When was Cornelius Saved?
A study of matters directly pertaining to salvation is always a profitable exercise. One way to ascertain matters pertaining to man's salvation is by studying specific examples that are generally applicable to all men. The case of Cornelius is certainly applicable in the matter of his salvation and how such was obtained. Let us begin by noticing that there is no doubt as to the salvation of Cornelius (cp. Acts 11: 14). After having said this, I immediately agree that there are peripheral matters relative to Cornelius that did not involve his salvation. Many of these particulars we shall notice in the course of our study. The thrust of this study is to establish and set forth when salvation is obtained and what is essential and non-essential in the obtainment of salvation. Cornelius, as we shall see, had many outstanding traits. The question is which one or ones of these traits constituted his immediate salvation? A hint as to the correct answer is found in Acts 11: 14:
"Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" (this is what the angel told Cornelius).
Let us now notice some of the mentioned traits regarding Cornelius and see if he was saved in connection with the acquisition or possession of that trait(s).
Cornelius was devout? (The question mark asks if this is when he was saved, when he became devout.) We are expressly told that Cornelius was devout (Acts 10: 2). Devout is derived from the Greek eusebes and means, "reverence exhibited especially in actions" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Most of the world would certainly think that such a condition and characteristic as "devoutness" would constitute salvation. However, simply within itself, it does not. I say this because the words Cornelius had to hear for his salvation followed the description of devoutness in Acts 10: 2.
Cornelius feared God? Again, the Holy Spirit makes it certain as to the fact that Cornelius feared God (Acts 10: 2). Cornelius believed in God. Yet, Cornelius was not saved at this time (cp. Acts 10: 2 and Acts 11: 14). Therefore, the teaching of salvation by faith only is not biblically sound.
Cornelius was the head of his house? It is becoming more difficult to find men who assume headship and leadership in the family circumstance. However, Cornelius was the head of his house (Acts 10: 2). Many think if a man is a good husband and father, he is saved. Such is not necessarily so (Acts 10: 2, 11: 14).
Cornelius gave much alms to the people? Cornelius was a very generous man. His generosity apparently abounded as the result of a good and caring heart (Acts 10: 2). Notwithstanding, his generosity did not save him (Acts 10: 2, 11: 14).
Cornelius was a praying man? Not only did Cornelius pray, but we are told that he, " prayed always" (Acts 10: 2). Prayer is part of being saved, but prayerfulness within itself does not mean one is saved (cp. Prov. 28: 9).
Cornelius' prayers were heard by God? Acts 10: 3, 4 says that Cornilius' prayers constituted a memorial before God. Hence, God was aware of his prayers. Many would conclude that in view of God hearing the prayers of Cornelius, he must have been saved. Indeed, in a general sense, answered prayer belongs to the saved (I Jn. 3: 22). However, Cornelius was evidently seeking a proper relationship with God and it appears that in this circumstance, God heard him. Yet, Cornelius was not saved in the time frame of Acts 10: 3, 4 (Acts 11: 14).
Cornelius had a vision? Among some of the miraculous happenings associated with Cornelius was the vision that he received (Acts 3). Many think that if a person has a vision, this is a sure sign of personal salvation. However, Cornelius was not saved, notwithstanding his vision (Acts 10: 3, 11: 14).
Cornelius was a military man? Not only was Cornelius in the military, but he had advanced to a high and responsible position (Acts 10: 1, 22). Some associate such success in the military as being saved. Again, though, Cornelius was not saved at the point of Acts 10: 1. He still had to have words spoken to him in order that he might be saved (Acts 11: 14).
Cornelius wanted to hear preaching? It is very commendable when one wants to hear the preaching of the gospel, as did Cornelius (Acts 10: 8, 24). In fact, Cornelius is described as "waiting" to hear; hence, he was enthusiastic and eager. Still, Cornelius was not saved (Acts 11: 14).
Cornelius invited others to hear the gospel? In many ways, Cornelius was very outstanding. We must also remember that Cornelius was not a Jew by birth. Even though he invited others to hear the truth, he himself was not saved at that time. Again, we know this because of Acts 11: 14.
Cornelius had a respectful attitude and was just? We hear it said that, " attitude is all of it," yet Cornelius was lost (Acts 11: 14). In addition to all that we have seen regarding Cornelius, he was also just (Acts 10: 33, 22). Alas, he remained lost at the time of Acts 10.
Cornelius had a good report of the Jews? It was almost unheard of for a Gentile to be highly regarded and respected by the Jewish community of the first century. However, Cornelius enjoyed such a status (Acts 10: 22). Still, Cornelius was lost (Acts 11: 14). Remember, Cornelius had to hear words whereby he and his family could be saved.
Cornelius spoke in tongues and was baptized in the Holy Spirit? Again, the record is very specific in regards to the fact of Cornelius speaking in tongues and being baptized in the Spirit (Acts 10: 46, 44-48, 11: 15). While his salvation was close in point of time to the baptism in the Spirit (the baptism occurred while Peter was presenting the words that Cornelius had to hear in order to be saved), yet the baptism and tongues did not save Cornelius and were not a sign that he was already saved (Acts 11: 14). This may sound strange in view of those who teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was for the salvation of the recipient. The truth is that the baptism of the Spirit experienced by the apostles and Cornelius was not for their salvation. Such empowered the apostles and evidently Cornelius to be of great service in God's Kingdom by being able to miraculously speak and perform miracles (cp. Acts 1: 4, 8). I imagine that when Cornelius was saved, he went on to accomplish much good especially among the Gentiles.
The words Cornelius had to hear in order to be saved.
The words that were necessary to the salvation of Cornelius and his family were delivered by Peter in his memorable sermon recorded in Acts 10: 34-43. Since these words were for Cornelius' salvation, it is imperative that we are aware of the salvation words spoken to him and his family.
Here are the essential facts to be believed presented by Peter to Cornelius (notice their universality and lack of peculiar application):
God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10: 34, 35). Jew and Gentile alike were, beginning with the gospel, to be treated the same and they both had the same gospel or words of salvation.
All men must fear God and work righteousness (Acts 10: 35, cp. Rom. 1: 16, 17). While man cannot ever merit his salvation, there remains certain responsibilities enjoined on man by God and man must humbly submit in order to receive God's grace.
Jesus is Lord of all (Acts 10: 36). Jesus' Lordship is not an optional matter to be received (Lk. 6: 46). When one truly accepts Jesus' Lordship, one implicitly obeys and yields to Jesus' every command (Ibid.).
Cornelius and all men must acknowledge Jesus himself. Certain facts pertaining to Jesus are requisite to be believed. Jesus did good and God was with him, preached Peter (vs. 38), Jesus' life and record has attendant proof (vs. 39), and Jesus was crucified (vs. 39). In addition to Jesus' crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected from the grave (vs. 40, 41). In view of these facts relative to Jesus and his singularity, preaching that informed men of this good news was necessary and, in fact, took place. This word also stressed future judgement (Acts 10: 42). The wonderful news Peter preached to Cornelius was that he could have " remission of sins through his name" (Acts 10: 43). Since remission of sins is tantamount to salvation, we see why Cornelius had to hear words "whereby he could be saved" (Acts 11: 14). The remission of sins was obtained when Cornelius submitted to water baptism (cp. Acts 2: 38, 10: 47, 48).
Peter emphasized obedience to God and when Cornelius heard the words of Peter, he was obedient (Acts 10: 34, 35, 47, 48). It was at this point, I submit, that Cornelius and his house were saved. God's words must be heard and obeyed today because the gospel is God's power to salvation (Rom. 1: 16). Notwithstanding a person's goodness, it takes the blood of Jesus to wash away sins (Matt. 26: 28, Jas. 1: 18-21). At the point of scriptural baptism, Cornelius was saved and based on the spiritual quality of this man, God, no doubt, was able to use this Gentile to his glory and the salvation of many. The case of Cornilius and his turning to God officially marked the beginning of the gospel being openly and on a large scale preached to the Gentiles. This is the reason the baptism of the Spirit in the case of Cornelius was so important, it was visible proof as to the acceptance of the Gentiles (cp. Acts 11: 15-17). The baptism in the Spirit experienced by Cornelius is the second and final recorded case of Holy Spirit baptism (this second case occurred about ten years subsequent to the case of the apostles, Acts 2). While the baptism of the Spirit is exceptional, water baptism is not (Mk. 16: 15, 16). (A related article to read is, "Point in Time")