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 shall 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 withstand God?" When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life."
This is St. Peter speaking of his encounter with Cornelius in the previous chapter. The connections in this tight little remark are legion.
1] What happened to them is revealed to be the superior baptism to that of water.
2] It is the same as the disciples encountered at Pentecost.
3] It was God's response to their belief.
4] This baptism of the Holy Spirit in response to faith is labeled "repentance unto life."
5] It was convincing enough a salvation that the Jews concluded that Gentiles could be saved.
6] Someone rejecting the obvious is trying to "withstand God".
7] This marvelous work of faith and grace, 'repentance unto life", occurs before they were water baptized.
Let us look at the event itself, shall we? See chapter 10"43-48 (St Peter is speaking)
"To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, "Can any one forbid 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.
As St Paul says in Romans 10, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of Christ".
1] St Peter preaches that "belief" gains "forgiveness" in Christ
2] Since it is while telling them to believe for forgiveness that they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (in chapter 11 identified as "repentance unto life") we can declare that they believed and were saved right then.
3] Believing Jews could tell.
4] A believer obviously regenerated is the most natural claimant to water baptism. (Conversely, one could say that the most natural disqualification would be the reverse, no belief and no evidence of regeneration.)
5] Soooo, these people were saved by God's grace, who responded to them for only belief.
6] They had already been good (see 10:34-35) but good wasn't enough.
7] They had not even time, before God mercifully saved them, for even an immediate baptism let alone a lifetime of smells and bells ritualism or works righteousness. Uh.. you know,...by grace.
If someone can be given saving grace with only their faith in view, what graces are brought by the additional works, rites, ideas, theologies, sundry hoop-jumping-through? Are those folks just "more" saved? Repentance-unto-Life XPPro? Or do they get a special decoder ring?
In spite of the obvious, drop you on your head, qualities of this passage, baptism is often, still, the most offensive addition to the Gospel. It occurs in the highest of the high church sacramental followers of Baal and it frequents the bo-hunkus theology of places like the Church of Christ.
As I thought about these who get more confident when wet, and their ecstasies of bowing and scraping before the muttering of eunuch priests, I gathered that they were admitting something they knew not. Priestcraft makes up for failures of faith. If faith is all God needs to proceed to your salvation, those who belief that you must be baptized as well are not only in danger of damnation for the falseness of their gospel (see Galatians 1). They are in danger because the addition of works to faith is a measure of their faith. Like St James says of works (of righteousness not ritual), it shows your faith. But bad works show what kind of faith as well. If I abuse others, I show that I don't believe. If I practice ritual I admit my faith (which I know can bring me salvation all by itself because I read Acts 10-11) can't stand on its own feet. These are not people who merely "like a little beauty, thank you" in their services. These are people who tell you that their salvation depends on it. They don't object to belief alone saving someone. This is not, despite protests to the contrary, a theological fight. They've seen salvation happen, not only in Acts 10-11 but in people they know. They look at their own faith and realize, standing on its own, it is nowhere near what God requires of faith ("assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen"). They don't actually believe, at least, they know, not enough. A temple narrative in which they can suspend their disbelief, in which the aromas and robes beguile their senses into thinking, dear God, that they believe this malarkey. They have found what mankind can never, in his unbelief, give up, the elemental spirits of the universe.
Galatians 4:8-11 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.
Colossians 2:16-19 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
People have been suckers for it in Galatia, in Colossae, and the U.S. of A. They are, perhaps, incapable of a saving faith. But they can know and fear enough of the import of religion and the gods.
"No faith, you say? I'll call this ritual my faith. I'll tell myself the story over and over again that this action, this muttering of the Trinitarian abracadabra gets me membership in the club of Christendom. Sure it is a physical religion but we call it "incarnational living". Makes the narrative more plausible to the dim bulbs. This is what every one who is anyone has been doing for the last two millenia. All the saints, I'm tellin' you. How could it be wrong? Now you are tellin' me that there is some sort of secret society within all this information regarding Jesus that knows Him and is known by Him through faith without the doodads? Call it the "New Covenant" do they? Damn heretics!"
I Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,