by Mike Ratliff
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God… (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)
It wasn’t that long ago that I received a warning email from a friend that a firestorm had been started within the internet discernment blogs about what some were calling the “damnable heresy of Lordship Salvation.” I and many of my good friends responded with sound Biblical doctrine to the assault and I don’t think the enemy’s attack accomplished much of anything other than getting some of us to dig a bit deeper into God’s Word then prayerfully respond in the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s people were edified and, as always, His truth blew massive holes in the lies of the enemy. After all, what we are talking about is saving faith. Is it something within natural man that everyone is born with and so can bring to life through self will or self effort or is it, as the Bible clearly says, that man is dead in trespasses and sins and, therefore, this saving faith is a gift from God and our salvation is His work from beginning to end?
In Acts 10 and 11 Luke gives us the account of the Lord sending Peter to the Gentiles. Here is 10:1-8.
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. (Acts 10:1-8 ESV)
Who is in control here? Is it Cornelius? Is it Peter? No, what we read here is of a Roman, a gentile, desperately being drawn to God by God.
Here is v2 from the ESV: a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.
Here is v2 from the NA27 Greek text: εὐσεβὴς καὶ φοβούμενος τὸν θεὸν σὺν παντὶ τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ, ποιῶν ἐλεημοσύνας πολλὰς τῷ λαῷ καὶ δεόμενος τοῦ θεοῦ διὰ παντός
Here is my own translation of v2 from the NA27 text: Devout and fearing God with all of his household, practicing much charitable giving to the people and praying to God always.
This is a description the Jews used of a devout “God fearer.” This was a technical term they used to refer to Gentiles who had abandoned their pagan religion in favor of worshiping Jehovah God. He had not become a proselyte to Judaism through circumcision though. He was not blinded by the legalism of the Jews. He was open to the Righteousness of God revealed in the Law and His praying, giving, fearing of God was the result of that. God was drawing Him into the light. Seekers are not seekers because of something in them, but because God draws them to Himself.
Please do not get the idea that Cornelius was being good enough to earn God’s favor here. He was doing these good works because of the good work of God in him to prepare him for Peter’s visit, not to earn him the right to become a Christian. The next part of this passage is quite long, but I pray that you do read it all very carefully.
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” So he invited them in to be his guests.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” (Acts 10:9-33 ESV)
This is very straightforward. Peter is still being very Jewish in not associating with gentiles, but it is clear from the vision and what God has commanded him to do that the Gospel is for everyone, not just the Jews. I rejoice when I read of the faith being exhibited by Cornelius. Notice, that he is ready to obey the commands of Lord. His heart is already prepared for the Gospel. All Peter has to do is preach it, and so he does.
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 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. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Acts 10:34-48 ESV)
Notice the sequence of events. Cornelius and those with him are drawn by God to hear the Gospel. The Gospel is faithfully preached. Then the miraculous happens. Here Luke says, “The Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word…” He describes it as “the gift of the Holy Spirit” and that it was “poured out even on the Gentiles.” Peter proclaims that they should be baptized because they have “received the Holy Spirit just as we have…” Then the Jews heard about it.
Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “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. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 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. 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; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 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?” 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 11:1-18 ESV)
The point here is that God used this to move the Gospel out of it just being for the Jews and it being for the whole world. However, notice how Peter and the other disciples describe it. Cornelius is told that Peter will proclaim a message to him “by which [you] will be saved, you and all your household.” The Holy Spirit fell on everyone hearing the Gospel, which is being baptized with the Holy Sprit. This is part of the gift from God He has given to all believers. Notice also that this salvation includes the granting by God of repentance that leads to life.
Now my brethren. Is Jesus Christ Lord? Yes indeed, He is Lord. We do not make Him Lord. God saves those who are His. Cornelius was His prior to him hearing the Gospel. That is obvious. This salvation is a gift from God from beginning to end. He draws us to Himself. The Holy Spirit falls on us, regenerates us, washes us clean through the repentance that leads to life, we turn in this to Christ as Lord, and we now have the gift of the Holy Spirit from now on with us who enables us to walk in the Spirit, know God’s Word, pray and serve Him. What a wonderful gift!
Soli Deo Gloria!