One in the Spirit – Acts 10:23-11:18

by Roger McCay
20 October 2019
Sermon Passage: Acts 10:23-11:18
Link to Audio Version

You probably know the lyrics to the song “They’ll Know We are Christians,” which is our hymn of response today. The song begins …

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord

And we pray that all unity
May one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians
By our love, By our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians
By our love[1]

Unity. It’s a mark of God’s people. The Lord even says it is how the world will know the truth that the Father sent the Son and loved his people even as the Father loved the Son (John 17:23).

Our unity, bound by love for God and one another, is proof to the world that God loves us even as the Father loves the Son.

But, what about division among God’s people? We find division everywhere. We find it in macro and micro circumstances—from hundreds of denominations (some of which doubt or deny that people in denominations other than theirs are or even can be really saved); to divisions of ethnicity and race (it is said, aptly, that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week); and even divisions within local church bodies for all sorts of reasons.

Yet, the Scriptures, God’s Word, tell Christians that we are to be unified—a point the Lord makes over and over. Our passage today is one of the key passages in this doctrine. As we look at it I want you to be thinking about what unity looks like among differences. Unity, as a general rule, is not conformity. Unity is at its strongest among variety. We see it in the Godhead. We see it in God’s creation. And it is the pattern God has set for his church in this world.

Now, the issue with denominations is something beyond the scope of the sermon. I do want to mention, though, that denominations are a necessary thing. If our knowledge and understanding were perfect, and we lived in a perfect world, there would be no denominations. However, such is only found in heaven, at least, until the Lord returns to earth in glory. We can discuss this offline, if you’d like. But why must denominations, particularly those who hold to the orthodox truths of Scripture, be divided against one another? We don’t have to be! We must not be! Unity is not conformity and is at its strongest among variety united by love.

In our passage today, key points include the fact that the Spirit of God indwells all members of the body of Christ, no matter who they are; we worship the same God; our baptism is one, as it is in the name of the one true God; and, we are joined in fellowship (what is called koinonia in the Scriptures). We are joined together as one in Jesus Christ—fellowship with one-another joined in fellowship with our Lord (1 John 1:3).

Last week we looked in detail at Peter’s vision on the rooftop—the revelation to him that God is not partial and that God’s people must likewise show no partiality to people. There were two prayers (Cornelius’ and Peter’s); two supernatural events (the angel’s appearing to Cornelius, and the vision given to Peter on the rooftop); and God’s command to two men. Cornelius was told to send for Peter. Peter was told, “What God has made clean, do not call unclean,” so, “go with those men.” We ended in 10:23 with Peter providing hospitality for the three Gentiles sent by Cornelius, when they providentially arrived while Peter was pondering the vision God had given him on the roof.

Picking up today in the second part of v. 23, the next morning, Peter, along with six other Jewish Christians and the three Gentiles, begins the journey to see Cornelius. Upon arrival, Peter finds Cornelius and all his family and friends gathered, waiting, prepared to receive what Peter brings. Peter also found himself humbly correcting Cornelius’ reverence of him: “I’m just a man like you.”

Peter was a bit in awe of the whole event. He’d never in his life entered a Gentiles residence like this. As a Jew, such would have made him unclean. His Jewish background, with its particularities, would have forbid him from doing so. Indeed, there were vast gulfs of difference between Peter and Cornelius: racial, religious, cultural, political, socioeconomic, social status, and worldly power, among other things. Peter and Cornelius were night and day different. And all these things would have ensured they never came together as brothers, except for Jesus.

So, Peter is in awe of what he’s come to realize, and what he is now experiencing. You can hear the wonder in his voice (v. 28):

28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.

And again in vv. 34-35:

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Peter then proceeds here to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in a very straightforward way. Kent Hughes summarizes it:

After a brief introduction (vv. 34–37), Peter reviewed Christ’s life (v. 38), his death (v. 39), his resurrection (vv. 40–41), his return as Judge (v. 42), and his offer of salvation (v. 43). The sermon concluded with Peter’s statement in verse 43: “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” “Everyone”—not only Jews, but “everyone.” [2]

It is at that point that God’s Spirit acted in power. Verses 44-46:

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

The same Holy Spirit that fell on the Jewish believers in the Upper Room in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2); the same Holy Spirit that fell on the Samaritan believers in Samaria (Acts 8) at the Samaritan Pentecost; was the same Holy Spirit that feel on this group of uncircumcised Gentiles, who, like the Jews and Samaritans, trusted in Jesus, receiving forgiveness for their sins in his name.

One Spirit. One body of Christ. Lots of variances in the parts of the body, but one body joined in the Spirit. We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord.

And so, just like the Jewish believers at Pentecost manifested the speaking of tongues (different languages) as the Spirit fell upon them in Acts 2, so also these uncircumcised Gentile believers manifested the speaking of tongues as the Spirit fell upon them. And, like at Pentecost, they all set about worshipping the living and true God, Yahweh, the Lord.

The Jewish Christians with Peter were now in awe, for this was something totally new. Never before had such a thing happened, with, perhaps, the exception of the Ethiopian Eunuch (but Philip was the only witness other than God in that instance). Nevertheless, seven Jewish Christians were now witnessing the Lord’s unmistakable presence and power, in these Gentiles, firsthand. “The gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.”

Same Spirit. Same Worship. Witnessing this reality, Peter took it the next step. Verses 47-48:

Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

There were, of course, no objections to Peter’s query. The Lord had arranged this whole thing from start to finish. He was absolutely clear that it was all his doing. He clearly made known his will. He prepared both Peter and Cornelius, and even all of Cornelius’ family and friends. He then sent his Spirit upon these uncircumcised Gentiles in an indisputable way. Notice Peter never mentioned the coming of the Spirit in his sermon. He hadn’t gotten that far. This was not feigned. This was the real thing. He and the other believers, who possessed the same Spirit, recognized the Spirit in them. Peter, wisely, realized that it was only right, in obedience to the Lord’s command, that they all be baptized. So, Peter, the Lord’s apostle, baptized them with water.

Same Spirit. Same Worship. Same Baptism. And, as the end of v. 48 tells us, “Same fellowship.”

Peter and the other Jewish Christian stayed with these new believers, worshipping the Lord and training them as disciples. The world would never be the same. No longer was Christianity just some sect of Judaism. The Lord had thrown the doors to the Kingdom open to all humankind of every nation, race, and culture. As the Apostle Paul would later teach in Galatians 3:28: “There [was now] neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all believers were one in Christ Jesus.”

The epilogue to this story is this. The word of these events in Caesarea got to Jerusalem before Peter did. And, consistent with what seems to be a forever plague, there were people happy to jump in and criticize. These folks are called here, “the circumcision party,” and they consisted of Jewish Christians who thought Gentiles would need to become fully circumcised Jews before they could become Christians. But, it’s interesting that their criticism wasn’t of the Gentiles. It was criticism of Peter fraternizing with and eating with uncircumcised Gentiles. Peter, demonstrating remarkable patience, told the other apostles and believers in Jerusalem all that had happened. And the evidence was so overwhelming, that, as 11:18 says, “they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’”

You know, it is really easy to get frustrated with folks who just don’t know what you know. You come to some understanding of certain spiritual truths, perhaps after many years of faithful discipleship, and study, and then you wonder why others just do not see so clearly. So, you get frustrated when others, ones who do not yet understand, criticize you when you are faithfully acting consistent with the knowledge and understanding the Lord has given you. Yet, getting impatient with folks, even when they criticize you over such things, is counterproductive. Everyone else is on their own journey of knowledge and understanding the truths of God’s Word. For us, Peter’s patient witness of events and sound teaching, as to what happened, is a good model. We didn’t just spontaneously “get it.” It took time. For others it’s the same.

This is a way to avoid division in the church. Peter could have gotten testy with these members of the circumcision party: “I’m an apostle, deal with it.” What do you think would have happened? They would have gone their own way and started another denomination. The church could have split over this right there. Interesting that the church could have split because the Lord was working to bring unity across all boundaries. That’s sin for you. But, there it is. Peter wisely responded though. You know why? It’s because Peter was humble. And Peter was loving.

It’s like this for us. You want to maintain unity in the church among differences? Be humble. Be loving. Arrogance and a lack of love for others is a guaranteed formula for division.

Jesus’ call to us as disciples (Mark 8:34 – and you’ve heard me say it 100 times, going back to the very first sermon I ever preached here at MPC); Jesus’ call is to first: “deny yourself;” second, “take up your cross;” and third, “follow him.”

Deny yourself. That is the way to humility.
Take up your cross. That is the way of repentance and turning from sin.
Follow Jesus. He leads us in both humility and love.

1 John 3:16:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Phil. 2:5-11:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Humility and love, my friends. Humility and love towards unity.

Francis Schaeffer, in his book The Mark of a Christian, has a name for the unity that Christ prays for in his high-priestly prayer in John 17:21, which I read earlier. He calls that unity, “The Final Apologetic.”[3] Schaeffer explains,

We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.[4]

Do you think divisions among us, or lack of love for one-another discredits our witness for Christ? Of course it does. As Schaeffer says, witnessing such things, “The world looks, shrugs its shoulders, and turns away.”[5]

Brothers and sisters, if you are a true believer, a true follower, a disciple of Christ, you share the same Spirit, worship, baptism, and fellowship with every other Christian in this world and the next. Remember, unity is not conformity and is at its strongest among variety united by love. Oh, such a variety! What a wonder! What a blessing, in Christ. Because God is not partial, all of God’s people, no matter who they are, are one in the Lord.


[1] Peter Scholtes, They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love, 1966.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), 151–152.

[3] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 4 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 188ff.

[4] Ibid., 189.

[5] Ibid., 195.