According to the Biblical account, Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues before they were baptized. Does this mean, however, that he and his house were saved before they were baptized? To answer this question, one must consider carefully how, why, and when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and his household.
The Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household in a most unusual way. The Spirit did not come after Cornelius and his house had been baptized so this was not the promise of the "gift of the Holy Spirit" given to all who are baptized (Acts 2:38). Cornelius and his household did not receive the Spirit through the laying on of the hands of the apostles the manner by which some baptized believers received power to work miracles and speak in tongues (Acts 8:15-17; Acts 19:16) On this occasion the Spirit fell on them indicating that it came directly from God. The Spirit had not come upon any like this since it came upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 11:15). There was special significance in the coming of the Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, and there was special significance in the coming of the Spirit on this occasion, too.
The reason the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household is made known by the reaction of the Jewish brethren who accompanied Peter on this occasion, by the things Peter said to these brethren after the Spirit had fallen on Cornelius and his household, and by the results recorded when Peter rehearsed the matter to Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18). The Jews that accompanied Peter were astonished that the Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles (Acts 10:45). Until this event happened, these Jews still thought there was a difference between Jews and Gentiles and that the Jews were favored in God's sight more than the Gentiles (Acts 10:45). Peter, who earlier had to be prepared to go to the Gentiles by a vision and by instruction from the Spirit (Acts 10:9-20), suggests that the pouring out of the Spirit on Cornelius and his household meant that Cornelius and his household should be baptized and that none could rightly deny that this was God's will. It was Peter's recounting of the outpouring of the Spirit on Cornelius and his household that convinced the Jews in Jerusalem that God had "granted the Gentiles repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). When the Spirit fell on the apostles in the beginning on Pentecost (Acts 2:14), it was not a sign of anyone's personal salvation, but rather a sign that salvation was now made available to any who would call on the name of the Lord. (Acts 2:17-21). Those who wished to be saved on that occasion had to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. The outpouring of the Spirit on Cornelius and his household did not confirm that they were already saved, but rather that salvation was now available to the Gentiles. To receive this salvation they would have to be baptized.
The Spirit fell upon Cornelius while Peter was speaking to Cornelius and his household about Jesus (Acts 10:44); in fact, Peter had just begun to speak on this occasion when the phenomenon occurred (Acts 11:15). It is important to remember that Peter was to tell Cornelius words whereby he and his house could be saved (Acts 11:14), but Peter had not yet finished the things he wished to say when the Spirit came. Only after the Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household did Peter finish speaking; Peter commanded that Cornelius and his household be baptized in the name of the Lord. Notice, Peter preached on this occasion what he had preached on other occasions-Jesus approved of God by His works, or miracles, His crucifixion and resurrection, and the command to be baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 2:22-38; Acts 10:35-48).
While the Spirit did fall on Cornelius and his household before they were baptized, there is nothing but the supposition of men to say Cornelius and his household were saved before they were baptized. Elsewhere the scriptures tell us plainly that "he that believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16) and that one must repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). There is no reason to doubt that Peter commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptized in the name of the Lord for remission of sins or that Cornelius and his household were baptized before they were saved.