I believe God can save someone prior to Baptism, yet I also believe that Baptism is not a “work” but a part of our faith. And here is why: Faith is an active word, not a passive word. Christ asks us to take action, not simply to know that he exists and that he died for us, but to have faith in Him. It is faith in Christ, not knowledge of Christ that God saves us through. But if faith is an action then what are some of those actions? One clear action asked of us is Baptism. Repentance, Confession, and Obedience are additional actions. And these actions are a part of our Faith, not a work to get us into heaven. And there are scriptures that clearly place faith, repentance, confession, obedience and baptism as a part of how we are saved. Yet the big question always seems to involve whether or not someone is saved if they have not been Baptized. Acts clears this up for us:
We have examples of Jewish and Gentile believers receiving the Holy Spirit, a mark or seal of their salvation, in the book of Acts prior to being Baptized. (Pentecost and Cornelius’s Household) I believe God can and still does this today, this was not something God only did 2,000 years ago. I am unable to declare that He does not continue to do what he has done in the scriptures. Yet in Acts we do see that when someone comes to faith, regardless of if they are saved prior to Baptism or after, they are to be Baptized.
I believe if someone claims to have saving faith and has not been baptized and has no evidence of the Holy Spirit in their life then they are likely not saved, since God does not appear to have marked them with His seal (The Holy Spirit). Yet I am not God, so I can never be 100% certain regarding if someone is filled with the Holy Spirit. Only God truly knows this, but we can make an overall accurate assessment of someone by looking for the fruit of the spirit in their lives. Now if this person clearly knows about Baptism and is not being Baptized then I would believe that their faith is not an active faith but merely knowledge. And it is not knowledge that saves us but through our faith in Christ. So for someone who has not clearly received the Holy Spirit prior to Baptism, I would say they are not saved, and for their faith to be real they need to be Baptized and take action on their knowledge so they will have saving faith in their Baptism. For someone who has received the Holy Spirit before Baptism ( and I am making no declaration that this is normal, but that it can and does still happen), they should still be Baptized, not for their salvation but for their process in following the Lord and in our process of following the Lord since Jesus asked us to Baptize. This person would then also have clear certainty about their position with God about being saved or unsaved after Baptism. There would be no difference among them from another Baptized believer, because both were Baptized into Christ and both have certainty about their salvation through Faith. There becomes no issue of who was saved before, after or during Baptism. Essentially this is something only God truly knows. The argument over the matter becomes technical for the most part and does not have any real impact on real world scenarios except for the following.
If someone truly comes to faith in Christ prior to their death but they are unable to be Baptized (due to hospitalization, or some bizarre accident), then will God be faithful to his promise: For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16 Because I believe in all of God’s promises I say that in this scenario the individual will be saved because of their faith.
It is only by believing these things regarding Baptism that I have been able to make the scriptures be in harmony regarding teachings on faith, salvation, and baptism.