When Was Cornelius Born Again?
Most Bible believers assume the new birth occurs when a person believes the gospel. But the Bible does not support this assumption.
In Acts chapter 10, Cornelius is a great example of a man who was born again BEFORE he ever heard the gospel, or even met Peter.
First, notice that before he met Peter or heard the gospel, Cornelius "feared God with all his house" (v.2). And from the Bible we know that those who fear the Lord possess God's salvation (Ps. 85:9), enjoy God's mercy (Ps. 103:17), and please God (Ps. 147:11). Unsaved men do not fear God (Rom 3:18; Ps 36:1).
Second, see that Cornelius' prayers were "come up for a memorial before God" (v.4), before he heard or believed the gospel through Peter. And Proverbs 15:29 teaches us plainly that God only hears the prayers of the righteous.
Third, observe that Peter acknowledged in verses 34-35 that God had already accepted Cornelius before Peter ever met him.
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
From this brief study of Acts chapter 10, we conclude Cornelius was born again and in possession of eternal life before he ever heard the gospel or met Peter. Cornelius is a great Biblical example of what the Bible teaches regarding the new birth: it is based only on the will of God (John 1:13), it is necessary before a man can even see the kingdom of God (John 3:3), and it is the washing and renewing work of the Holy Spirit of God (Titus 3:5).
Lost and wicked sinners do not accomplish their own new birth. Only when a man is already born again does he have any desire, like Cornelius, to hear and obey the gospel message (John 5:24, I Cor. 2:14).