Faith comes from hearing
In Acts 11, the apostle Peter recounts to a group of critical Jewish believers in Jerusalem the events of Acts 10; how God had told him to preach to the Gentiles and how the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit. The text says:
“And Cornelius told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.'” (Acts 11:13-14)
Two things stuck out to me in this text this morning. First, the Gentiles in Cornelius’ household were saved by a message, just as the Lord had said it would be. And this was not a generic message, no, it was nothing other than the good news of Jesus Christ. In particular, good news about the final judgment, about peace with God through Jesus Christ, and about forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus’ name (Acts 10:36, 42, 43). They were not saved by vague religious talk, but rather their faith came from hearing, and they heard the word of Christ (Rom 10:17). Thankfully, it is not our job to invent a message; no, we have a much simpler and more humble task. We have been given a message, and the Lord is pleased to work through our feeble instrumentality to save sinners through the folly of what we preach.
The second thing that struck me is that the Gentiles were saved while listening. They weren’t saved while doing works or while helping the poor, rather they were saved while simply listening and believing the promise of forgiveness of sins through Christ. They certainly did do and had done many good works (Acts 10:1-2), but this is not how they were saved. Rather, they received the Spirit by faith, and not even by a faith that had worked itself out in many good deeds, there was no time to do any good deeds(!), but simply by faith alone.
As the Lord would have it, the same day I read this passage in Acts I ran across some comments on it by Luther in his commentary on Galatians. He notes:
“Thus Cornelius and his friends whom he had called to his house do not do anything, nor do they look at any preceding works; and yet as many as are present receive the Holy Spirit. Peter alone is speaking. They themselves are sitting and not doing anything. They are not thinking about the Law; much less are they keeping it. They are not sacrificing; they are not concerned about undergoing circumcision. They are paying attention only to the words of Peter. By his proclamation he brought the Holy Spirit into their hearts, and visibly at that; for they spoke with tongues and praised God.” (Luther’s Works, 26, pg. 205-206; emphasis added)
In the words of Paul, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Gal 3:2) Thankfully the latter.