Baptism points to an experience - saving faith
Notice what we read in Colossians 2:10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority." Now what lies in between the mentions of the event of the cross concerns the experience of saving faith. The little phrase that tells us that Paul is speaking of personal salvation is the phrase "in Him" or the similar phrase "with Him". The event of the cross is objective - that is to say, it occurred in time and in history, outside and apart from my involvement. Christ did it - case closed. However to just know about the event of salvation as a fact of history will save no one. There must be faith. In over 160 places the New Testament uses this little phrase "in Him" to describe how the Christian is associated with and experiences whatever Jesus experienced. Jesus died, so the Christian can say: "so did I die" (Galatians 2:20). Jesus was buried, yep, me too! (Romans 6:3-4) Jesus raised from the dead and guess what, in Him I walked out of the grave and He walked out with me (Ephesians 2:5-9).
Whenever you scan through Colossians 2:10-13, you find this phrase "in Him" mentioned on several occasions. To be "in Christ" means I have identified with Him, and He with me. What Baptism does is point to an experience that was begun in my life by the Person of the Holy Spirit bringing the Person of Christ and the miracle of saving faith to me in the Gospel. Paul uses two illustrative word pictures - Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism. In circumcision, we see the removal of the foreskin of the old way of life removed from the human heart, which describes what God does in the moment of saving faith. The Old way of life, the old nature is done away with and in its place is a new heart. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The second word picture is of course Baptism, which describes and portrays the believer's prior identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Other New Testament passages use this imagery of death, burial and resurrection to describe our salvation - with baptism being used as the chief word picture. (Romans 6:3-11).
Baptism points to a prior experience, begun in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Notice Colossians 2:12 "through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." Contrary to what some groups may think, Paul is not advocating infant baptism nor is he advocating baptismal regeneration (or salvation by baptism). To try to make baptism either the cause of salvation or to somehow draw a connection between infants being circumcised as carrying over to infants being baptized is to undo the whole intent of Paul's statements.
Lets me be as clear as possible. Scripture uniformly teaches that faith is first, then baptism. (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 8:36-38; 9:18; 16:15; 16:31-33; 18:8; 19:4-5; 1 Cor 1:14-16; 1 Peter 3:21). To use the stop sign illustration once again, what causes a car to stop? Is it the stop sign or is it the person inside the car? All the sign does is point to the necessary experience of needing to stop, otherwise I will be pulled over and declared a law breaker. Baptism is a sign of something far greater and it signifies what is necessary prior to entering into it - saving faith. Faith is an inside work, wrought by the Spirit through the scriptures. He convinces me to receive the Savior He has brought to me in regeneration. Unless I respond in saving faith, I will not be a fit candidate for the baptismal tank. Unless there has been the supernatural experience of saving faith in a person's life, baptism will do no better than a stop sign will do for anyone ignoring its message. Whenever you read of anyone getting baptized in scripture, they are a believer. Baptism is God's big arrow that points to an event - the cross and to a needed experience - saving faith.