It is faith in the redemptive work of Christ that produces salvation–not our actions.
James 2:20 says, faith without works is dead. Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone; it must be acted upon. This is what Mark was referring to when he spoke of baptism. He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:15-16).
Philip told the Ethiopian eunuch, who asked Philip to baptize him, that if he believed with all of his heart, he could be baptized. (See Acts 8:35-38) Philip used water baptism only after an individual had already believed on the Lord Jesus. This is how Mark was using water baptism Mark 16:16, and Peter Acts 2:38.
Cornelius and his friends were filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues before they were baptized in water (Acts 10:44-48). The world cannot receive Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you do know Him, for He abides with you and He will be in you. Jesus is expressing that unbelievers cannot receive the Holy Ghost, so Cornelius and his friends must have been born again before their water baptism (John 14:17). Peter referred to the baptism of the Holy Ghost as a proof of the Gentiles’ conversion (Acts 11:1-18).
Water baptism is the sign of the New Covenant in the same way that circumcision was the sign of the Old Covenant. Romans 4 clearly states that although Abraham was circumcised, his circumcision was only a sign. Abraham was justified in the sight of God before his circumcision. Circumcision was a command of God that had to be kept, yet Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (Genesis 17:9-14). Likewise, water baptism is a command, but keeping this command does not produce justification. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3). The one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5). In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7).
What Baptism Means to a Believer
Water baptism is a command of Jesus and is the initial action upon believing. Water Baptism is an opportunity to act on our new profession of faith in Christ Jesus. We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (Romans 6:3-6).
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Holy Spirit is the baptizer and the body of Christ is what we are being baptized into (Romans 6:6). For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). As believers, we have become dead to sin and alive unto God through the death of Jesus (Romans 6:11). Jesus did not die for His sins; He had none. He died for our sins (1 Peter 2:24). Therefore, His death was for us, and all the benefits were obtained through His death and resurrection.