There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (Acts 10:1-2)
When Was Cornelius Saved?
The conversion of Cornelius is an example of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ changing the hearts of lost men. Here was a man of some note and with a great deal of authority at his charge. A Roman cohort (regiment) would number around six-hundred men. The ordinary duties of the centurion were to drill his men, inspect their arms, supply food and clothing, and to command them in the camp and in the field. Cornelius was also a religious man who was unlike his fellow soldiers and officers who would have worshiped idols and gods of men.
The text of Acts 10 reveals that around the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God appeared to him and told him to send to Joppa for Peter. The angel told Cornelius that Peter would tell him “what you must do (v6).” Cornelius obeyed the angel and sent two servants and a devout soldier to find Peter. Four days later, Peter arrived in Caesarea. Peter was glad to speak to those assembled in the house of Cornelius and explained how that God had shown that the gospel was for all men who would believe on Jesus Christ. As Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those “who heard the word (v44).” The Jews that accompanied Peter and Peter himself were astonished at the coming of the Holy Spirit and how the household of Cornelius was now speaking in tongues. “Then answered Peter, ‘Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 10:46-48)
The conversion of Cornelius sets forth important lessons of how a person is saved. It also shows what things did not save Cornelius. Luke tells us that Cornelius was a devout man, generous and prayed all the time – but he was still not saved. In Acts 11:14 Peter recounts the conversion and shows the angel telling Cornelius to send for Peter “who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.” If Cornelius was a saved man before the angel came then there would be no reason for Peter to come.
Cornelius was not saved because an angel appeared to him. (10:3) Cornelius would not be saved until he obeyed the words of the angel to send to Joppa for Peter. This explains that man must do something for salvation. Cornelius had faith and believed in God but without works he could not have heard the words of Peter. He sent to Joppa for Peter.
Peter came to the house of Cornelius to tell him “words” (10:22) that would lead him to obedience to Christ. Cornelius understood that Peter would come and “speak” (10:32-33) to them. Peter opened his mouth and taught them about Jesus Christ and while he was speaking the Holy Spirit came upon the household of Cornelius. This was the same thing that happened to the twelve apostles in Acts 2 (See Acts 11:15) but this did not save Cornelius. Peter did not believe they were saved by the baptism of the Holy Spirit because he said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” (10:47) He commanded them to be baptized (for repentance to life – 11:18) in the name of the Lord. That is when Cornelius was saved!
Being a religious person (10:1-2), having an angel appear (10:3), being baptized with the Holy Spirit (10:45) or hearing the words of a preacher did not save Cornelius but his obedience to the will of God did. Being a religious person today will not save you. If an angel appears to anyone today it is not from God (Galatians 1:8-9). Speaking in “tongues” does not save a person nor the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (of which cannot be done today as in Acts 2 and 10). What will save a man today? Read Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-38; Romans 6:1-14; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:11-12 among other passages.