By Weldon E. Warnock
Some misguided preachers tell us that Cornelius was saved before and without water baptism. They reason that since Cornelius (and his household) received the baptism of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized in water, then he had to be saved as only saved people receive the Holy Spirit.
However, these same preachers contend that alien sinners must receive the Holy Spirit in order to convert them. So, they have unsaved people with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Cornelius had to receive a direct operation of the Spirit before the baptism of the Spirit mentioned in Acts 10:44-46. Hence, these preachers argue out of both sides of their mouths. When they preach how an alien sinner is saved, they have him getting the Holy Spirit to regenerate him. But, when they discuss water baptism they declare that those with the Holy Spirit, such as Cornelius, are already saved without water baptism. It looks like to me that they use whatever dodge is necessary at the time to prop up their erroneous doctrine.
Let us observe what the Bible clearly teaches about the conversion of Cornelius and his household.
1. Peter was sent from Joppa to Caesarea to tell Cornelius and household words whereby they could be saved. When Peter rehearsed the conversion of the Gentiles in sequence to the church at Jerusalem, he states that an angel told Cornelius to send for Peter and he would “tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:13-14).
2. The Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles as Peter began to speak (Acts 11:15). This verse states, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us at the be- ginning.” Peter had just begun his speech when the Spirit fell. Luke says “while” Peter spoke the Holy Ghost fell on them (Acts 10:44). The word “while” does not state at what juncture in Peter’s speech the Spirit fell whether at the beginning, middle, or end. However, Peter says it was the very beginning. He had not yet had the time to speak the words whereby they could be saved. And, since faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), they had not yet believed. To say that Cornelius was saved because the Spirit fell on him is to have him saved without faith. Friends, this convoluted argument of these preachers needs to be abandoned and forgotten.
The Holy Spirit falling on Cornelius and his house was to show the Jews that God was accepting the Gentiles as well as the Jews for the right of citizenship in the kingdom of God. In light of this occurrence Peter said, “Can any man forbid water?” (Acts 10:47). Again, Peter said, “What was I, that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17). Later, in Acts 15:8 Peter stated, “And God which knoweth the hearts, bear them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us.”
Cornelius was commanded to be baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 10:48). He had to be baptized to obey God. His baptism was to save him as Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). “Saved” in this text is after baptism, not before. If Cornelius was saved without water baptism, he was saved without doing what Jesus said in the Great Commission. Peter told the Jews on Pentecost to repent and be baptized for (unto, ASV) the remission of sins. Cornelius was baptized for the same reason, that is, for the remission of sins. Yes, water baptism is essential!