In Colossians chapter two, Paul sheds light on New Testament baptism by comparing it to circumcision (a religious practice of the Old Testament). The old law commanded that every Jewish male was to have his foreskin removed (circumcised) on the eighth day after his birth (Leviticus l2:3). Paul, drawing on this image, says, "In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 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. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (Colossians 2:11-13, NKJ). A sinner experiences a circumcision "made without hands" (i.e. spiritual) when he turns to Christ. At what point does this spiritual surgery, this "circumcision of Christ" that cuts away the "body of the sins of the flesh” take place? According to Paul, a person's sins are removed (cut away) when they are “buried with” Him [Christ] in baptism."
Paul experiences this very thing when he undergoes his conversion to Christianity. His story is told a number of times within the book of Acts. In Acts 22, Paul tells how Ananias finds him alone, blind, and praying to God. Ananias restores his sight and talks with him concerning God's plan. He then asks Paul, "now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). At this point Paul still has his sins, and has not called upon the name of the Lord. Yet he has already had a religious experience (Acts 22:6), has come to believe that Jesus was Lord (Acts 22:8), has confessed that Jesus was Lord (Acts 22:10), and has even fasted and prayed for three days (Acts 9:9, 11). In spite of all this, he still has not been forgiven of his sins! Why? Because he has not yet submitted to baptism, thus failing to complete God's plan of salvation. Paul's baptism was the avenue by which he called "upon the name of the Lord" and contacted the cleansing blood of Christ (Acts 22:16, Romans 10:13, Revelation 1:5).
In every incident in which the Bible addresses both baptism and salvation, the former always takes precedence over the latter; not one example exists in the New Testament that shows salvation occurring before the act of baptism.
Is baptism necessary? Absolutely! "Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words...Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:4, 8).
Josh Allen (Pikeville, KY)