The conversion of Cornelius has been the center of much discussion with our denominational friends. He and his household have been cited as proof that one can be saved without baptism and that believers today can receive Holy Spirit baptism. The story of Cornelius is recorded in Acts 10, 11 and reference is made to it in Acts 15.
Some contend that since Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before he was baptized, that proves he was saved before he was baptized.
Let''s notice when the Spirit fell on the household of Cornelius. In Acts 11 Peter is recounting the event "in order" (v. 4). Thus, Acts 11 is gives us a chronology that Acts 10 does not. Peter said that the Spirit came "as I began to speak" (Acts 11:15). Thus, Peter had not preached his message about Jesus yet (Acts 10:36-43). Since faith comes from the preaching of the word, Cornelius did not yet have faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:17). Thus, if the reception of the Holy Spirit proves salvation before baptism, it proves salvation before faith. That which proves too much proves nothing.
God gives the Holy Spirit by measure (John 3:34). Thus, there are different measures of receiving the Spirit. There is (1) Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 1:5), (2) Spiritual gifts received by the laying on of the apostles'' hands (Acts 8; 1 Cor. 12), and (3) The indwelling of the Spirit in the heart of the Christian (Rom. 8:11).
Cornelius and his household received Holy Spirit baptism like the apostles did on the day of Pentecost. Consider the evidence:
1. What Cornelius received was like what the apostles received. Peter said they received the Spirit "just as we have" (Acts 10:47). He also said it fell on them "as upon us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15). He called it the "same gift" as he "gave us" (Acts 11:17). Later he said God gave them the Spirt "just as he did to us" (Acts 15:8).
2. When Peter saw what was happening, he was reminded of the promise of Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 11:16).
Our Pentecostal friends claim that it proves believers today can receive Holy Spirit baptism.
After this event, Paul said there is "one baptism" (Eph. 4:5). Water baptism is one and Holy Spirit baptism is another. Both are found in Acts 10. However, one of them has ceased. It must be the baptism of the Spirit since baptism in water is essential to salvation (Acts 2:38).
The conclusion that Peter drew was that the Gentiles could now be baptized into the kingdom just like Jews (Acts 10:47). When Peter related the story in Jerusalem, the Jews concluded that the Gentiles are now gospel subjects (Acts 11:18).
Thus, its purpose was to prove that the Gentiles are now gospel subjects (can be allowed in the kingdom of God). Neither Peter, those with him nor the brethren in Jerusalem concluded that it meant believers in all ages can receive Holy Spirit baptism.