THE WHOLE GOSPEL FOR THE WHOLE WORLD PART III: GOD, THE GIVING SAVIOR
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
— Acts 10:44-11:18, ESV
This culminates the thrilling account of the acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ by a wholesale Gentile audience. The whole gospel is now for the whole world, and onward it will go. It is time to give credit where credit is due.
We could credit Cornelius, the incomplete man. It was he who forsook Roman paganism and sought God among the Jews. It was he who realized there was still something missing in his life, causing him to cry out to God in prayer, resulting in the sending of Simon Peter. You cannot get saved unless you want to be saved, and Cornelius wanted to. But Cornelius could not save himself.
We could credit Simon Peter, the reluctant witness. God gave him a vision to overcome his pride and prejudice to preach to Gentile souls. And preach Peter did, with the great effect you see here in this story. No one will be saved unless someone brings the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, and Peter packed the gospel everywhere he went. But Peter, even if he was the Pope, cannot save anyone.
We must credit God, the sovereign savior of all saved souls. For the bottom line in this great gospel transaction is this,“to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (ref. Acts 11:18). No one can be saved unless God gives them salvation. How does God do it?
God Gives His Spirit for Salvation
The Bible gives us one God in three persons, and the person of God most prominent in the book of Acts is the Holy Spirit. God the Father appoints (ref. Acts 13:48), God the Son atones (ref. Romans 5:11, KJV), but it is God the Spirit who applies salvation to a soul. On this fateful day at Cornelius’ house, “The Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (ref. Acts 10:44).
Before He fell on them, the Holy Spirit whispered to them. In the classic movie, Field of Dreams, it is the voice that puts the whole ballpark-in-the-middle-of-the-cornfield in motion. In the life of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, it is the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that puts him in motion. Something told Cornelius he needed Jesus, something told Peter he needed to preach to Cornelius, and that something was a someone, God the Holy Spirit.
Before He fell on them, the Holy Spirit convicted them. As Jesus explained the work of the Holy Spirit to His disciples by saying, “He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). There is no salvation for sinners apart from conviction of sin and a hunger for the righteousness of Christ that can spare one from judgment. The Holy Spirit lets us know we are lost, then, He tells us we are loved.
When He fell on them, the Holy Spirit gave them the love of God. The word translated “fell” is otherwise translated “embraced” in Luke 15:20, the parable of the prodigal son. In one incredible moment, the prodigal son feels, at the same time, the terrible weight of his sin against the father, and simultaneously the absolute forgiveness and unconditional love the father has given to him. This is how Pilgrim becomes Christian. This is how a soul is saved.
No sinner can be saved apart the Spirit of God, His communication and conviction and compassion. This is all a gift from God, a gift of His love (ref. John 3:16), a love big and powerful enough to save any sinner and transform them into a saint, with evidence to prove it.
God Gives Evidence of Salvation
Some call what happens next in this story the second Pentecost. Actually, it is the third. The first was for the Jews (Acts 2:4), the second for the Samaritans (Acts 8:17), and now the third for the first Gentile converts in Israel. There will be a fourth, for Gentiles outside of Israel (ref. Acts 19:6).
The “speaking in tongues,” known languages, was a sign for the Jewish Christians to see, so that they would know God saves Gentiles, too. This spectacular sign gift seemed to dissipate once the gospel had reached far into the Gentile world and the Apostles died. There were other evidences of salvation, however, that never die in the heart, mind, and life of a true Christian.
True Christians are always “extolling God,” making much of Him, putting Him first in their lives, telling others about Him. One cannot experience the amazing grace of God in salvation without being amazed by it, changed by it, guided by it going forward. There is some ebb and flow to be sure, but the river keeps running, from justification to sanctification to glorification.
True Christians always experience “water for baptizing.” Baptism is a sacred ritual and a simple commandment. Notice it is performed after conversion, upon professing believers, after they have received the Holy Spirit. This means, of course, that the baptism of the Spirit is conversion, which is to be followed by baptism in water, and you do not have to beg someone who has experienced the former to do the latter.
True Christians hunger for the preaching and teaching of the word of God. Through Peter’s preaching of “the word” (Acts 10:44), they had been saved, and saved people cannot get enough of the word. They made Peter stay, and preach and teach some more. To this day, they will flock to a church with pastors who preach and teach it. To this day, they will buy copies of Bibles and read it. To this day, true Christians are still showing their true colors by their love and obedience to the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God.
Just as the Holy Spirit is a gift of God in salvation, so the evidences of salvation are gifts of God to fellow Christians and the world. It is how the church is built up, and it is how the gospel spreads out. The fruit of the Spirit in the lives and lips of Christians is a glorious gift from God, evidencing and spreading the gift of salvation.
God Gives the Means for Salvation
Now, for the final report, which Simon Peter had to give when he got back to the mother church in Jerusalem. Some of the Jewish boys were hardliners against the Gentiles, thinking God loved the Jews only, not the world. But all these things had happened to Cornelius, and Peter, and them, to demonstrate that the whole gospel is for the whole world.
In this report (Acts 11:1-18), Peter recounted his dream, rebuffed their prejudices, recorded the Gentile salvations, and let them reach the conclusion for themselves. “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (vs. 18).
This is the bottom line in every salvation story. God is the author and finisher, Christ is the Alpha and Omega, and the Holy Spirit gives faith and repentance required for becoming a born again Christian. It is all God, it is all a gift from God, and all the children of God receive faith and repentance from God.
We are saved by faith. Saving faith is a gift from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1). It is not a mere human decision, it is not something one person can talk another into, it is not something churches can manipulate people into professing. It is a divine gift from God that is delivered by the preaching of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, to whom God has chosen and who subsequently choose, by faith, to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are saved when we repent. Repentance is a gift from God (ref. Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25). Once again, it is not something a person can do on their own, nor can one person make another do it. It is a divine gift from God, the flip side of the same coin with faith on the other, that turns a life upside down and right side up for God. The gift elicits the exact response, once again through the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, to whom God has chosen and who subsequently choose, by repenting, to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
The new house of Cornelius is built on the five pillars of true Christian faith. Through the word of God alone, God gave them grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is a gift from God, alone. Therefore, God, and God alone, gets the glory.