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Catechism Class: LD27 Q72-73


Lord’s Day 27 Q72-73 – Does Baptism Save? 

This is a different kind of catechism class, – we’re going to digress for an episode, to look at a rather difficult passage of scripture.  

Q72 asks. Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? A. No, only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins. He has been teaching us about how we are made right with God, through Christ, through faith alone. The sacraments don’t save us. But look at 1 Peter 3:21-22. 1 Peter 3:21-22 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you… Let’s be absolutely clear about what Peter is saying here.‘Baptism… saves us!’  Now, we may not like that, and we may wish Peter hadn’t written it, but we certainly haven’t got the right to disregard it or deny it.  Peter is an apostle, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  His words here are part of Holy Scripture, every bit as inspired as the gospels…  So we accept that what Peter is saying is true. “Baptism saves us.” Now, let’s ask another question.  HOW does baptism save us?  Let’s look closely at the verse and see, first of all:-


1 How Baptism does NOT save us? not as a removal of dirt from the body.  

So, the first thing we must learn is that Baptism does not save us by the OUTWARD ACT!  It’s not the actual washing with water that saves us.  It must be something else about baptism that saves, but bringing a baby to the front of the church and sprinkling water on him or her, or bringing an adult to the front of a church and placing him or her in a deep baptistry full of lukewarm water, leaving him  or her soaking wet does not save them!  So Peter, as soon as he says ‘Baptism saves us’ he adds but it’s not with the physical application of water upon the body!   So:

  • Baptism as an act of obedience does not save us.
  • Baptism does not save us automatically.  Catholic Baptism is decreed to be a saving ordinance, simply by the fact that it has happened, without the need for any faith on the part of the recipient. 
  • Baptism as a ‘tradition’ does not save us. There are many people in Protestant circles who will want to ‘get the baby done’ – not because they are born again believers, or have any credible profession of faith, but 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, and have nice photographs, and have a family meal afterwards, or to have the ritual done in a particular fancy church…   
  • Baptism does not save us by virtue of our good intentions.  

Yet Peter clearly tells us that none of these ‘outward acts’ the mere application of water can save us, or wash away our sins, or make us in any way acceptable to God.

2 HOW does Baptism save us?  Let’s return to Peter’s words: as an appeal to God for a good conscience

That phrase needs some explanation. Peter has been writing about the events of the great flood, back in the days of Noah. In verse 20 he’s written, “…once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” In Noah’s time, the water was a sign pointing to the wrath of God, and in the same way, baptism POINTS US TO JESUS!  The physical outward act of both Baptism and communion work on our conscience! The sacraments convict us of sin and points us to the Saviour! Peter explains this for us, 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 which was a sign that God was angry with the sin of the people – Peter describes the correspondence, the similarity between the water of the flood and the water of baptism. It wasn’t the flood water that saved Noah, it was the Lord! The water’s job, was to compel Noah to enter the ark! In that sense,
    • Baptism a sign pointing us to the wrath of God upon sin. At a service of baptism we should remember that God is so angry with our sinful rebellion, that he will pour judgement upon the earth. At Calvary all of our sins were laid upon Christ, as a great flood! Psalm 69, with a deeply Messianic tone, explains:-  Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire, … In baptism we are reminded of the awfulness of Calvary. In Noah’s day, the flood condemned but it also saved! It saved Noah in that the very threat of it forced him to consider his perilous position before God and run to the Lord, flee into the ark, prepared for his rescue and safety.  BUT also-
    • Baptism a sign pointing us to our cleansing from sin in Christ. Just as surely as the waters wash us outwardly, so Christ has washed us from our sins! That’s what Peter is getting at here. When we think of baptism, (both our baptism and when we witness 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 6:3-4
  • Baptism is only effective in reinforcing the gospel message because Jesus is Risen. Baptism alone would be a worthless thing, a temporary, ritual cleansing of the flesh, like the ritual cleansings of the Jews.  But our salvation is made effective because we have a risen, living Saviour who is able to save.

Let’s look at another part of the catechism. Question 69 in the catechism asks, How does holy baptism signify and seal to you that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross benefits you?  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. The outward act of washing does not save us, but what it points us to, and signifies. Here’s an illustration…  When you listen to a Gospel sermon, – that sermon itself 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.  READ: James 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls (ESV 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.).

The sacraments, Baptism and Communion have the same function. The Holy Spirit, works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and strengthens it by the use of the sacraments. These sacraments strengthen faith within 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. The sacraments are not about me, or you, nor are they alone able to save, – they are all about Jesus.

© Bob McEvoy 2023

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