The wonderful gift of God

by Mike Ratliff

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; (Ephesians 2:8 NASB)

What is saving faith? From where does it come?  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.

1 Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; 6 he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, 8 and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. (Acts 10:1-8 NASB)

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 NASB: a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.

Here is v2 from the NA28 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 NA28 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.

9 On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four- footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “ What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.
17 Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; 18 and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” 21 Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God- fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” 23 So he invited them in and gave them lodging.
And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24 On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “ Stand up; I too am just a man.” 27 As he talked with him, he entered and *found many people assembled. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. 29 That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me.”
30 Cornelius said, “ Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, 31 and he *said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Therefore send to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea. ’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” (Acts 10:9-33 NASB)

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.

34 Opening his mouth, Peter said:
“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. 36 The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) — 37 you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. 38 You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “ Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. (Acts 10:34-48 NASB)

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.

1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “ You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5 “ I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6 and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four- footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat. ’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth. ’ 9 But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘ What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy. ’ 10 This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. 11 And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household. ’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘ John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. ’ 17 Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-18 NASB)

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!

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