In a conversation today, I had the following question posed to me and I thought I’d share my response here.
Saints. Is there a difference in being baptized in the name of Jesus and in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
Well, one is biblical:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
~ Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)
That said, it’s not a formula, but a statement. Baptism doesn’t guarantee or grant salvation as that would be a work that we perform to force God to do something else. If we could do something to force someone to be saved, we’d do it all the time. (insert joke about baptizing babies here)
The term “name” is exactly the same as it is used throughout scripture. The “name” of someone means their character and nature. Just as we are commanded to defend out “name” and Solomon says in Proverbs 22:1 that “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches”, we are not to change our name to that of one that’s a “good” name – like if you like the name Balthazar and you’re named “Ted” and you’d rather to be called by this subjectively better name so you choose that.
What is meant is that your name, meaning your character and nature, should be well respected by those around you and that your name is a representation of that character and nature to other people. Like, so, I know Ian and he was a jerk back in the day but after God saved him, he is a totally new person. God has redeemed my name by transforming me into a new person with new desires.
So, to baptize in the “name” of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit means to do so following the character and nature of the Triune Godhead, not just to say verbally as you’re baptized “in the name of…”. Also, when you finish a prayer “in the name of Jesus Christ”, what you mean is, “I pray that my will and desires would be in line with yours, King Jesus, and that you would only provide to me that which accords with your character and nature”.
So, in conclusion, what you say when you baptize someone is less important than the intent with which they are baptized – in that we are trusting to God that the person who is baptized is a true Christian and not a mere false convert or a rocky ground/thorny hearer, who will fall away in the end. We are always hopeful, but know that God is the one who sees the hearts of men. We also know that those who are truly Christians will remain so until the end, even if they struggle in the way.
Last, as I said before baptism doesn’t save anyone, but the will of God upon the hearts of men. Pray for the salvation of all men, and God will inevitably save those whom he has elected to save, and trust the word of those who come to you saying that they are Christians until they show themselves to not be through their words or actions.