16He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)
Water baptism is a command of Jesus and the initial action taken upon believing. Mark’s statement could be rendered, “He who believes with saving faith (faith that produces action) will be saved.” In this sense, water baptism is very important. It is an opportunity to act on your new profession of faith. Anyone who refuses to follow Jesus’ command to be water baptized may be suspected of not really believing.
On the other hand, there are scriptural examples of people being born again before they were baptized in water. Cornelius and his friends were filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues before they were baptized in water (Acts 10:44-48). John 14:17 records Jesus saying that an unbeliever cannot receive the Holy Ghost, so Cornelius and his friends must have been born again before their water baptism.
Water baptism is the sign of the New Covenant in the same way that circumcision was the sign of the Old Covenant. The apostle Paul made it clear in Romans 4 that Abraham’s circumcision was only a sign. Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised. Paul goes on to state in Galatians 5:1-6 that anyone who trusts in circumcision has fallen from grace; Christ will profit him nothing.
It is faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ that produces salvation—not our actions. However, James writes that faith without works is dead (James 2:20). Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone; it must be acted upon. This is what Jesus meant when He commanded all believers to be water baptized.
If you have not had the joy of being water baptized, today is your day. I’m sure your pastor would be delighted to baptize you in water. And remember, going under the water symbolizes that you have partaken of Jesus’ death to sin, and coming out of the water symbolizes that you have been raised to new life with Him. Hallellujah!