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on the Conversion of Cornelius
Is the conversion of Cornelius and his household an example of salvation before baptism?
Edward Fudge believes it is. In his book, Questions and Answers, page 110, Edward states, “I believe you will find such an example in Acts chapter 10”.
His argument is as follows:
(1) Peter says, “Whoever believes in Christ has remission of sins” (Acts 10: 43).
(2) Cornelius and his household do believe.
(3) God, seeing their faith, purifies their hearts by faith (Acts 15: 8-9).
(4) God baptizes them in the Holy Spirit and gives them the Holy Spirit as a
witness of His acceptance of them, and they speak in tongues.
(5) Peter, seeing God has accepted these people, commands them to be
baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ.
The author of Questions and Answers appears to be searching for at least one example of someone being saved before they were baptized, that is, of being saved by faith alone. Are there other examples that can be cited? Apparently not. I invite you to examine this idea. I think you will find this to be an unwarranted assumption.
There are none. Surely such an important, basic doctrine could be found in the Scriptures. The Scriptures plainly and often state that salvation is by grace through faith but none say that salvation is by grace through faith alone. On the contrary the Scriptures state that faith alone is dead and useless (James 2: 14-26). So the author is left searching for examples that will support his position.
The Scriptures say he, a Gentile, was a devout man, one who feared God, gave many alms and prayed continually (Acts 10: 2).
In a vision an angel of God told him his prayers and alms had ascended as a memorial before God and that he should send for a man named Simon who is called Peter.
They considered it unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a foreigner. Yet God had shown Peter in a vision that he should not call any man unholy or unclean. Therefore he and some of the Jewish brethren from Joppa went to speak with Cornelius about the things of God. Peter spoke to him about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
As Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household and they began speaking in tongues and exalting God.
Certainly Cornelius was saved as he was told by the angel to send for Peter who “shall speak words to you by which you shall be saved.” As best I can tell, the record simply does not tell us when he was saved. He certainly was saved but the idea that he was saved immediately upon believing is simply an unproven and unwarranted assumption.
Does the passage, “that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” indicate that they were saved immediately upon coming to faith in God?
I don’t think it does for the following reasons:
Mr. Fudge quotes Acts 10: 43 as saying, “whoever believes in Jesus has remission of sins.” QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS, pg 106 I don’t know which version he is quoting as he doesn’t say. This quotation is not like any I know. Checks of the more common versions render the passage as follows:
My understanding is that we receive remission of sins through faith when that faith is perfected by obedience to God’s command to repent and be baptized into Christ. At that point we are freed from sin (Romans 6: 3- 7; 17, 18).
But doesn’t the Apostle John state, “He who hears my word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life”?
Yes he did. The problem “faith alone” people have, is that if they hold eternal life is given immediately upon believing, and then what will they do with those passages in which people had believed yet their sins had not been forgiven. Acts 2: 38 is a very troubling passage for them because the passage states that it applies to, both Jew and Gentile and all who are far off. All people are commanded to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. The apparent problem is resolved when we understand that salvation is a process. This process begins when we come to faith in God but is not perfected or completed until by faith we repent and are baptized. Baptism without faith is simply getting wet.
The statement is that God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile, implying that He also purified the heart of the Jew by faith also. In fact this statement is true of everyone. God cleanses everyone’s heart by faith. This same Peter also said, “since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren” (1 Peter 1: 22) showing that faith and obedience are not in opposition. Faith is perfected by the obedience to the truth.
Our faith becomes alive and useful when we obey God.
This verse shows that there are not two ways of salvation, one for the Jew and one for the Gentile.
According to Mr. Fudge, we might have expected Peter to say, “Thank God, He has granted salvation to the Gentile” or “Thank God, their sins have been forgiven by faith alone.” But he says nothing like that. Instead he says, “Surely no one can refuse water for these to be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he” (Acts 10: 47)? Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
This whole scenario was played out not to show that one could be saved before baptism but to prove to the Jewish brethren that the Gentiles were to be accepted and that they were proper candidates for baptism into Christ. At that time their sins were forgiven and they were baptized into Christ just like the Jews had been.
The Scriptures do not say, but they do say, he was saved like everyone else. There was no distinction made (Acts 15: 8, 9, 11).
Therefore we conclude that Cornelius was saved when he believed and was baptized.
Cornelius was saved just like everyone else.
(Romans 6: 17, 18).
We conclude that Cornelius received forgiveness of sins when he through faith was baptized into Christ.
No distinction was made (Acts 15: 9).
We conclude that Cornelius’ heart was cleansed when by faith he obeyed the truth.
When was Cornelius born again?
You must be born of water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven
(John 3: 5).
We conclude that Cornelius was born of both the Spirit and of water when he received the Spirit and was baptized in water. At that time, I believe, he was saved. Cornelius was a special example. God, in His sovereignty, has every right to reverse the normal order of events in order to show Peter and the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles are acceptable. Cornelius was saved like all others are saved.
Does the reception of the Spirit indicate that the sins of Cornelius had been remitted and he had been saved?
As proof they cite passages about the Spirit in which the Spirit was received following baptism in water. It is hardly legitimate to use such passages to prove that salvation occurred before baptism. Cornelius is unique. He and his household are the only instance in which the Spirit was received prior to baptism. And even in this case baptism in water followed immediately. Nothing about salvation changed, simply the order of events in regard to the Spirit. Cornelius was saved in the same way as everyone else. When Cornelius received the Spirit, he has half baptized and half born again. There is only one baptism and one new birth.
Salvation is in Christ (2 Timothy 2: 10). Yet we are baptized into Christ (Romans 6: 3; Galatians 3: 27). Obviously, we must be baptized into Christ to enjoy salvation.
They use Cornelius because there is little else for them. The Scriptures teach salvation by faith, never by faith alone. On the contrary the Scriptures tell us that faith, important and fundamental as it is, is dead and useless when alone. The primary purpose of events surrounding the conversion of Cornelius was not to show “salvation before baptism” but to convince the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles were acceptable to God and proper candidates to enter the kingdom of God.
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