I have written a series of articles on the subject of obeying the gospel in the first century based on the history given in the book of Acts. The idea has been to cover every such conversion to Christianity listed in Acts. This is another installment dealing with the same subject. Why do so? Because there is absolutely no possibility that Holy Spirit inspired men, some apostles, could have gotten it wrong.
The case of Cornelius is unique in the respect that he appears to have been a godly man even prior to his conversion. In Acts 10:2 the Bible says of him that he was “a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually.” (NAS)
If there was ever a man so good as to be able to be saved on his own merits we suppose Cornelius would have been that man. And, yet God’s angel instructs him to send for Peter. Why? Might it not be that even a good man like Cornelius needed the gospel? If a man can be saved without the gospel why bother to preach it, why did Jesus die on the cross, why the great commission? You can read 2 Thess. 1:8-9 to see what will happen to those who do not obey the gospel. Cornelius needed the gospel. He was a man in need of salvation from his sins for no man is so perfect as to have never sinned.
Peter in reporting what had happened at Cornelius’ house once he gets back to Jerusalem throws more light on why Cornelius, by the angel’s direction, had been instructed to send for him. The angel had told Cornelius that “he (reference to Peter – DS) shall speak words to you by which you will be saved.” (Acts 11:14 NAS) So there were words Cornelius needed to hear in order to be saved? What were those words?
Was it not the same words Peter had preached on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2? Was it not the same words spoken by Philip in Samaria and before the Ethiopian eunuch? Was it not the same words spoken to Saul by Ananias? Is there more than one gospel that will save?
It has already shown in previous articles, as taken in chronological order, that in every instance the preaching by these inspired men immediately led to baptism on the part of those who accepted the preaching. Baptism was a part of the message. Is it any different this time with Cornelius? No!
Hear Peter, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized” (Acts 10:47 NAS) then “he ordered them to be baptized.” (Acts 10:48 NAS) What is another word for “ordered?” If you check other translations you will see the word “commanded” rather than “ordered.” But why command baptism?
The answer is because you cannot obey the gospel and thus cannot be saved, not in the first century and not now, without being baptized “for the remission of sins.” (Acts 2:38 NAS) What Peter preached in one locality he preached everywhere. Was Peter an apostle? Did he know what he was talking about? How about Philip? How about Ananias? Remember that Cornelius was to be saved by the words Peter would speak to him (Acts 11:14) and that word ended with the command to be baptized.
Cornelius and his companions had the Holy Spirit descend upon them prior to their baptism leading many to think they were saved at that point. Not so. Why not? Because Cornelius was to be saved by the message he received from Peter (Acts 11:14) and not by a miraculous manifestation from heaven. Peter had not gotten a good start on delivering that message when the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius for he says in Acts 11:15 “as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them.” (NAS) It was necessary for Peter to complete that message which included baptism.
But let us look at it from another point of view. What if Cornelius had told Peter “no thanks I have been saved by faith and grace. I believe in Jesus. I think I will just pass on the baptism.” Would he have been saved? Many preach today that he would have for the gospel they preach has no water in it unlike Peter’s gospel.
He would not have been saved by grace and faith for the simple reason he would have lacked faith in the message Peter preached. He would not have believed the Holy Spirit by which Peter spoke for Peter by the Holy Spirit commanded baptism.
I would also remind the reader of what he already knows if he will think about it. The fact the Holy Spirit is upon one does not mean he is God approved as he is in his present state. If so Caiaphas, the high priest and one of the ringleaders in bringing about the crucifixion of Jesus, was a saved man. Read about his prophesying in John 11:49-51. Add to that the fact that even inspired men could and did sin, even Peter. (Gal. 2:11-12)
(See 3 follow up articles on this under the Subject/Topics menu topic entitled “Case of Cornelius.”)