In my reading for Galatians, I came across a couple of writers that had helpful comments on baptism. First up, a lengthy quote from Scot McKnight…
Some will no doubt have problems with the observation that faith and baptism are parallel expressions for Paul. Among many free churches in the world, baptism has taken on a secondary importance and is too often confined to “nothing more than an entrance rite” into the church. While it is clear that Paul makes a fundamental difference between external rites and internal reality (cf. Rom. 2:25-39; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11; cf. Gal. 5:6), and can even suggest that baptizing was not his purpose (1 Cor. 1:13-17), baptism was in the early church the initial and necessary response of faith. To be sure, their world was more ritual-oriented than ours and consequently got more out of rituals than we probably do. Nevertheless, we dare not make baptism “nothing more than a ritual of entrance,” for it was for the earliest Christians their first moment of faith, and we know of no such thing as an “unbaptized believer.” Baptism was not necessary for salvation, but faith without baptism was not faith for the early church. The Galatians knew this, and so Paul appealed to their experience (Scot McKnight, Galatians, The NIV Application Commentary, 198).
You can’t tell it from the text above because it is all italicized, but McKnight emphasizes the following statement in this manner: “baptism was in the early church the initial and necessary response of faith.”
Despite McKnight’s statement that baptism was not necessary for salvation, he clearly deems it as important and elevates the action as a necessary response of faith. He even states that Paul considered faith and baptism as parallel expressions.
The early baptismal ceremony was, in effect, a dying with Christ and a rising with Christ (so Rom. 6:1-14). This was its symbolic virtue: it dramatized salvation. Furthermore, the ceremony was frequently associated with two moral ideas: the putting away of sin and the putting on of a new life (cf. Rom. 13:12, 14; Eph. 4:24; 6:11-17; Col. 3:5-17). To be “clothed with Christ” perhaps refers to the early Christian practice of stripping and then reclothing oneself in a white, liturgical robe after the baptismal ceremony, thus symbolizing disrobing oneself of sin and then putting on the virtues of Christ (Scot McKnight, Galatians, The NIV Application Commentary, 198).
Baptism dramatizes the salvific activity of Christ. It is a participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In essence, it is a response of faith that serves as a submission to God’s saving activity. The new Christian makes a commitment to put away sin and pursue life and godliness. Although it is clearly a human response, it was the divine initiative and sacrifice that give it power. In baptism, God is the primary actor. He grants life and raises individuals up (see Eph. 2:4-10).
Gorman has similar ideas on baptism in Cruciformity, but that will have to wait until another post.