This is part 7 of my series on baptism. I know I didn't answer all of the questions and arguments about this subject, so feel free to ask whatever, and I'll do my best to answer. Since my series ran into Monday, I'll post my podcast Wednesday. I'll also be posting a nicely-formatted document with every article included. Thanks for reading! Let's start today's section with an argument I've used hundreds of times.
All spiritual blessings are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). This means that if someone is outside of Christ, he has no spiritual blessings. One gets from being outside of the body of Christ to being inside the body of Christ through baptism:
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? (Romans 6:3)
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27)
I can't tell you how many circles I have drawn making this very point. Preachers typically draw a circle with the expression “in Christ” in the middle. Then, a stick figure is drawn outside of the circle. An arrow takes the stick figure from being outside the circle to inside the circle, and one or both above passages are placed over the arc of the arrow. That illustration has a lot of mileage in the church of christ. Let's take a moment to examine the words more closely: ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν (baptized into Christ Jesus) and εἰς Χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε (into Christ you were baptized). The word translated “into” in both passages is the word εἰς (eis).
Another baptism passage that uses this word eis is Acts 2:38: Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for [eis] the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy spirit” (Acts 2:38). It has been pointed out on several occasions that this is the same way the expression “for the forgiveness of sins” is used in Matthew 26:28. The expression “the forgiveness of sins” is also used in Acts 10:43 but notice what this passage says: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in [eis] Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). Can one believe “εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν?” It seems like that's the case in this and many other passages (Matthew 18:6; John 1:12; John 2:11; John 3:16 to name a few).
One of the most interesting passages that uses eis is Romans 10:8-10:
But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting [eis] in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting [eis] in salvation.
If one believes in their heart and confesses the name of Jesus, then they are saved. Belief results in imputed righteousness (see the previous comments on Abraham), and one confesses into salvation. Since righteousness and salvation only exist “in Christ,” then one believes and confesses into Christ. This may seem confusing to some, but as I noticed in the last section, salvation is not binary.
So, what does Paul mean when he speaks of people being baptized into Christ? 1 Corinthians 10 gives us the historical background to this phrase: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1–2). Now, were they children of Abraham prior to their baptism? Hadn't God presented His love towards them, and vice-versa, in all the events leading up to this from hearing their cry to the Passover meal? What changed about their relationship with Moses when they marched across the Red Sea? This act of total trust in Moses and God was a picture of their faith in action. Once they crossed the sea, there was no turning back. They showed Egypt, Moses, and the world that they were fully committed to following God and Moses wherever he may lead. Baptism is the same for us.
We put our faith in Jesus, confess His name, but baptism is when we demonstrate our faith in an action that serves as a picture of our death, burial, and resurrection with Christ. Now, going back to Moses, notice that despite the Egyptian armies dying in the water, there was still a future point wherein their reproach would be taken away (Joshua 5:9). Again, salvation isn't binary. We are always being saved, and we are always growing up in the knowledge of our blessings because of Christ.
In conclusion, righteousness is counted to the account of the believer. They are justified by faith like Abraham, and, like Abraham's circumcision, baptism is a sign of seal of the righteousness they had by faith. This is seen in the conversion of Cornelius and also in the fact that salvation is not simply and either/or, binary issue. This does not mean that baptism isn't “necessary” or “needed,” but it does seek to place the emphasis of our conversion on the initial point of faith. If someone dies on the way to the baptistery, God looks at their heart. If someone is baptized simply to obey Jesus but doesn't understand all of what baptism is, then they don't need to be rebaptized.
For information of the history of rebaptism in the Restoration Movement, check out this paper by Dr. Dallas Burdette: