Baptism is always a worthy topic of consideration since its meaning and utility are so diluted today as to render it meaningless in the eyes of many contemporary theologians. As with any doctrine, it must be approached with one achievable goal in mind: to understand what the Will of the Lord is and, with the understanding, to execute it to our utmost. There are few doctrines, with the exception of Hell and Judgment, that are as or more conspicuous in the Bible. Jesus was immersed and the Spirit of God descended on him as a dove. Our Lord commanded his apostles to make disciples by baptizing them. Whenever you read of a conversion in Acts, those who accepted Christ were submerged. In this article, we will consider a passage from the New Testament and draw some logical conclusions. I intend to continue with other passages in my next article.
I Peter 3:20-1 reads, “…because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 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…”
Baptism, the apostle says, now saves you! That this is what he is saying is indefatigable. But how?
Consider first, that he says immersion is more than a bath when he says it is not the ‘removal of dirt’. It is much more than that. I used the ESV for the quote above because I think it is the most clear: baptism is an ‘appeal for a good conscience’. Those desiring the removal of the stain and guilt of their sin are washed and made new. Baptism literally washes our sins away. I challenge anyone to come to a different understanding of Acts 22:16 when Paul says, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
No wonder Paul referred to it as the washing of regeneration when writing to Titus. Remember in Acts 2 when the crowd was convinced of its guilt in the slaying of the Messiah? “What shall we do?” They wanted the guilt removed, their consciences cleared. Peter told them to…be immersed.
Another thing to ponder from I Peter is the saving of Noah’s family, which the apostle says ‘corresponds’ to baptism; in other words, Christian immersion bears a likeness or resemblance to that old Testament type. Bear in mind that a type/antitype does not have to have direct one-to-one correspondence in order to bear a likeness. While there are several foreshadowings in this case, what Peter is making reference to is that both Noah and his family were ‘brought safely through water’. Other versions say ‘saved through’. The water lifted the Ark above the destruction wrought by the Flood, thus saving them. Baptism does the same putting us in a right relationship with God.
The last thing we’ll consider for the present is this: Peter says that what gives Christian immersion power, its utility, is the resurrection of Jesus. Baptism saves through His rising.
Recall Romans 6:3-7, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”
Just as baptism corresponds to the saving of Noah it also bears a likeness to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. This is the basis of the entire doctrine. We are washed from our sin, and like babes, walk in newness of life—without the guilt and its condemnation. I can only reiterate what Paul says: our old self is crucified with Him, uniting us to Him in a death ‘like’ His in order to do away with sinful body of our former conduct. We rise from baptism anew, as He was raised from the dead. The type is perfect because water, in the Bible, symbolizes death and renewal/washing.
This is only a beginning. In the future we will consider other passages regarding baptism. As always, I encourage and look forward to questions and comments.