Can people go to Heaven if they have not been baptized?
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). People will go to Heaven who have been born again and saved by the grace of God. We are not saved by works or by outward observances but by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, we are not saved by the physical act of baptism. There will be people in Heaven who have not been baptized by water, but they will have been forgiven of their sins by the blood of Jesus.
This is exemplified by the thief on the cross. “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). The thief had a conversion experience on the cross and never had opportunity to be baptized. Jesus accepted him and stated that he would be in paradise. There are people who have time to pray for salvation, but may not have time in life or be in a physical condition to be baptized. They will not be hindered from entering Heaven.
However, it is disobedience if someone chooses not to be baptized when there is opportunity. This would constitute sin and would result in a loss of salvation.
Why did Peter tell people on multiple occasions to be baptized in the name of Jesus? Does this contradict Christ’s teaching to be baptized in the Trinitarian formula?
Jesus clearly taught the ministry in Matthew 28:19 to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Peter told the people on the Day of Pentecost “to be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Speaking to the house of Cornelius, Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48). He was not contradicting the teaching of Jesus but was distinguishing the Christian baptism from other baptisms of the time. Further, and possibly even more noteworthy, is the fact that many people believed in God but rejected Jesus as His son; hence, the specificity of being baptized in the name of Jesus who is the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). Those who once rejected Christ were instructed to make a public profession of their belief in Jesus as their Savior and to profess that they were now disciples of Christ.
Peter’s instructions did not negate the Trinitarian formula but placed emphasis on that which had been neglected. It is right and scriptural to baptize in the Trinitarian formula.
Should someone be re-baptized if they leave a false church to be in fellowship with God’s true people?
A baptism that is not a “believer’s baptism” is not in accordance with the scripture. Infant baptism or being baptized when there is still sin in the life undermines the very purpose and testimony of baptism. An individual would need to be re-baptized once he was truly saved from sin and had a born-again experience.
Salvation is what brings someone into the Church of God and into fellowship with God’s people. While a believer’s baptism may have occurred in a false denomination, God honors the obedience of that baptism as He does the work of salvation. When people leave a false church to be in fellowship with God’s true people, there is often a desire to renounce the system of religion where they used to be members. Part of that testimony may be in being re-baptized. While it is not specifically required in the Bible, it is understandable why someone would want to make that clear declaration of freedom from false religion to the world through baptism again. To be re-baptized after leaving a false church is a decision that is left for individuals to make as they are led by the Holy Spirit. -mws