A production of Sola Media
Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

How to Hear God {Acts 10:1–33}

by William Boekestein posted April 27, 2023

If God is speaking, we must listen to him. The letter to the Hebrews starts like this: The God who spoke in times past has now “spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). If we hear God’s voice, we must listen (Heb. 3:7, 15; 4:7; Ps. 95:7–8). Acts 10:1–33 can help us hear and heed the God who speaks.

Luke tells the story of the Roman centurion Cornelius. He was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:1–2). Cornelius was a good man, but not good enough. He needed Jesus. So, God arranged for Cornelius to meet his apostle Peter. It had always been “unlawful … for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation.” So God dramatically showed Peter that he “should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). The Holy Spirit commanded Peter to go to Cornelius’s house without hesitation or objection. Following some introductions and explanations, Peter preached the gospel and God poured out his Spirit on the gentiles. But even before Peter preached, the chapter reveals three important disciplines for hearing God.

Desire to Hear God

As an unconverted God-fearer—a spiritual outsider—Cornelius was thankful for his religious knowledge. But he wanted more. What can we learn from Cornelius’s holy hunger to hear God?

Recognize God’s Voice in Faithful Preaching

Cornelius sensed that by hearing Peter preach he was “in the presence of God” (Acts 10:33). Preachers—Peter included—must not invent a message. They may only speak for the Lord. The way to hear heaven’s voice this side of glory is to hear faithful sermons.

Come to Listen

This is Cornelius’s invitation to Peter: “We are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:33). He was present to hear. This is a life-changing formula. Cornelius is echoing what young Samuel said to God, and how we should approach every sermon: “Speak, for your servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:10).

Include Others

Some of us are bashful about exercising spiritual influence. Should we require our children to worship with us or invite neighbors to church? Cornelius believed that through preaching he and all his household would be saved (Acts 11:14). So he “called together his relatives and close friends” (Acts 10:24). He summoned them (cf. Exod. 7:11; Josh. 9:22). As a military man, he “voluntold” them. God chose Abraham to “command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord” (Gen. 18:19). As Abraham’s heirs, believers have all the permission needed to wisely influence others spiritually.

Hear God Say Hard Things

Peter’s vision of the sheet of unclean animals confirms that Scripture corrects us (2 Tim. 3:16), challenging our ignorance and stubbornness.

Peter’s view of moral purity would have to grow for him to minister to the gentiles. In Cornelius’s house, Peter “went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” food that was “common and unclean” (Acts 11:3; 10:14 cf. Gal. 2:12). Peter’s earlier understanding of purity was immature: Don’t eat the wrong food or engage the wrong people. But God’s truth broke through—Jesus could declare all food clean (Mark 7:19) because he had come to make every believer clean (Titus 1:15). Our problem is much deeper than food; and the solution is much richer than diet (Mark 7:18–21). We need to eat and drink Jesus. The ceremonial cleanliness laws were not built to last but to catechize God’s people to pursue moral purity in Christ. In the new covenant, God’s people pursue holiness among the nations, not apart from them.

Peter’s experience doesn’t teach us to hold truth tentatively or assume that the church has misunderstood Scripture. Christians are being urged to rethink the church’s historic position on a host of sexual issues. But we cannot violate God’s clear teaching in his completed revelation, something Peter didn’t have. We should hold truth tightly! Never violate what you know to be true. But be correctable, or you have stopped hearing God.

Pray to Hear God

Both Peter and Cornelius were men of prayer. It is no coincidence that this gentile who met the Lord “prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2), and that Peter gained a new understanding of the divine plan as he “went up … to pray” (Acts 10:9). “God will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who continually and with heartfelt longing ask God for these gifts and thank him for them.”[1] Cornelius prayed for more knowledge of God. And his prayer was heard (Acts 10:31).

Today, with the full revelation of God’s will in our hands, we should pray like this: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18). We don’t need new truth. We need to see old truths. Everything we need to know God, love him, obey him, and receive blessing from him is all here, in his word. Let’s ask God to “grant that we may hear, read, learn, and inwardly digest” the Bible.[2]

Pray to hear God. Desire to hear him. And heed even his hard teachings. There is no greater gift than to have the God of heaven speak to you. 

[1] Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 116.

[2] Prayer before the Sermon—2, https://formsandprayers.com/prayers-meditations/#part_i-9.

Sign Up for Email Updates