“buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).
While there are several different viewpoints related to the act of baptism, it is perhaps best seen as an external indicator of the inner work that Jesus performs in our life. You see, baptism serves as a public association with Christ and an affirmation of the change that has taken place in the lives of those who have accepted Him as Savior.
One translation of Colossians 2:12 expresses this idea in vivid terms: “…you were placed in the tomb with Christ through baptism. In baptism you were also brought back to life with Christ through faith in the power of God, who brought him back to life” (GW). In this respect, the act of baptism also symbolizes the death and burial of our former lives and our “resurrection” to new life in Christ.
The Apostle Peter also expanded on this idea in the New Testament book of 1 Peter: “…Baptism does not mean we wash our bodies clean. It means we are saved from the punishment of sin and go to God in prayer with a heart that says we are right. This can be done because Christ was raised from the dead” (1 Peter 2:21 NLV)
Baptism represents a natural progression for those who are truly serious about following Jesus. The first step in that progression normally begins with our acceptance of Christ as Savior. It is then followed by the act of baptism which serves to identify us with Jesus and His death, burial, and resurrection. The end of that progression corresponds with the lifelong path of spiritual growth given to us in Acts 2:42: prayer, Bible study, communion, and regular church attendance.
Before we leave the subject of baptism, we should also take a moment to address the following question: is baptism necessary for salvation? To answer that question, we should recognize that baptism signifies union with Christ; it is not a mechanism that triggers salvation. For instance, if we were to say that baptism is a requirement for salvation, then it would mean that Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross was left unfinished. In other words, it would mean that Jesus’ death on the cross was insufficient to provide for our salvation and that something further (namely baptism) is necessary.
If that is the case, then Jesus was incorrect when He said from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Therefore, it is better to view baptism as an external confirmation of the inner reality of Jesus’ work in our lives.