Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Current Study: First Peter
Today’s Topic: Baptism Controversy
Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 3:19-22 …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.
Today we take up a phrase in this difficult passage that has caused much confusion in the ranks of the religious. Peter says, “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.” The controversy is this – Does baptism save anyone?
Whenever we study Scripture, we must interpret it in its proper context. The context of Peter’s teaching here is still the encouragement he is giving to the saints to endure suffering for the cause of Christ. That context will carry well into the next chapter. The reference to baptism, therefore, must have something to do with encouraging Christians to endure suffering. The reference to baptism, then, becomes an analogy, just like the Apostle Paul’s reference to Moses in First Corinthians 10 when he writes, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” These are historical analogies of another reality, and they are not the reality in and of themselves.
When the people of Israel stood at the Red Sea with the Egyptian army bearing down on them, they had a choice – have faith in God and identify with Moses or turn and retreat back into the world from which they came. They chose to identify with Moses. They were “baptized” into Moses when they went through the sea on dry ground and when they followed the pillar of cloud and fire wherever it went. Baptism, therefore, is an act of identification.
Peter uses a different analogy to enhance the meaning. When Noah built the ark he suffered constant insults and rejection from the world. For 120 years he was made out a fool for his faith in the Father. Then it started to rain, and only those who by faith identified with the Father were saved. The suffering they had to go through to experience the fulfillment of their salvation was extreme, but they were saved the moment the entered the ark and the Lord shut them in. They were in the ark with hundreds of stinky animals for over a year. No toilets. No lower level ventilation. No outdoor recreational activities. No friends except immediate family. There was just suffering for their faith. Yet they were considered saved the whole time. The water didn’t save them. Their salvation took them through the water.
That’s the analogy of baptism. The water doesn’t save anyone. It is the identification act of a person of faith who has already been saved by the resurrection of Jesus in their lives. It does not remove sin. That can only be done by faith in Christ’s work on the cross. Baptism is a Christian’s pledge to God of a good conscience that has been cleansed by the Holy Spirit in through His work of regeneration.
For this reason, according to the truth of Scripture, only those who have made a personal commitment to Christ through the repentance of sin by faith in Christ’s work on the cross can be baptized. Infants don’t qualify. No offense intended, but we must be Biblically accurate. A baby cannot identify with Christ, and the Scriptures give no evidence or support to the idea that the identification of the parents can be applied to the child. Every person must make the decision to repent of their sin and be forgiven by faith in Christ individually.
Baptism is the act of identification with Christ’s death and resurrection. (See Romans 6:1-6) That’s why the Scriptural method was immersion, so the representation of death and resurrection is experienced. Baptism is also, according to the analogies of Noah and Moses, the beginning of suffering for Christ. It is the commitment of an individual to take a public stand for Jesus regardless of the cost. That’s what it was for Jesus, who was not baptized for the forgiveness of sins, but rather to identify himself publicly with the Father and His mission for life and death.
Your salvation will take you through the water. It will be hard walking through life by faith alone, but on the other side of the water you will be delivered. You will suffer along the way, but because you have publicly identified with Christ, He will lead you and empower you to follow. And it all starts in the water of Baptism. Take that step of faith, and identify yourself publicly with Jesus Christ. Let it be the pledge of your good conscience that Jesus has saved you by His resurrection power.