Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38
Just how important is it to be baptized in the RIGHT "NAME"? Is it just a matter of saying or hearing the right WORDS? Let's UNDERSTAND what God means by His "NAME" And "in the name of Jesus Christ."
TODAY we speak of street names, first and last names, proper and common names, and business names. But this is only a limited use of the word "name."
The Dictionary Tells
Any good dictionary shows that the word "name" can also mean descriptive qualities, fame, reputation, or character. The Bible uses the word in this larger sense, especially in connection with God's name. God's name implies all He stands for, including His very office, position, and authority. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition, properly defines the phrase "in the name of" as, "1) in appeal or reference to, and, 2) by the authority of; as the representative of." And that is precisely what is meant in Acts 2:38 where we are commanded to be baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ"! Appeal and reference is made to Jesus Christ. The baptism is performed by His authority! And it is done by someone acting as Christ's representative. Much more is involved than merely mouthing the right-sounding words. Baptism must be performed properly — with Jesus Christ's express stamp of approval and according to His instructions — or it is a meaningless, hollow ritual that accomplishes nothing but making a mockery of Christ's sacrifice! Thus in the Bible we often read that believers were baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 8:16) or "baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48) by Peter, John, and the other apostles. The risen Jesus Christ made it plain to His servants — often through miraculous circumstances — just who had truly been called of God, had really repented and brought forth "fruits meet for repentance" and would therefore be ready for water baptism. Then with deep sobriety and purposefulness, God's servants performed the baptisms by immersion. They did so "in the name of Jesus Christ," acting on His behalf, doing so by His authority, fulfilling His will and intent.
Who Should Decide?
The apostles recognized that even though Jesus had left this earth and ascended into heaven, it was still "the Lord" that "added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). And they also knew that Christ had invested in them the authority to make binding decisions (see Matt. 18:18-20). One of these, of course, was to decide who should be baptized and who should not! Like John the Baptist before them, they insisted on seeing clear evidence of true repentance, "the fruits meet for repentance" (Matt. 3:8), or they, like John, could not perform the baptism. Christ holds His servants strictly accountable for everything that is done "in His name," so extreme care must be taken by the ministry — as well as by the individual — to see that no errors are committed. Many fail to understand that they are in fact appealing this first decision of their Christian life directly to Jesus Christ, and that He makes that decision through His ministers! Many think that only their own desire and willingness is required and that the ministry is then obligated to perform the baptism. This is simply not the case! John the Baptist recognized no such obligation, nor did Peter when he, in effect, declared the baptism of Simon the Magician invalid because of his wrong spirit and attitude. The decision as to who will be baptized for the remission of sins and who will later receive the laying on of hands for the receiving of God's Holy Spirit must be made by someone who has been given the authority to act "in Jesus' name" — usually an ordained minister of Jesus Christ — or else someone directly and specifically commissioned to act in that capacity, such as Ananias in Acts, chapter nine, for Paul's baptism.
The "Baptismal Formula"
Now that we have clearly in mind what is meant by the expression "in the name of Jesus Christ," let's go on to see what Jesus Christ said about baptism in Matthew 28:19. Here we have what is often referred to as the "Baptismal Formula" — that is, the correct wording of the baptismal ceremony. Here we read, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]" according to the King James Version. Two important corrections need to be made to this famous 1611 English translation of the original Greek text. One is the use of the word "Ghost," which is a very unfortunate translation of the Greek word pneuma. The proper English translation is "Spirit." God does not have a "ghost"! But He most certainly does have a Holy Spirit! The second correction is the word "in" in the phrase "in the name of the Father," etc. This is not translated from the Greek word en, which means "in," but is translated from the Greek word eis which generally means "into." Notice that now Matthew 28:19 does not contradict in any way the phrase "in the name of Jesus Christ," as some erroneously contend. Rather, it adds important information. What this means is that in baptism we come under the government and authority of God, INTO His ownership and possession." We are literally not our own any more after baptism! Paul makes this clear in I Cor. 6:19-20. "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." In water baptism we are outwardly manifesting what has already become inwardly solidified — that we are now willing to lay down our lives and become God's servants, no longer free to do as we please, but rather as God wills. "For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's" (Rom. 14:8). After baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, we become part of the begotten Family of God and as such have the right and privilege of calling God our Father. We have been immersed into the very family name of God (Eph. 3:15). We are literally His newly begotten sons looking forward to the resurrection when we will be finally born into the divine Family of God! Therefore, putting it all together, at the time of baptism the repentant believer is asked if he has repented of his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. If he indicates that he has — and his works prove that he has — the person performing the baptism will say to the individual (giving his name), "As a result of the repentance of your sins and acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, I do therefore baptize you into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in the name of, that is, by the authority of, Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins. Amen." (Notice carefully that neither important part is omitted!) He will then totally immerse the person in the water.
The Name of God's Church
There is yet one more vitally important truth connected with God's name which Jesus gave in John 17:11. Here in His final prayer He said, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." What did He mean in saying Christians should be kept in the "name" of the Father? He obviously meant that through, or by means of, the power and authority of the Father, all His begotten children — His Church — should be kept from Satan and from falling away. As the Father's own children, they would naturally also be given His name and be called the Church of God. To be "one" — united and undivided — true Christians must be in the Church that belongs to God. What Jesus meant is made perfectly clear in the rest of the New Testament record. For the true name of the Church of God is just that: "the Church of God." In the book of Acts, Paul instructs ministers to "feed the church of God" (Acts 20:28). The book of I Corinthians contains five distinct references to "the church of God" or "the churches of God." Study them yourself in I Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:16; 11:22 and 15:9. Again in II Cor. 1:1 Paul addresses "the church of God which is at Corinth." In Galatians 1:13 Paul admits that he had "persecuted the church of God." I Thes. 2:14 mentions "the churches of God," adding "in Judea" to give their location. And in the largest of the Pastoral Epistles, Paul refers to "the church of God" and "the church of the living God" twice in I Timothy 3:5 and 15. In no less than twelve different places, we find the Bible — God's inspired Word — giving the one and only true name and title of God's Church — "the Church of God." That is what Jesus meant when He prayed for the Father to keep the disciples and New Testament Church in the Father's name! So "what's in a name?" Very much indeed when that name happens to be the name of Jesus Christ and His Heavenly Father! To be baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38) means to be baptized by His authority vested in one of His true representatives! And to be baptized "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19) symbolizes the coming under the government and ownership of God Himself — becoming begotten members of His Divine Family — as we are led by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14). Finally, to be kept in the Father's name (John 17:11) means to be kept In His only true Church — the Church which belongs to and is ruled by God. And of all the denominations bearing the name "Church of God," only ONE could be the true Church of God — the one that obeys all the commandments of God and maintains the faith delivered once for all time. Don't be deceived! These cardinal Bible truths are essential to salvation! Jesus Christ said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" or condemned (Mark 16:15-16). Be certain you understand the importance of the name of Christ and of God before you are baptized! And forever after.