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Does Christ offer salvation to everyone who will believe in Him?

Salvation For All Who Believe
Acts 10:34-48
By
Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery


Text: 34Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35but 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) – 37you 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, 41not 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." 44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46For 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?" 48And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. 

Since life is short and uncertain and eternity is forever, the most important question anyone can answer is, “How can I be saved?” How can I know for certain that I am right with God? Sadly, even among professing Christians there are different answers to that crucial question. Many think that if a person is sincere, it really doesn’t matter what he believes. But you can sincerely believe that you are swallowing medicine that will make you well, but if it really is poison, your sincerity does not matter. It does matter greatly what you believe!

Another common belief is that to be saved, we must be good people. If we try to do our best, if we don’t hurt anyone, if we help others, then we will get into heaven. Often faith in Christ is combined with good works. If we believe in Jesus and do the best we can, the combination will get us into heaven.

The Bible teaches clearly that we are saved by grace (God’s undeserved favor) through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from our own goodness or good works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But sometimes even those who know and believe that truth personally, do not live it in terms of its practical application. For example, we may think that God can save someone who is a notorious sinner, but surely that person must first clean up his life a bit. But to say that is to deny God’s free grace.

Peter and the other apostles knew that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by our good works or efforts. But practically speaking, up till now they also believed that to be right with God, a pagan Gentile had to become a Jew in the sense of obeying the Jewish laws regarding circumcision and ceremonial issues. The thought of a Gentile getting saved without coming through the door of Judaism was foreign to them. But as we’ve seen, God has been breaking down Peter’s Jewish prejudices on this matter. Now they are all swept away in an instant, as the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house clearly get saved and receive the Holy Spirit in the same manner as the Jews had on the Day of Pentecost.

This was a radical turning point in God’s economy of salvation. For almost 2,000 years since Abraham, salvation had been from the Jews (John 4:22) and through the Jews. A Gentile had to become a Jewish proselyte in order to know and worship God in the way that God ordained. God had promised Abraham that through his descendants, all the nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). But up till now, the blessing of salvation was pretty much bottled up with the Jews. But now a radical shift takes place. The door of salvation swings wide open to the Gentiles, and it does not require them first to become Jews. It surprised Peter’s Jewish traveling companions (verse 45), and although Peter had come to understand it intellectually (verse 34), it probably startled him, too. The wonderful truth for this morning is, Everyone who believes in Christ receives God’s salvation. Peter’s sermon and its surprising result teach us five lessons:

A. Salvation Is Not Based On National Identity Nor Is It Based On Good Works.

Peter begins his sermon in verses 34-35 by saying, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.” The first part of that statement is easy to understand; the second part may cause some trouble.
By the first part, Peter means that God does not show favor to anyone based on the person’s nationality. The application for us is that people from every racial and national background are on equal footing when it comes to receiving the gospel. They don’t have to become “Americanized” to become Christians. They can keep cultural traditions that do not violate Scripture. They can sing songs that fit with their culture, even if they don’t sound like American hymns. They can dress in their native styles, as long as they are modest. 
The second part of Peter’s statement might sound as though God is partial to those who fear Him and do what is right. And it seems to imply that God accepts people based on good character and good works, which goes against salvation by grace through faith apart from works. What is in order here is for us to interpret this statement in the context of this chapter. Cornelius was a God-fearing man who did many good deeds (verses 2, 22). We need to be reminded that although Cornelius was a good man, his goodness had not saved him. Peter came to explain the way of salvation to him because he still needed to be saved (11:14). He still needed to receive forgiveness for his sins (verse 43). The whole point of the narrative is to show how this man came to salvation.
Let me say it again, whenever a man is seeking after God, it is because God is first working to draw that man to Himself (Romans 3:10; John 6:44, 65). Cornelius has not yet come across the line of salvation, but his fear of God and his good deeds show that God is drawing him toward that point. Before Peter’s sermon is over, he crosses the line and gets saved.

God works differently with different people. He saves some right out of the cesspool of sin. They are wallowing in it, not seeking after God, when He dramatically enters their lives and rescues them. At that moment, they turn from their sins to follow Christ. But with others, like Cornelius, God puts the hunger in their hearts to know Him. They begin to seek Him and they try to please Him with their lives. But they’re still sinners and they do not get saved until they hear the gospel and believe in Jesus Christ. 

B. Salvation Centers On The Person And Work Of Jesus Christ.

Luke probably gives us just a synopsis of Peter’s sermon. Note several details from Peter’s sermon. First, God took the initiative in sending the gospel. He sent the word to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (verse 36). Men may come up with various ways to approach or appease God, but they all fall short. Only God could initiate the way of peace by sending His Son to this earth as the One who would bear our sins. The fact that Christ preached peace implies that there is hostility and alienation between sinful men and the holy God. Many people are oblivious to such hostility. They do not understand God’s absolute holiness and His hatred of all sin. While they admit that they aren’t perfect, they see themselves as basically good. They compare themselves with criminals and other evil people, and conclude that God will let them into heaven someday because they are not like these overtly wicked people.

Notice that Peter states plainly that Jesus is Lord of all, meaning, not only Lord of the Jews, but also of Gentiles. This emphasizes both Jesus’ deity, since the Lord is God, and His absolute authority. This ties into the end of his sermon, where he states that God has appointed the risen Lord Jesus to be the Judge of the living and the dead. Everyone who has ever lived will stand trial before the Lord Jesus, who will judge every thought and intent of the heart.
Also, Peter emphasizes how God anointed Jesus 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 (verse 38). The name “Christ” (or Messiah) means anointed one. In His humanity, Jesus showed us how we as humans should live, in dependence upon God, doing good to others, and overcoming Satan’s oppression. This also shows the cosmic battle that rages between God and Satan. To preach the gospel is to engage in combat with this evil enemy.

Second, another detail in Peter’s sermon, is that we need to stay focused on the person and work of Christ when we talk to people about spiritual things. It’s easy to get distracted and talk about evolution or predestination or some moral or social issue. Keep bringing the conversation back to who Jesus is and what He did on the cross. Jesus is the issue!

Third, we have not adequately proclaimed the gospel if we leave out the lordship of Jesus and the solemn fact of the coming judgment. Peter lets his audience know that Jesus is Lord (verse 36) whether they acknowledge Him as such or not, and that He is the coming Judge of everyone. Unless people realize that they have been in rebellion against the rightful Lord of the universe and that they will stand before Him as guilty someday, they have no reason to repent and flee to the cross for forgiveness.

C. Salvation Spreads To Others Through The Faithful Proclamation Of God’s Appointed Witnesses.

Peter repeatedly emphasizes this point. He says in verse 39, “We are witnesses of all the things He did.” He repeats that they were witnesses of His resurrection, chosen beforehand by God (verse 41). He adds that Jesus ordered them to preach to the people and testify about Jesus as the coming Judge (verse 42). And, he adds how all the prophets bear witness of Jesus as the One we must believe in to receive forgiveness of sins (verse 43).

The point for us is that if God has saved us from our sins, then He has appointed us as witnesses to others of the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. God’s method is not to proclaim the gospel through the angels or to shout it from heaven. His method is to use His people to tell others.

D. Salvation Comes To Everyone Who Believes In The Name Of Jesus.

The name of Jesus refers to all that He is and all that He did. Even though Cornelius was a good man, he still needed to hear about Jesus Christ and to put his trust in Him. As Peter proclaimed in 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” This means that there is no salvation for good Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no salvation for good Americans, apart from personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no salvation for good Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses as long as they continue to believe in a false Jesus rather than the person of the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the Bible. But there is salvation for everyone who believes in Him.

Believing in the name of Jesus does not refer to a general, vague sort of belief. Rather, it is specific and personal. To believe in Jesus means that I believe He is the Lord who gave Himself on the cross for my sins. I believe the promise of God, that whoever believes on Him receives eternal life as God’s gift, not based on any human merit, but only on God’s free grace. To believe in Jesus means that I no longer rely on anything in myself to commend myself to God. Rather, I trust only in what Jesus did on the cross as my hope for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Thus Peter’s sermon teaches us that salvation is not based on national identity or good works. It centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. It spreads to others through the faithful proclamation of God’s witnesses. It comes to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. 

E. Salvation Results In Obvious Evidence In Those Who Receive It.

Peter didn’t even get to finish his sermon before everyone responded! In fact, in recounting it, he says in 11:15, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them.” Note the four results of this supernatural happening.

#1 – They received the Holy Spirit. Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the believer at the moment of salvation This is not something that we feel experientially, but rather a fact that God’s Word declares. As a believer learns to walk in the Spirit, over time the deeds of the flesh will diminish and the fruit of the Spirit will increase (Galatians 5:16-23), thus making the Spirit’s presence evident.

#2 – They spoke in unlearned foreign languages. This text does not teach that speaking in tongues is the normal experience of those who get saved and receive the Holy Spirit. This was a unique situation. God gave this miraculous sign to the Gentiles so that the Jewish Christians would realize that they were on equal footing (11:15, 17). This gift was not ecstatic utterances, but rather speaking in translatable foreign languages that the speaker had not studied. This fact alone shows that most tongues-speaking today is not the New Testament gift.

#3 – They were baptized in water. Water baptism is the outward profession of what God has done spiritually, and thus it follows salvation. Peter did not baptize these people himself, but let those Jews who had traveled with him do it to involve them in what had happened. Everyone who has believed in Christ as Lord and Savior should obey Him by being baptized in water.

#4 – They desired to know more and to grow in their faith. They asked Peter to stay on for a few days, and the implication is that he did stay on to instruct them in their new faith. Everyone who is truly saved will desire to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Like newborn babes, we will long for the milk of the Word, that by it we may grow in respect to salvation, if we have tasted the kindness of the Lord (1 Peter 2:2-3).

Salvation does not come to anyone through his or her efforts to live the Christian life. Even good, religious people need the forgiveness that Jesus offers. He will be either your Judge or your Savior. He offers salvation to everyone who will believe in Him.

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