he would hear words whereby he would be saved - Acts 11:14. Peter said we are all saved by the grace of Jesus, just as Cornelius was - Acts 15:7-11

                                    d.         The Spirit did not come to sanctify them. That is done through the word - John 17:17

                                    e.         The Spirit did not come to bring him forth. That is done through the word - James 1:18

                                    f.         The Spirit did not come to make him born again. That is done through the word - I Peter 1:22-23

                                    g.         The Spirit did not come to cleanse his heart. His heart was cleanse by faith - Acts 11:9

                                    h.         The Spirit did not come as an alternative or replacement for baptism in water. Cornelius was still commanded to be baptized - Acts 10:48

                                    i.         The Spirit did not come to make him a child of God. That is done by baptism in water - Galatians 3:26-27.

                        3.         So why did the Spirit come?

                                    a.         Acts 15:8-11 - To bear them witness

                                                (1)       Witness to what?

                                                (2)       The issue was whether one had to become a Jew to be saved - Acts 15:4-5

                                                (3)       Peter said the Spirit came to witness that they could be saved without being a Jew.

                                                (4)       He did not say the Spirit came to witness that you could be saved without baptism.

                                    b.         Why did the Spirit come before baptism?

                                                (1)       Notice that Jewish Christians had come with Peter - Acts 10:23; 11:12

                                                (2)       The Spirit’s coming shocked the men with Peter - Acts 10:45-46

                                                (3)       Peter asked them if they dare object given the obvious testimony of God - Acts 10:47; 11:17

                                    c.         Note that the Spirit did not come until Peter began to speak - Acts 11:15

                                                (1)       Here was testimony that the Gentiles could be saved through the word of God - Acts 11:13-14

                        4.         The testimony of Peter

                                    a.         When Peter testified at the gathering in Jerusalem, he used the example of Cornelius to prove that Gentiles, as Gentiles and not Jews, were accepted by God.

                                    b.         He did not use the case of Cornelius to prove that everyone should receive the Spirit or that the Spirit burned sin out of a sinner’s heart, or that the Spirit’s coming made him a child of God.

                                    c.         In fact he used the event in Acts 10 and 11 to prove that Cornelius should be baptized

                                    d.         In all three instances the case was used to prove that the Gentiles were to receive the Gospel without being bound by the Law. To claim otherwise would be to try God - Acts 15:10

VI.      We are saved in the same manner as they - Acts 15:11

            A.        The method which saves every Christian saved Cornelius and his household.

            B.        In other words, the salvation of Cornelius was the rule and not the exception

                        1.         Cornelius was not saved by unusual events. His salvation came in the same manner as every other Christian

                        2.         Now, was the baptism of the Holy Spirit common or unusual?

                                    a.         We showed that it was an oddity. It had only happened once before. And we have no record that it ever happened since.

                                    b.         We know that both baptisms by the Spirit were accompanied by miraculous signs, especially the speaking in other tongues.

                                    c.         We know that not all Christians had the ability to speak in tongues. Some did not have gifts at all.

            C.        How then were others saved?

                        1.         Saved by grace - Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:5

                        2.         Saved by faith - Ephesians 2:8; John 3:16

                        3.         Saved by confession - Romans 10:8-10

                        4.         Repent that your sins may be wiped away - Acts 3:19

                        5.         Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins - Acts 2:38

            D.        Did Cornelius experience things common to other Christians?

                        1.         He received grace - Acts 15:11

                        2.         He believed - Acts 15:7

                        3.         He was granted the opportunity to repent - Acts 11:18

                        4.         He magnified God - Acts 10:46

                        5.         He was baptized in water - Acts 10:47-48

                        6.         All this resulted from hearing the Word of God - Acts 10:44; 11:13-15

            E.        This is all taught in the word of God - I Corinthians 15:1-2

                        1.         Satan doesn’t want you to have this word because it will save you - Luke 8:12

                        2.         Romans 1:16 - The gospel of our salvation

            F.        Cornelius was saved just like you or I.

                        1.         Yes, he experienced unusual events

                                    a.         He was visited by an angel, but few would claim that you need to see an angel to be saved

                                    b.         His preacher saw visions, but few would claim that the preacher needs to see a vision before he has permission to teach you the gospel

                                    c.         His preacher was told to teach him

                                    d.         He was baptized by the Holy Spirit, which only occurred once before.

                        2.         So why pick out one exceptional event and claim it as a rule when God, through Peter, said that Cornelius was saved like everyone else?

                        3.         All of us where baptized - Romans 6:3-4

                        4.         Baptism now saves - I Peter 3:21

                        5.         Cornelius was saved in just the same manner

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