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Does Baptism Now Save Us?

1 Peter 3:13-22

Jim Davis

Over simplifying biblical concepts often makes true obedience seem meaningless. When Ole quit farming and moved, he discovered he was the only Lutheran in his new town of all Catholics. That was okay, but the neighbors had a problem with his barbecuing beef every Friday. They were not allowed to eat red meat on Fridays, but the tempting aroma was getting the best of them. Beside themselves, they got together and confronted Ole.

"Ole," they said, "since you are the only Lutheran in this whole town and there's not a Lutheran church for many miles, we think you should join our church and become a Catholic." Ole thought about it for a minute and decided they were right. Ole talked to the priest, and they arranged it.

The big day came, and the priest had Ole kneel. He put his hand on Ole's head and said, "Ole, you were born a Lutheran, you were raised a Lutheran, and now," he said as he sprinkled some incense over Ole's head, "you are a Catholic!"

Both Ole and the neighbors were happy. But the following Friday evening, the aroma of grilled beef still wafted from Ole's yard.

The neighbors went to talk to him about this, and as they approached the fence they heard Ole saying something strangely familiar to the steak: "You were born a beef, you were raised a beef, and now" he said as he sprinkled salt over the meat, "you are a fish!"

It is easy to reduce salvation to a religious formula to practice that will rob us of a true understanding of salvation. Ritual may lead us to believe we are a Christian, when we are not. It may lead us into trusting church doctrines to do for us what we must do for ourselves. Some take pride in the fact that their parents baptized them as infants. They are betting on their infant baptism to save them. Some who have been baptized as adults have begun to think that baptism took care of their salvation once and for all.

1 Peter 3:18-22
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand-with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. NIV

The cry of Christians throughout the world is that "Jesus Saves." Yet, here in these verses Peter says it is, "baptism that now saves you." Which is it? Is it Jesus that saves, or is it "baptism that now saves us?" Is there a contradiction in Scripture? When we look at baptism as a religious rite that has the power to save, we begin to lose sight of the fact that it is Jesus who truly does save.

The same situation can happen with the idea that Jesus saves. We may draw the conclusion that Jesus saves without any cooperation on our part. We may think that our salvation is Jesus’ responsibility as we convince ourselves that there is nothing we must do to be saved.

Over simplification of either concept will diminish the importance of the other. . The statement "Jesus Saves" tends to over simplify salvation as we lose sight of how Jesus saves. The same is true with the statement, "baptism doth also now save us." Baptism is an integral part of salvation, but we may overlook how baptism saves.

Jesus Commanded Baptism

It is impossible to separate "baptism that now saves you" from the fact that Jesus saves. Christ commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel after his resurrection. He told them "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:16-20). Mark tells us that Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16).

Those wishing to become Christ’s followers in the first century were baptized by the authority of Christ. On Pentecost Peter told those listening to "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:36-41).

Baptism was a human response to a divine command in order to be saved. The first Christians were baptized in the authority of Christ in order to save themselves. Baptism was where they received forgiveness of their sins.

Ananias came to Paul saying, "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16 NIV).

Sometimes it is difficult for us to see the purpose of baptism. It is hard for us to understand the mode of baptism. Three-year-old Rena sat with her parents during a baptism one Sunday. It was a new experience for her. She exclaimed in surprise, "Why he pushed that guy in the water? Why, Dad, why?" The mother tried to explain briefly and quietly, but Rena just wouldn't be satisfied. Later that night the parents tried to provide an answer that a child's mind could comprehend. They talked about sin and told Rena when people decide to live for Jesus and "do good" they are baptized into Christ. They then explained that water symbolizes Jesus' washing people from sin; when they come out "clean," they are going to try to be "good." A moment later, they realized they'd have to work on their explanation a bit. Rena had immediately responded, "Why didn't the preacher just spank him?"

When our sins are washed away in baptism we are regenerated or reborn by the Holy Spirit.

Titus 3:3-8
"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life" (NIV).

Here Paul refers to baptism as the "washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." In Ephesians 5:26 Paul refers to baptism as a "cleansing. . . by the washing with water through the word." Paul says cleansing comes through the word of God. The word of God cleanses as we obey God in baptism.

Ephesians 5:25-27
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (NIV).

Jesus was taught Nicodemus the same concepts.

John 3:5-8
"Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (NIV).

Baptism Reaches Far Beyond Ritual Obedience

It seems confusing for Peter to say "that baptism also now saves us" when Jesus said, "this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28).

Baptism reaches far beyond ritual into the promises of God. It is in baptism that we enter into God’s covenant to save us. Peter writes, "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God." Baptism doesn’t remove dirt from the body but it is where we receive and accept God’s promise to allow us to live in all good conscience in Christ.

Baptism is the place where we receive God’s pledge to save us and it is the place where we make our pledge to accept his pledge to save us. The surety of God’s pledge comes to us through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:32-35
"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" (NIV).

A pledge is nothing more than a promise--a promise is a sacred oath. The pledge of a good conscience is what holds God’s family together. Peter is reminding persecuted Christians of their salvation that came through the means of baptism. He compared it to the water that raised Noah’s ark to safety. Of course, it was God that was doing the saving, but Noah built the ark and it was borne upon the flood waters in safety. Noah’s ark reminds us of God’s pledge to save Noah. Baptism reminds us that God will allow us to live in all good conscience through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our baptism reminds us of the pledge we made with God as we confessed Christ and surrendered to be buried with Christ in baptism so that we could be resurrected with him to live reborn by the power of God’s Spirit.

What is a family but a community of promises made and promises kept no matter what? A family is not just two or more people related by blood who happen to live under one roof. A family is not a management device by which two adults shuffle children around to the various experts who do the real rearing. A family is a community of people who dare to make a promise and care enough to keep it—no matter what.

A family is held together by promises: where promises fail, families fail. The rebirth of the family can begin only in the rebirth of promise keeping. The rebirth of a child of God can only happen through promise keeping.

A man was reminiscing after his father's death told of an experience from much earlier about the summer when his sister was looking for employment. She had two job possibilities. One she wanted very much and the other she didn't but would take as a second choice.

As you can imagine, the second-choice job came up first, and she was offered that job. She wanted to hold out for the other, but she didn't know if the other was going to come. So she went ahead and accepted it for her summer employment. A few days later, as you also could expect, the other job became available to her, and she wanted to quit the first very much and go to the second. So she went to her father.

She said, "Dad, I have a problem." And she portrayed it to him.

He looked her straight in the eye and said, "Did you take the first job?"

She said, "Yes."

"Did you promise you would work there this summer?"

She said, "Yes."

He said, "Why are we having this conversation?"

God has made a promise to save us through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For God to renege on his promise would be for him to have crucified his Son in vain.

However, we must accept his promise through promising to die with Christ in baptism. Promising to live a righteous life is proof that we are serious about the promise we have made to God.

In order to grip our hearts with the promise of the resurrection, God sometimes takes drastic measures. Baptism is actually a drastic measure.

Romans 6:1-7
"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

"If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin" (NIV).

Galatians 2:20
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (NIV).

Matthew 16:24-27
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done" (NIV).

Conclusion:

In baptism we are initiated, crowned, chosen, embraced, washed, adopted, gifted, and reborn, killed, and thereby sent forth and redeemed. We are identified as one of God's own, and then assigned our place and our job within the kingdom of God.

Believe—We must believe that Jesus Christ is God’s remedy for our sin.

Confession—In confession we accept God’s Son as the remedy for our sin.

Repentance—In repentance we determine to turn from sin to God’s righteousness.

Baptism—At baptism we enter into God’s promise to give us a clean conscience.

God never made a promise that was too good to be true--sins really are removed by God at baptism. Pat Summerall, the well known sports announcer, overcame alcoholism and became a follower of Christ in his late sixties. He said this about water baptism: "I went down in the water, and when I came up it was like a 40-pound weight had been lifted from me. I have a happier life, a healthy life, and a more positive feeling about life than ever before."

It is necessary to go beyond the simple ritual of baptism by reaching out to God through fellowship of his people. About prayer meetings and Bible studies Summerall comments: "It's like an alcoholic looking for a drink. If he wants it bad enough, he can find it—no matter what. I'm like that when it comes to finding prayer services and Bible studies. No matter where I am working, I know that they're out there and I can find them."

 

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