When I first became a Christian I read about water baptism in the Bible. I also found that many divisions had occurred between Christians because of differing views regarding this subject. Some say a person isn't saved until they are water baptized. Others say that you can be saved without being baptized, so baptism is considered to be somewhat "optional equipment". So I asked the Lord to give me understanding about the subject, and here it is.
When I asked the Lord for understanding about water baptism, He said, "Consider the Expungement Statute." That meant something to me since I was in law school at the time. So I did, and here is what it provides.
When a person commits a criminal act against the Sovereign, the Sovereign issues a warrant or summons for the person to answer for his actions. The person is "wanted". When the guilty person appears before the Sovereign he can resist the charges or admit his guilt and take the consequences. When God is the Sovereign and we admit our guilt before Him and plead for mercy, a Defense Attorney (Jesus Christ) suddenly appears on our behalf and tells the judge, "Although this person is guilty and should be sentenced to the death penalty (the only penalty in God's scheme of things) I have already made the payment of that penalty. If this person accepts My payment he should be released into My service." The criminal (if he is smart) accepts the terms of the deal - the best deal in the universe - and becomes a slave of Christ. The result is that this person, guilty of criminal conduct and deserving of the death penalty, is released into the custody of the defense attorney to serve Him for eternity.
But this is not the end of the story. A criminal in this natural world often has a right to ask that his criminal record be EXPUNGED. Why does he do this? It's not because the judge or sheriff are still after him. If he is properly relating to the one who paid his penalty, that person is not bothering him. The Expungment Statute provides that his criminal record be blotted out so that it does not continue to affect his relationships with third parties (like potential employers). If he applies for a job and the employer does a record check, his criminal record will come back to haunt him unless it's expunged.
God's justice system is also merciful to the convict. God provides for the expungment of our sin record when we request Him to "wash away our sins" (Acts 22:16). It's the difference between a "sinner saved by grace" (still carrying the "sinner" tag) and a "saint" (holy one - no connotation of sin at all!).
Does water baptism "save" a person. Yes and no!. Yes, it is part of the salvation package we get from the Lord Jesus just like healing ("The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up..." - James 5:15). God saves us from the collateral complications of our sins as well as the direct separation from Him. No, a person is not cut off from God just because he has not been water baptized.
Just how does this affect our lives in Christ? I am convinced that our interpersonal relationships are affected by water baptism. For example, I know a sister in Christ whose husband was self-sufficient in his religion for years after she was saved, and never failed to mock her for her "fanaticism". The day after she finally went ahead and was water baptized her husband surrendered to Christ. I believe that she needed not only to be dead to her sins and alive to God in Christ Jesus, but the corpse of her old life and relationships needed to be buried in baptism (Romans 6:4) so that her new relationship with him could begin. I suspect, though I have no proof, that the evil one is less able to condemn a "saint" than a "sinner saved by grace".
How about infant baptism? That's easy. God saves households (ask Noah, Lot, the children of Israel in Egypt, and the Philippian jailer, for example). The Scriptures usually don't indicate whether the family members also believed. Apparently the unbelieving members of the believer's household (including infants) may be baptized by sharing the believer's baptism. When they believe for themselves, they (and their household) should be baptized on account of their own faith.
I hope that these thoughts are helpful to those who have never been water baptized or who have not been water baptized since they became Christians. Don't expect to have your sin record expunged before you confess your guilt and receive forgiveness in Christ! But be sure to appropriate all that God has provided for you in Christ, including believer's water baptism!
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Perhaps this understanding of water baptism will also be helpful to reunite the Christians who have been divided by the "all or nothing" doctrines of water baptism. Then, when were are of one accord and one mind, we wil be able to lift up one voice to glorify God (Romans 15:6).