Lessons from Cornelius

In Acts chapter 10, many lessons are taught to us about the utility of the gospel, both what it does and does not do.  Cornelius the central character in this chapter was a Gentile, that is, he was not of the nation of the Jews.  The Jews at that time had no dealings with the Gentiles and thought them to be unclean like dogs.  It was generally thought by the Jews that the children of Israel were God's chosen race and that only they had a right to be called children of God.  Even the Jewish church of that day had not reached out to the Gentiles, thinking that the gospel was intended for the Jews only. 

Today, we are living in a world where the vast majority of those who profess to be Christians believe that the individual is a least partially responsible for his being saved from sin and being born of the Spirit of God.  Most believe that the gospel is an instrument to bring an offer of salvation to the individual and how that individual responds to the gospel will determine if he/she spends eternity in heaven or hell. 

Before we examine the lessons learned from studying Cornelius and his response to the gospel, let us look at the attributes of someone who has not yet been born of the Spirit of God.  Romans chapter 3 gives us a set of attributes of those who are under the law of sin and death and thus not yet born of the Spirit of God: Rom. 3:9-18 "What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.  Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes." 

From the above passage we conclude that some of the attributes of an individual before he is born of the Spirit include the following:

                        1.  He is unrighteous.

                        2.  He does not understand the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14).

                        3.  He does not seek after God.

                        4.  He does not do good.

                        5.  He does not fear God. 

Thus, if a man is righteous, or if he understands the things of the Spirit of God, or if he seeks after God, or if he does good, or if he fears God, then he has been born of the Spirit of God. 

Moreover the formerly blind man whose eyes the Lord had opened gave this testimony in John chapter 9: John 9:31 "Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth."  Thus, we conclude that God does not hear the prayers of those sinners that have not been born of the Spirit while he does hear the prayers of those who are worshippers of God and that doeth the will of God. 

Now let us consider Cornelius and his condition prior to hearing the gospel.  Prior to Peter ever coming to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household we read the following statements about Cornelius that indicate to us whether he was born of the Spirit of God before the gospel was preached to him or was not born of the Spirit of God prior to the gospel being preached to him:

                        1.  In Acts 10:2 Cornelius is described as a devout man.  The Greek word translated devout in this passage is "eusebes."  This word is found in the New Testament four times and three of those times it is translated devout and one time it is translated godly.  The literal meaning of the word is godly.  Thus, Cornelius is described by the Holy Spirit as a devout or godly man.  No where in the scriptures is a person who has not been born of the Spirit described as being godly.  The unregenerate are always described as being ungodly. 

                        2.  Also, in Acts 10:2 we are informed that Cornelius feared God.  This is in contrast to the description of the unregenerate in Rom. 3:18 as having no fear of God before their eyes.  Since the unregenerate do not fear God and Cornelius feared God, then Cornelius must have been regenerated or born again before he heard the gospel.  Likewise, Cornelius' entire household feared God.  This teaches us that they also must have been born again before the gospel ever reached their ears!

                        3.  Cornelius we are informed in Acts 10:2 went about doing good as he gave much alms to the people.  Later we read that his alms came up for a memorial before God.  No doubt, God was very pleased with the good that Cornelius was doing in helping the needy people.  Again, this is in contrast to what we read about the unregenerate in Rom. 3:12: "there is none that doeth good, no, not one."  Since, the unregenerate do no good and Cornelius was doing much good, we must conclude that Cornelius was born of the Spirit prior to hearing the gospel.

                        4.  Cornelius was a praying man according to Acts 10:2: "prayed to God alway."  The word, "alway," means continuously.  Thus, Cornelius was continuously praying to God.  The question is "Did God hear his prayers?"  If God heard his prayers then according to John chapter 9 Cornelius was a worshipper of God and one who did the will of God.  The question is answered for us in verse 4: "Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God."  Thus, both the prayers of Cornelius and the alms of Cornelius were accepted of God and even came up for a memorial before God.  As was stated in John chapter 9 God does not hear the prayers of sinners (unregenerate).  The only conclusion we can draw is that Cornelius was already born of the Spirit. 

                        5.  After that Cornelius obeyed God and sent three men to seek for Simon Peter and Peter had gone upon the housetop to pray and fell into a trance, God showed Peter that God had a people among the Gentiles that He had already cleansed:  "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."  The Gentiles had not had the gospel preached unto them at this time.  Yet God said that he had already cleansed them.  They were clean through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  Christ had died for them and his blood was effectual in cleansing them from their sins.  This truth was illustrated to Peter when he went to visit with Cornelius and his household.  Peter did not go to cleanse them or give them an opportunity to be cleansed, they were already cleansed. 

                        6.  Cornelius had a good report from those who knew him and the three men he sent to seek Simon Peter gave this report of him that he was "a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews."  Only God's elect are just.  Cornelius was more than legally just, having been justified on the cross through the shed blood of Christ.  He was also effectually just, having been born of the Spirit of God, and it was recognized by those who knew him. 

                        7.  After Peter went to Cornelius house and met Cornelius and his household, but before he preached the gospel unto them, he made this observation: "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him."  Peter not only acknowledged that God does not respect the Jew over the Gentile, but he also stated that those who fear him and work righteousness are already accepted with God.  Thus, Peter acknowledged that Cornelius and his household were already born of the Spirit of God and accepted with God before Peter preached to them.

Based on the seven undeniable proofs above, we are forced to the conclusion that the gospel cannot be the means by which one is born of the Spirit or saved from their sins.  What then is the purpose of the gospel?  This testimony about Cornelius in Acts chapters 10 and 11 tells us several things in which the gospel benefits God's born again people:

                        1.  The gospel tells us about Jesus, both who he is and what he has done for us: Peter preached to Cornelius and his household and friends the following "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.  And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly."  Thus, Peter preached the life, and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Peter also preached of the things that Jesus did.  Among the things that Jesus did are that he saved his people from their sins, established and built his church, and gave his people a kingdom here on earth.

                        2.  The gospel instructs the Lords people on the things that they ought to do: Acts 10:5, 6 "And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do."  The gospel tells us what we ought to do as children of God.  It tells about our duty to repent, to press into the Lord's Kingdom church through water baptism, to live lives separate from the world.  It also tells us how we ought to behave ourselves and saves ourselves in an untoward world.  It tells us how we are to behave ourselves as husbands, wives, children, servants, masters, etc.  It tells us how we ought to worship and how we ought to conduct ourselves in the Lord's church. 

                        3.  While the gospel does not save us from our sins, or cause us to be born again, or give us a home in glory, yet it does save us here in time from an untoward generation and to a knowledge of the truth and to worship and serve God in Spirit and in truth in His church: Acts 11:12-14 "And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house: And he showed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." 

                        4.  Through the preaching of the gospel and belief of the gospel message we are informed that our sins have been remitted: Acts 10:43 "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins."

Elder Vernon Johnson

To whom are the scriptures written?

When I go to my mail box to get my mail, there are two things I look for. I look to see if the letter is addressed to me and to see who wrote the letter to me. Sometimes I get mail in my box that is addressed to someone else. I know that mail is not for me. The scriptures tell us both, who is the author and to whom they are addressed. We read in II Tim. 3:16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." From this we conclude that the author of the scriptures is the Holy Spirit and the scriptures are addressed to the "man of God." Once we can identify who the man of God is then we will know to whom the scriptures are written.

In the letters written by the Apostle Paul, he has a salutation in each letter. In the salutation, he identifies himself as the writer of the letter and he identifies to whom the letter is written. In each letter, Paul identifies the ones to whom the letter is written to be the following: saints, faithful in Christ, the church, or the beloved of God. The word, saints, comes from the same Greek word that is translated holy. When someone is born spiritually they are given a holy nature and thus are saints. Saints does not mean someone who has accomplished some super feat or who has lived an exceptionally holy life, but rather in the scriptures it identifies those who are born of the Spirit of God. Dear reader, you who love the Lord are saints.

The scriptures are, therefore, written to those who have been born of the Spirit of God. Notice what Paul writes in I Corinthians, 2:9 "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." Since the natural eye hasn't seen and the natural ear hasn't heard and the natural heart hasn't perceived the things, which God hath prepared for them that love him, then how can anyone know those things? In nature, our perception of things is a result of the nature that God has given us. We have been given the spirit (nature) of man that we may know the things of man. We donít perceive the things of a cow, or a horse, or a bird, etc. because God hasn't given us a nature to perceive those things. In order to perceive the things of the Spirit of God we must first be given a spiritual nature in order to receive those things. This spiritual nature is given to us when we are born of the Spirit. As Paul wrote, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." In the new or spiritual birth we are given a spiritual nature by which we can receive the things of the spirit. Since the scriptures are given by inspiration of God, we can understand with perception in our heart the scriptures because we are born of the spirit of God.

The Lord told some unbelieving Pharisees in John 8:42 "Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. 43 Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. 44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. 46 Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? 47 He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God." These unbelieving Pharisees did not hear (perceive) what Jesus had told them. Jesus told them in verse 47 why they could not perceive his words: "He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God." Thus, a person must first be of God before he can hear God's words. A person becomes of God when he is born of the Spirit of God.

The conclusion we can make from the above scriptures and the only conclusion we can make based on the above scriptures is that the scriptures are written to the spiritually born children of God.

Perhaps the reader is wondering, am I a spiritually born child of God to whom the scriptures are written? In Gal. 5:22 we read, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." Someone who is born of the Spirit begins to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Only those who have been born of the Spirit can bear the fruit of the Spirit. Dear reader, if you love the Lord or love his people, you have been born of the Spirit. If you joy in approaching to God in prayer or joy in talking to others about the Lord, then you have been born of the Spirit. If you have peace in your heart based on what God has done for you, then you have been born of the Spirit. If you have a desire to do good without any hope of a reward then you are born of the Spirit. If you believe in God and believe he blesses them that diligently seek him, then you have been born of the Spirit of God. If you bring forth any one of the nine fold fruit of the Spirit listed above, then you have been born of the Spirit of God and the scriptures are written to you.

Elder Vernon Johnson

Profitability and Benefits of the Scriptures

            As born again children of God it is profitable and beneficial for us to read and study the scriptures.  In 2 Tim. 3:15-17 Paul told Timothy, "And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."  If we were to receive a personal letter from God addressed specifically to us would we take it lightly?  Well, God has given us the scriptures and has addressed them to the man of God, that is, the children of God.  We shouldn't take them lightly.

            First, the scriptures are profitable for doctrine.  Doctrine means teaching.  God has instructed us in the scriptures of his major attributes and characteristics, and of his works, and of his covenant of redemption and of the various teachings of grace.  He has also instructed us as to his Kingdom and the Church.  These things serve as the foundation on which our personal lives are to be built, as well as our worship and service is to be built.  We need such a foundation that we may be good and profitable servants unto God. 

            Second, the scriptures are profitable for reproof.  If we were perfect, we would not need reproof.  Even though we have been born spiritually of the Spirit of God, yet we still possess a flesh nature that Paul said, "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing."  We are to mortify the deeds of the flesh.  In order to bring our bodies into subjection we need the reproof of God's word.  God's word convicts us of sin and encourages us to turn from particular sins and a sinful lifestyle.

            Third, the scriptures are profitable for correction.  Sometimes we may think we are doing something right or we may not be aware of the errors we are making in our worship towards God or our service or the manner in which we conduct ourselves.  We need the correction of God's word to set us straight in our worship and service to God and our attempts at living uprightly.

            Fourth, the scriptures are profitable for instruction in righteousness.  We do not come equipped with a natural knowledge of how to live upright lives.  We have to be taught how we are to live uprightly, and how we are to serve God, and how we are to worship him.  The scriptures provide us this needful instruction. 

            Fifth, the scriptures make us wise unto salvation.  The scriptures give us knowledge of our eternal salvation.  According to 2 Tim. 1:9 life and immortality are brought to light through the gospel.  The scriptures do not give us life and immortality but rather they give us knowledge (light) of that life and immortality that God has given us.  They also tell us how we can save ourselves from an untoward generation, and from many pitfalls and problems in life.  They instruct us in how we can deliver ourselves from false religions and worship systems and false service and false practices. 

            Sixth, the scriptures provide us spiritual food.  In John chapter 21 the Lord told Peter to feed his lambs, and to feed his sheep.  Also in 1 Peter chapter 5 the elders are instructed to feed the flock of God and in Acts 20:28 they are told to feed the church of God.  Of course, the spiritual food the elders have to feed the church with is the scriptures. 

            Seventh, according to Rom. 15:4 the scriptures give us hope: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope."  We have hope of eternal salvation because of the promises of God and we are made aware of those promises in the scriptures.

            Eight, the scriptures bring peace to the hearts of God's children.  Rom. 10:15, "And how shall they preach, except they be sent?  As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!"  Also, we read in Eph. 6:15, "And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace."

            Ninth, the scriptures give us knowledge and understanding of God's kingdom.  When John came preaching, he said, "repent for the kingdom of God is at hand."  Likewise, the Lord said, "repent for the kingdom of God is at hand."  Many, many statements and parables are written concerning the kingdom of God.  The New Testament has an awful lot to say about the kingdom of God.

            Tenth, the scriptures teach us how that we are to worship God in an acceptable manner. John 4:23, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.  God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."  Without knowledge of the word of truth, we could not worship God in an acceptable manner.

            While there are many more reasons and blessings to reading and studying the scriptures, these are some of the more important reasons.

Elder Vernon Johnson