Belief in Christ saves us. True. But that’s just the beginning of a covenant with him. Faith is the genesis of a life with God. When we believe in him and accept him as our Savior, we enter into a covenant; one in which God works and we humbly accept. Our belief/faith leads to action. Not a “pull yourself up by your boot-straps” action, but surrender. Waving the white flag. A surrender of our will to his. Not with resentment or bitterness like when conquered by an enemy but with an acknowledgement of “I can’t do this. I need you, and I give you control.” Turning to him (repentance) and away from our old life is involved in this covenant. And not just one-time, but ongoing.
Baptism is part of this covenant. God calls us. He offers us life. We humbly receive. And we are baptized. Baptism is more than a physical exercise that we volunteer for to re-enact the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism is the consummation of this covenant, of our vows to him; leaving behind the old life and entering the new. It is the point at which we are united with Christ. He moves in and fills us with his life. We then begin to bear fruit in his likeness.
Baptism is “the passing through the water” like Noah did and Moses and Joshua with God’s people. We cross over from captivity to freedom. Baptism is the point at which we are united with Jesus, our Promised Land. It is supernatural. God is active in our lives at baptism. It’s not just a social acknowledgement. It is a transaction, but one which involves complete surrender on our part. (Maybe that’s why we don’t baptize ourselves.) God is the active party in this transaction. He washes us in Jesus’ blood, he circumcises our hearts, and he “moves in” by his Spirit, to dwell forever. Our loyalties do an about face; our focus shifts. We give up all to receive the new life.
Noah is an example of this covenant relationship. God called him. Noah responded in faith. “Salvation” had occurred because of Noah’s faith in God. But deliverance and power in Noah’s life had not yet. It wasn’t until he “passed through the waters,” that he received new life, his deliverance. Faith and baptism are intrinsically tied together.
Moses, because of his faith, led the Israelites out of captivity. They entered in to a covenant with God in the Passover meal but they still had to pass through the water to experience deliverance.
Similarly, when we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we are united with him in baptism. We enter the water, and in faith leave our old life of captivity. We come out of the water, and by faith are delivered into his Kingdom. We can walk in that truth, taking advantage of “all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” or we can quench the Spirit inside us and continue to live like a captive.
In summary, faith (belief) and baptism are tied together. In the church of Christ tradition, we tend to make baptism the primary focus, the golden key of salvation. The emphasis on baptism has eclipsed the importance of faith in the saving grace of Jesus. “Just get them baptized” is the prevalent mindset, and yet the understanding of faith, surrender, sacrifice and holiness in a lifelong commitment to Christ is not equally emphasized. Baptism has largely become a rite in the churches of Christ; one that is often carried out as a “work” that we “do” to ensure salvation, whether or not faith or repentance or surrender are understood. Some other traditions, on the other hand, have minimized the importance of baptism. Baptism without faith is a religious ritual devoid of power. Faith isn’t truly faith unless it propels us toward obedience and dependence on God. It is our faith in the power of God that saves us. Period. And by faith, we are united with Christ in baptism.