1 Peter 3:21 "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him."
Note: If the reader is interested in delving deeper into the text of 1 Peter 3:18-22, please checkout: http://biblicalexegete.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/a-study-of-1-peter-318-22/
What baptism is & isn't
What baptism is
When you follow Peter's entire argument in 1 Peter 3:18-22, it is apparent that he is all about explaining to his readers Christ's victorious work. The question is: how do you picture Christ's death, burial and resurrection? Baptism is a picture. A picture of what? The application and proclamation of Jesus' victorious work in the life of the believer through prior grace-given faith and repentance.
In baptism the victory of Christ's accomplished work is being proclaimed just as Christ in the time between His death and resurrection made "public" proclamation to the demonic realm of His victory over sin and evil and what was soon to be victory over death and the grave. Christ's preaching in 1 Peter 3:18-19 occurred during his descent into the regions where the fallen angels who rebelled in the days of Noah were kept. In mentioning Noah's ark and flood as the background for that rebellion, Peter uses Noah and his family's protection in the ark as an illustration of salvation from Divine wrath. The ark of safety and work of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection both functioned to save those who believed upon God's salvation.
In 1 Peter 3:21 we see baptism described as a picture in the following English versions:
1. (KJV) "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us..."
2. (ESV) "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you..."
3. (NKJV) "There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism..."
4. (NLT) "And that water is a picture of baptism...."
5. (NIV) "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also...."
6. (NASB) "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you...."
The word used to describe what baptism is in all the above English translations is found only one other place in the New Testament - Hebrews 9:24 "For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." The word in Hebrews 9:24 is used to show how the Old Testament tabernacle here on earth was a picture, symbol or copy of the true tabernacle in heaven.
What Baptism isn't
If Baptism is meant to be a picture, symbol, sign or pattern, then it cannot by itself be anything beyond what it signifies. Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant salvation administered to those who have experienced New Covenant salvation by the New Birth (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 27; John 3:1-8; Acts 2:28; Colossians 2:12; Hebrews 8). To make the act of water baptism more than a picture or symbol is to take it beyond the intended meaning of the New Testament. Certainly the Lord affirms and assures the believer by the scriptures and His indwelling of them as they follow the Lord in obedience. (John 14:21) The one who follows through in obedience to believer's baptism is able to have an open heaven much like Jesus had when He modeled baptism in the Gospels. However the waters of baptism and the baptism itself confer no salvation, but signifies to all that salvation by grace through faith has already occurred.
What baptism does is re-enact the prior miracle of regeneration and saving faith that takes place when by grace through faith a sinner trusts in Christ and is saved from the wrath of God. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5) That miracle of the new birth is sometimes described in scripture as the Holy Spirit uniting the believer or baptizing them into Christ at salvation. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Galatians 3:27; Titus 3:5) The confusion among God's people over this issue arises from failing to recognize such distinctions: resulting in teachings such as baptismal regeneration or some other types of variations.
Different denominations and groups try to make baptism something that it is not:
1. It is not a saving sacrament that makes a person right in God's sight - i.e justification
2. It has no power to wash away original sin
3. It is not a power source for regenerating the human heart.
4. It is not to be associated with being the means through which God raises a spiritually dead sinner to be a new creation in Jesus Christ
Now how do we know baptism is not the source of justification, cleansing away of original sin, power source for regenerating the heart nor making a dead sinner a new creation? Because of what Peter writes next in 1 Peter 3:21 "....not the removal of dirt from the flesh.....". Why would Peter go to the trouble to define what baptism is not? To insure that everyone reading would be clear on what baptism is - a symbol, pattern, picture, anti-type, pattern and sign of what it signifies: Christ's death, burial and resurrection.
What baptism doesn't do
Therefore if baptism is to be regarded as a symbol, then that means it cannot save a sinner. Again consider what Peter says: ...."not the removal of dirt from the flesh...." Baptism is essential for testifying about salvation, however it cannot do anything other than what God has ordained it to be: a picture of an invisible work of the Spirit in the believer's heart and the Christian's public profession of faith. How do we know that? Consider what Peter says next: "not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God."
What baptism means
Baptism provides a public forum for a Christian to make their faith public and to pledge to the Lord that they will live in obedience to what he tells them to do. How do we know that? Consider yet again Peter's words in 1 Peter 3:21: "but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (NASB). Other versions, such as the KJV, read "the answer of a good conscience toward God". Either rendering is a good translation and describes what only can be done by a true believer: namely the desire to have a good conscience or to interact with God from a good conscience.
Only Christians coming into baptism have a conscience that has been sprinkled clean, not by the waters of baptism, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. How do we know this? Consider Hebrews 9:14 "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"
Furthermore Peter ends 1 Peter 3:21-22 with these words: "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him". What Peter is reminding his readers of here is that the new birth because of what Christ accomplished in his resurrection and is received as a gift from God by faith. (1 Peter 1:3, 23) Baptism by immersion is the New Christian convert's opportunity to pledge to God a life that will conform to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, His word and the local church body of which he is joining. This last point is gleaned from what follows in 1 Peter 4-5 regarding matters pertaining to Christians functioning together in the local church.
In today's post we have attempt to Biblical answer from 1 Peter 3:21-22 what baptism is, isn't, doesn't do and means.
1. Baptism is a picture of what Jesus by His Holy Spirit has accomplished by grace through faith in the life of a new convert.
2. Baptism isn't a sacrament of salvation conferring the cleansing away of original sin, or justification, or regeneration. Peter's negative statement of it not having the ability to wash away dirt and filth helps us see what it is not.
3. Baptism doesn't save, but rather re-enacts for seeing eyes the previous miracle of salvation in a person's life. Baptism has no power or effectual working in and of itself. Scripture alone is the sole means the Holy Spirit uses to raise dead sinners to saving faith and repentance in Jesus Christ.
4. Baptism's meaning then is: public profession of faith, the new convert's first major step of Christian obedience following their prior salvation and the believer's entryway into the membership of the local church.