To be devout is to be dedicated, devoted and sincere. But what it is that a devout person is dedicated and devoted to, and sincere about, is not automatically understood in the word. A person can be a devout Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or even a devout atheist. There is no automatic connotation with Godliness inherent in the word devout. There is no unspoken connection with Christianity, and being devout says nothing about a person’s salvation. Indeed, the word devout is never used in the New Testament in connection with a Christian’s salvation.
Obviously, the text indicates that Cornelius being devout had something to do with his belief in God. He “feared God with all his household.” He “prayed to God always.” But this says nothing about his fuller understanding of God. It simply indicated that, according to whatever understanding of God Cornelius had, he was devout. He may have believed in and worshipped idols as well, for he undoubtedly was raised in that kind of culture.
Cornelius having been devout also says nothing about his salvation. Indeed, he obviously he needed to learn about salvation. That was the purpose of the angel’s instruction that Cornelius send for Peter. Peter came to Cornelius’ home and taught him of salvation in Christ. In response to that teaching, Cornelius and his household were baptized. There is no question but that baptism is the point at which a person receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and reaches a state of salvation (Mk. 16:15-16; 1 Pet. 3:21).
Cornelius was saved and became a Christian only when he was baptized. He was devout before he was baptized, but he was not saved. He was not a Christian. No doubt, he remained devout after he was baptized. But after his baptism he had a different understanding of God, and he had a different direction in which to live out his devotion. Before being baptized he was devout. After being baptized he was both devout and saved. We must be careful to not confuse the difference between being just devout and being saved…