“having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Baptism does not save us or do any spiritual good for the salvation of our souls. It is not a precursor for salvation nor does it set us apart for salvation. Many are baptised and die in their sins, having never come to personal repentance in Christ. It is a cogent and personal act of choice for someone who has trusted in Christ and wants to follow the example of Christ and be immersed in the waters of baptism. It is a sign of something spiritual that has happened in their lives and an outward confession of faith in Christ the Saviour.
The witness of baptism shows the reality of what has happened in the soul of the person being baptised. The person goes down into the water of baptism and is buried in it to show the going down into death of the Lord Jesus as He paid the price of the sins of His people. The person is then bodily raised out of the water to signify the raising of Christ from the dead as the victorious Saviour and Lord of all. The Christian is given new life to serve God and glorify Him forever. We identify with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus for we have died to sin and are resurrected to a new life in Christ through our faith in the power of God that raised Jesus from then dead.
“You were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.”
The spectacle of baptism is an outward witness of the inner work of the Spirit of God in salvation. We are raised to a new life in Christ to walk in the power of the Spirit in obedience and faith.
“This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you—not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”
1 Peter 3:21
This verse follows on in the Scripture, from the picture given of the salvation of Noah and his family in the ark through the waters of the flood. They were rescued by the Lord from the destruction and judgment of the pre-diluvian world and brought to new life through the salvation of God. So also the picture of baptism shows the salvation of God in the life of the believer and is therefore the salvation of baptism. The baptism shows what we have been saved from and saved to.
It is not the washing of the flesh but the confession of the work of conscience in the soul that has brought the person to repentance and faith. There is no salvation without repentance and faith and therefore no baptism either. We are brought into a new and glorious life as Jesus was raised from the dead and bought eternal life for us.
“Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture, preached to him Jesus. As they went on the way, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Behold, here is water. What is keeping me from being baptised?” He commanded the chariot to stand still, and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, and the eunuch didn’t see him any more, for he went on his way rejoicing.”
The Ethiopian is constrained to be baptised after confession of Christ and he and Philip go down into the water and the Ethiopian is baptised. There is rejoicing for the newly converted Ethiopian who has obeyed the Lord. So also for the Christian believer who has trusted in Christ and wishes to identify themselves with their Lord and Saviour. It is an outward and abiding witness of a inner and living spiritual event that has happened to them and a reality that they now live in. We are now dead to this world and made alive in Christ for the salvation of our souls.
Baptism in the New Testament is never a precursor to salvation. The faith in Christ and the confession of personal change in the Believer comes first and the desires to identify with the Lord by going down into His death and being raised in resurrection power is the outworking of the personal faith. Paul is reminding the Christians at Colosse about their faith and obedience to the Lord in baptism and is constraining them to continue in that way. So as the Christian looks back at the event of their baptism they are encouraged to keep following the Lord and obeying Him.