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Peter’s Perplexing Passage – Part 2


Peter’s Perplexing Passage.  Part Two.

Baptism, Cleansing and the Resurrection of Christ.

Text: 1 Peter 3:18-21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Peter makes a definitive statement – he says, ‘Baptism… saves us!’ Now, let’s ask a perfectly legitimate question. HOW does baptism save us? Peter’s next phrases give us a clue…

1 How does Baptism NOT save us? NOT AS a removal of dirt from the body.
Baptism does not save us by the OUTWARD ACT! It’s not the outward act of applying water to a filthy sinner that cleanses that sinner. Peter, as soon as he says ‘Baptism saves us’ adds that it’s not with the physical removal of dirt from the body!

Now, let’s look a some errors we might encounter when we explore people’s views on baptism:-

  • Baptism as an act of obedience does not save us. There is a denomination called ‘The Church of Christ – who believe that there are two parts to salvation, – God’s part and your part – your part is to believe and to to repent and to be baptised in obedience, and of course, if you stop being perfectly obedient, you are lost for ever! What a heavy, legalistic burden that is!
  • Baptism does not save us automatically. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church 1263) Catholic Baptism is regarded as a saving ordinance, simply by the fact that it has happened, it happens without the need for any faith on the part of the recipient, it works on its own. Ex Opere Operatum!
    Baptism as a ‘tradition’ does not save us. There are many people in Protestant circles who will want to ‘get the baby done’ – because they think it is ‘the right thing to do’ or because their parents have done it and its a family tradition – perhaps to have the baby dressed in a traditional garment, or to have the act done in a particular church…
  • Baptism does not save us intentionally. Again the RC Church err on this. They teach that the efficacy of baptism depends on the intention of the one who administers it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, ‘1256

As Peter tells us, none of these ‘outward acts’ can save us, or wash away our sins, or make us acceptable to God.

2 HOW does Baptism save us? as an appeal to God for a good conscience
Quite simple – Baptism POINTS US TO JESUS! It works on our conscience! It convicts us of sin and points us to the Saviour! Peter explains, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  • Baptism is a SIGN. It is like the water through which the ark sailed – Peter describes the correspondence between the water of the flood and the water of baptism. It wasn’t the flood water that saved Noah, it was the Lord!
    • It’s a sign pointing us to the wrath of God upon sin. How? That water at the flood was the result of the judgement of God upon the sin of men, upon the disobedience and rejection of the good news and all of them were lost, all their sins were swept away from the face of God as the floods came over them. What happened at Calvary? All of our sins were laid upon Christ, as a great flood! Read Psalm 69:1-4. In baptism we are reminded of the awfulness of Calvary. BUT also-
    • It’s a sign pointing us to our cleansing. Just as surely as the waters wash us outwards, so Christ has washed us from our sins! That’s what Peter is getting at here. When we think of baptism, (our baptism and the baptism of others), we are reminded that Christ, in his death and resurrection has washed away all our sins in Christ’s blood and given us new life. Romans 6:3
  • Baptism is only effective because Jesus is Risen. Baptism alone would be a worthless thing, a temporary, ritual cleansing of the flesh, like the ritual cleansing of the Jews. But our salvation is made effective because we have a risen, living Saviour who is able to save.
    Heidelberg Catechism Q69 How does holy baptism signify and seal to you that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross benefits you? Answer: In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave the promise that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul, that is, all my sins.
    When you listen to a Gospel sermon, – that sermon can’t save you. But the Holy Spirit takes the word of God, and applies it to your conscience, so that the Word becomes effective in your life. You respond to that prompting of the Holy Spirit by repenting of your sins and trusting Christ. You are saved by the preaching of the Word. It’s not the preacher, or the Sermon that saves you, it’s Christ who saves, but the preaching of the word is an instrument, set in place by God, to make salvation effective within you. We have no trouble believing that. James 1:21
    Baptism (and Communion) have the same function. Baptism saves us by pointing us to Jesus, who died on the cross, to take the wrath of God for all our sins, to pay the debt that we owed, and to give us forgiveness, cleansing and new life. You can see right away, that despite the ideas of the Church of Christ, (and some evangelicals too) baptism is not about me, my testimony or my obedience, – it all a about Jesus.

3 The Complete Reversal.
Now, how does all this relate to the context, the future suffering and persecution of believers? What’s the practical application of this passage?
We may be totally perplexed by the complexity of this passage, but there is one thing that is perfectly clear, and its clarity is seen in the structure of the passage. As we noted at the start of these studies, there is a very definite structure. It begins with Christ suffering in subjection to earthly powers. and it concludes with those same Earthly powers subjected to Christ. And there’s the encouragement for Peter’s readers and for us. Whatever the trials of life may be, however dangerous life’s waters may rage, even when the floods of God’s judgement come upon us, we have this confident assurance that victory in Christ is already assured.

© BobMcEvoy September 2018

From → 1 Peter, Bible Study

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