Baptism in Jesus’ name for salvation has been a topic of debate between denominations for many years. Some believe that in order to be saved, you must be water baptized in the name of Jesus. And others teach that water baptism is what Christians do out of obedience towards Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 3:13-15 Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist as an example that all Christians ought to be water baptized. In the Great Commission, Jesus gives his disciples this commandment, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)
When a believer is water baptized, it is out of obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission; however, it is not what brings salvation. The Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 10:9-10, that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. And he goes on to say in verse 13. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Here are three instances during Jesus’ ministry of people who were saved without being water baptized:
In Matthew 9:2-8(NKJV), a group of men carried a paralyzed man to Jesus on his bed, Jesus said to him, Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.
Luke 7:36-50 (NKJV), Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s home to eat with him. As Jesus was eating, a local sinner woman, a prostitute, came into the room with an alabaster flask of fragrant oil. She knelt down at the feet of Jesus, washed his feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair. She then kissed his feet and anointed them with the oil from the alabaster flask. (Mark 14:5 sets the cost of this fragrant oil to be 300 denarii, which would have been equivalent to one year of pay.) To make a long story short, Jesus told her two things: 1. Your sins are forgiven. 2.Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.
Luke 23:39-43 (NKJV), Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Acts chapter 10 gives an account of a man from Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. Cornelius and his entire household feared God. Cornelius prayed to God daily, and regularly gave money, food, and other charitable donations generously to the people. As he was praying, an angel appeared to him and told him to send for Peter and he would instruct him on what to do. When Peter arrived he noticed that Cornelius was a Gentile, (meaning not a Jew). Peter proceeded to share with Cornelius the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as he was speaking, Cornelius and his household were filled and baptized with the Holy Spirit. And they spoke in tongues magnifying God. Peter perceiving that they have received salvation, and remission of sins, having just been baptized in the Holy Spirit, commanded them to be water baptized in the name of the Lord.
Notice that salvation did not come as a result of water baptism, but water baptism came as a consequence of their salvation.
What is water baptism then? It is a confession before a body of believers, as a believer goes under the water; he or she is confessing that their own sinful selves have been buried with Christ. As they rise up out of the water they are confessing that they are a new creature in Christ, their old ways have passed away, and all things are made new, and they are risen with Christ. See Romans 6:1-11
Ephesians 2:4-9 (NKJV), But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Works is defined as anything you think you have to do in order to be saved. Grace means unmerited favor, meaning there is nothing you can do to earn God’s grace, no matter how good a person you might be, no matter if you are baptized, or not baptized, you simply cannot earn God’s grace. It comes as a gift from God, through your faith and belief that God sent his only begotten son, who died on the cross for our sins. He was buried, and then risen from the grave; he ascended into heaven, and is now seated at the right hand of God.
Anytime someone teaches that you must be water baptized in the name of Jesus for salvation, they are trying to add to the work that Jesus did on the cross. This cannot be done, because right before Jesus died, he said, It is finished. John 19:30 (NKJV) His work is complete, there is nothing needed to be added, Jesus did it all on the cross, he died for our sins, because he bore the sins of the world.