Fifth point: The faith that saves is the faith of Abraham. Paul says so in Rom 4 and Gal 3. The one wrinkle is that, after the resurrection, Abraham’s faith in God becomes faith in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son. But it’s still faith in God.
Paul says that we’re saved by God’s promise to Abraham to count faith as righteousness.
(Rom 4:9-12 ESV) Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. … 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
(Gal 3:6-9 ESV) just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
So Abraham is the spiritual father of the Gentiles who are saved by faith, thanks to God’s promise given to Abraham.
Faith saves because of God’s promise to Abraham — and yet God said nothing to Abraham (or Moses or David or the Prophets) about baptism. If a failure to be baptized correctly defeats faith, then we aren’t saved by faith under God’s covenant with Abraham.
But couldn’t God have modified his covenant with Abraham to add baptism as just as important and just as essential as faith? Well, no. After all, this is precisely the argument made by Paul’s Judaizing opponents regarding circumcision. Paul refutes their argument as follows:
(Rom 4:10-12 ESV) 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Paul points out that God’s crediting of Abraham with righteousness came first — by many years. Therefore, circumcision cannot be an additional condition for forgiveness and grace. If circumcision wasn’t required for Abraham to be saved because he was circumcised after he had faith, then the same logic applies to baptism.
In fact, Paul goes through his entire extensive argument regarding faith and works in Rom 1 – 4 and doesn’t once mention or allude to baptism — not until Rom 6. And in Rom 6 his point is that baptism should affect how we live as Christians.
(Rom 6:3-4 ESV) 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
“Walk in newness of life” refers to how we live as Christians, not to our forgiveness. (Compare Paul’s use of “walk” in Rom 8:4; 13:13; 14:15.)
The whole point of the argument is that Christians no longer belong in the world of death; Paul does not here suppose that one should wait until the final bodily resurrection (8:11) before beginning to “walk in newness of life,” and this “walk” is based on a present status, not merely anticipating the future reality. The argument of these verses is not simply that one has died to sin and hence must not live in it anymore, but that one is already “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11) and must now live accordingly.
N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians (vol. 10 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), n.p.
Remember: I’m saying that we’re normatively saved at the moment of water baptism — and Paul’s argument fits nicely with this position. But Paul’s argument is not about salvation but ethics.