A Mormon Understanding of Repentance and Baptism
Without new life, our baptism is more than a mere ritual, a mere fulfillment of the law, a dead work: in addition to necessary authority, to have effect baptism must be founded in our faith and repentance. But it must also mark the beginning of a remarkably new life.
So, using Paul's way of thinking about these things, we can say that repentance and baptism bring spiritual resurrection, just as sin brought spiritual death; repentance and baptism bring us out of the sinful world, just as sin keeps us there.
Some might mistake this understanding of repentance and baptism to mean that they immediately bring complete perfection before God, or conversely that if we are not yet living completely perfect, whole lives, then our baptism is not yet effective and we remain within the realm of death. (The second of these is a mistake sometimes made by those who suffer from misunderstanding the commandment to be perfect.)
However, Paul implicitly speaks of the beginning of new life, not of its completion. At the end of Romans 6:4, we could understand him to be saying "we should begin to walk in newness of life." Living the new life made possible by Jesus Christ is something that those who trust him, repent, and are baptized have begun, not something they have completed.
Of course, that does not excuse our present imperfection, nor does it say that present perfection is impossible. Regardless of how well we have reached the goal of becoming whole (the scriptural meaning of "perfect"), we must continue to walk in newness of life. That is something we do and continue to work at doing, not a destination we reach.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.