When it comes to the when of Baptism oftentimes people have this notion that baptism is akin to “Christianity 301”, and before one participates in Christianity 301 they need to have completed Christianity 101 and 201. Thus, baptism becomes something a person works up to. In other cases, someone may have such a high view of justification-by-faith-alone that they diminish baptism’s significance because it isn’t an instrument through which God grants a sinner pardon. We want to avoid both errors. We don’t want to make baptism something that a person works up to with the proper training, nor do we want to suggest that it’s something that could be put on the side till someone feels like it. The bible paints a picture that clearly suggests that baptism is part of Christianity 101. That it’s something you do immediately after believing as a foundational act of obedience.
In Him 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. (Col 2:11-12)
The idea of what’s spoken of in this passage appears to clearly be of a spiritual nature, similar to Romans 6:3-4, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27, and 1 Peter 3:21. We can see that in the immediate context of the passage. The believers were circumcised with the circumcision “made without hands.” It was this spiritual circumcision (cf. Rom 2:28-29), “the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh”, that Paul called “the circumcision of Christ.” Now, if the circumcision that saved believers and put off their sins was done “without hands” shouldn’t we conclude that the baptism that Paul was speaking of was “without hands” as well? It would be strange for Paul to stress that one physical ritual wasn’t what put off the sins of the flesh but that it was a physical ritual of water baptism that united a person truly with Christ in His resurrection.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
As you might have already gathered by the question presented in the title there are many who use Galatians 3:27 as a proof text to support their belief that water baptism is a necessary instrument of the salvation process, without which a person cannot be saved. While we want to hold up the importance of baptism as an ordinance instituted by the Lord Himself, we do not want to confuse its importance with saving faith. Not just because “we don’t want to” or because it doesn’t fit with a certain system of theology but because the Scripture does not teach such a doctrine. Galatians 3:27 is a great example of how people can do great injustice to the meaning of a text by avoiding a number of incredibly important hermeneutical principles.
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. (Rom. 4:2-3)
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? (Jas 2:21)
If someone isolates these verses outside of their context they could understandably say, ‘It looks like the Bible is saying in one place that Abraham was not justified by works and in another place that Abraham was justified by works.’ As is the case with many of these alleged discrepancies the issue concerns isolating Bible verses and setting them against each other as opposed to realizing that sentences fit within paragraphs, paragraphs fit within chapters, chapters fit within books, and when contexts are examined verses like the ones above are seen to be complementary not contradictory.