It is maintained by some, who dispute the necessity of water baptism for salvation, that Cornelius and his people were saved before and without baptism because they received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-45) before they were baptized in water (47-48).
Certain counterexamples should suffice to demonstrate that having the Holy Spirit is not necessarily proof of salvation.
“Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.’ Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation” (John 11:49-51). Caiaphas prophesied, and “no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2nd Peter 1:21 ASV). Yet, this man was not in a state of grace, for he is the one who presided over the trial of Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:57), who accused the Son of God of blasphemy (65), and who pressed for a verdict of death (66).
“Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear… Saul also sent messengers to David’s house to watch him and to kill him” (1st Samuel 19:10-11). While in pursuit of this innocent man’s life, the King of Israel received inspiration. “Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1st Samuel 19:23-24). That Saul had the Holy Spirit in no wise indicates he had forgiveness, as he was actively intending to commit murder when it happened.
That these villains were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word of God demands the honest student of Scripture to concede that receiving the Holy Spirit is not necessarily evidence that one has been saved. While it remains true that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32), it is, evidently, so that He has sometimes put His Spirit on the disobedient, as well. Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:22-23).
In the case of Cornelius and his people, the Holy Spirit was given, not to prove they were saved, but to prove they could be! These were the first Gentiles to receive the gospel, so extraordinary measures were undertaken to connect the preacher and the hearers. Cornelius saw “a vision of an angel” ordering him to summon Peter (Acts 10:1-8), Peter “fell into a trance” in which the Lord revealed to him the termination of the Old Covenant (9-16), and the Holy Spirit spoke to Peter, telling him to follow Cornelius’ messengers to Caesarea (17-23). To show that Gentiles could be saved the same as Jews, these people received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, an event that could only be compared to what happened to the apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 11:15).
After the Gentiles had the Holy Spirit, Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48), harkening back to what he commanded the Jews assembled in Jerusalem on Pentecost: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Remission of sins is the goal of baptism in the name of the Lord, and that is what was still required of Cornelius, his family, and his friends after the Spirit had come upon them.
Water baptism in the name of Christ unto forgiveness is an unavoidable requirement for every sinner to be saved.
by Bryan Matthew Dockens
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