Baptism Now Saves You

By
David A. Green

"All the fountains of the great deep burst open and the floodgates of the sky were opened... after Noah and his family of seven had entered the ark. It rained for forty days and forty nights, the waters rose above the mountains, and the ark floated on the surface of the water... All flesh that moved on the earth perished... and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark" (Gen. 7:11,18,21,23).

"...the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. And 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 . . . " (I Peter 3:21)

What was the baptism that was saving the first-century saints? We have two basic choices: It was either a ritual baptism or a spiritual (or non-ritual) baptism.

If we say that the New-Testament saving baptism to which the Noahic experience corresponded was a ritual baptism, one of many problems immediately presents itself:  It is Biblically incongruous that an old-testament event prefigured a ritual. It is on the other hand an established hermeneutical principle that old-testament rituals prefigured New-Testament events / experiences / realities. And since old-testament rituals (such as sacrifices) symbolized New-Testament non-rituals (such as the death of Christ/the believerís sacrifice of praise), it seems even more likely that the non-ritual Noahic salvation foreshadowed a New-Testament non-ritual baptism.

But ignoring this obstacle for now, let us examine how I Peter 3:21 might be understood to teach that the salvation of Noah and his family in the ark could have somehow typified a ritual-baptism:

Perhaps Peter might have been speaking of one of the ritual baptisms mentioned in Heb. 9:10,13,19-22 ("various washings" in 9:10 is literally "various baptisms"). The problem with this proposal is that those baptisms were only to be "imposed until a time of reformation" (Heb. 9:10), that is, until the consummation of the old covenant. It is hardly believable that ritual-baptisms which could not perfect one's conscience (Heb. 9:9), and which were destined to be done away in the disappearance of the old covenant (Heb. 8:13; 9:10) were "saving" the Christians in the apostolic era.

But perhaps Peter was talking about the ritual-baptism which was being administered to converts to Christianity. If we are going to say this, we must presuppose that Christian ritual-baptism was not included in the "various baptisms" of Heb. 9:10 that were only to be imposed until A.D. 70. If Christian ritual-baptism came out of the old covenant, and was thus to be no longer "imposed" after A.D. 70, then it would be axiomatic that Christian ritual-baptism was not the saving baptism of I Peter 3:21. (We will save a discussion on the cessation or continuation of Christian ritual-baptism for another place.)

There is another problem though with the idea of the saving baptism in I Peter 3:21 being a ritual, and that is the tense of the verb "saves." The verb is present tense, active voice, and the phrase literally reads, "baptism is now saving you." The meaning seems to be that just as Noah and his family were in process of being saved by a baptism in the ark, so were the first-century believers in process of being saved by baptism. This should further lead us to consider the saving baptism as being spiritual.

Thus far, general hermeneutical principles of typology, the weakness and temporary nature of the old-covenant rituals and the tense of the verb "saves" ("saving") direct us toward the idea that the baptism of I Peter 3:21 might be a non-ritual, spiritual baptism. But what kind of a non-ritual baptism could have been in process of saving the first-century Christians?

 

Spiritual Baptism

The first New-Testament reference to a non-ritual baptism is found in Matt. 3:11 (and Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; cf. Acts 1:5), where John the Baptizer said, "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He Who is Coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." {1}

The old covenant could offer only typical and temporary ritual-baptisms such as the one John was offering. {2} But Christ was coming to administer the true, spiritual, New-Testament Baptism to the people of Israel, which baptism was first experienced on the day of Pentecost when the Scripture was fulfilled: "I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind" (Acts 2:17,18; Joel 2:28,29). That baptism was later accompanied by signs a second time in Acts 10:44-46; 11:15,17 when the first Gentiles were converted to Christ. As Peter said concerning that time, "the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also" and, "the Holy Spirit fell upon them." (Acts 10:45; 11:15) {3} Subsequently, the Lord baptized all believers with the Holy Spirit: "For with one Spirit (cf. Eph. 4:5) we were all baptized into one Body." (I Cor. 12:13)

In this spiritual light we should understand Gal. 3:27, "All of you who were baptized into Christ {4} have clothed yourselves with Christ"; and Col. 2:11,12, "In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, . . . having been buried with [Christ] in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God . . . "; and Rom. 6:3,4, "All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

Spiritual baptism coincides with receiving the Spirit of God (Acts 2:17,18; 10:45; 11:15), with being spiritually clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27) and with being circumcised with the circumcision made without hands (Col. 2:11,12). And as we shall see, the ongoing spiritual baptism for the believer is equivalent with being daily and experientially unified / identified (Ps. 133:1,2; Rom. 6:5; Eph. 4:3-13) with Christ's death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-11).

Union / identity with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection is the essence of spiritual baptism. In I Peter, it is the "suffering" or "fiery" aspect of spiritual baptism for Christians that is the running theme. Peter wrote his epistle to the persecuted, scattered Jewish believers who were living as aliens and strangers (1:1; 2:11). Many of them were being distressed by various trials (1:6), being slandered, reviled and maligned (2:12; 3:16; 4:4,14); their faith was being tested by fire (1:7).

This same baptism was predicted by Jesus in Matt. 20:22,23 (AV); Mk. 10:38,39 (cf. Lk. 12:50), where Jesus asked James and John, "Are you able to . . . be baptized with the baptism which I am baptized?" And they answered, "We are able." And Jesus said, ". . . You shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized."

Christ was prophesying to His disciples that they were going to become sharers of His sufferings, i.e., they were going to be experientially / spiritually unified and identified with Him in His sufferings, death and burial. They were going to be "crucified with Him" (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20; 5:24) through persecution, but were also going to endure unto victory through the power of Christís resurrection.

Union with Christ in His sufferings was further borne out in I Peter when Peter told his readers that it was their calling to patiently endure their persecutions, just as Christ when He suffered, kept entrusting Himself to God. (2:23) "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose" (4:1), and, "you share the sufferings of Christ" (4:12,13).

It was this spiritual baptism that was saving the first-century Christians. Just as a small remnant, eight souls (I Peter 3:20), had been brought safely through the flood waters in Noahís day (I Peter 3:20), so was a small remnant (Rom. 9:27,29) being brought safely through the fire of God's Last-Days wrath. (Matt. 24:38,39; Lk. 17:26,27; II Peter 2:5-9) {5}

Their saving baptism was a refining, purifying baptism, as they were being sovereignly preserved by God through their persecutions until the end of the age. As Paul said in II Cor. 4:17, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (Cf. Acts 14:22)

 

Not the Cleansing of the Flesh, but a Good Conscience

What did Peter mean when he said that the saving baptism was "not the removal of the filth of the flesh?" Heb. 9:8-10 helps us to understand this: "[At] the present time, . . . both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to . . . various baptisms, regulations for the flesh imposed until a time of reformation."

Ritual baptisms removed the filth of the flesh, or as Heb. 9:13 reiterates it, they only "sanctified for the cleansing of the flesh." That was their purpose. They could not make the worshipers perfect in conscience. Only spiritual baptism could effect that result. In saying then, "not the removal of dirt from the flesh," Peter was explaining to his readers that the baptism that saves is not ritual ("not the removal of dirt from the flesh") but spiritual.

This spiritual saving baptism of suffering was for Peter's brothers "an appeal to God for a good conscience." As I Peter 2:19 says: "For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly," and in I Peter 3:16,17, "Keep a good conscience . . . For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right . . . "

Paul wrote similarly in II Cor. 1:12 of the intense sufferings of the apostles: "For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our consciences, that in holiness and godly sincerity, . . .we have conducted ourselves in the world . . . "

The writer of Hebrews also, in writing to his persecuted brothers, promised a clean conscience through spiritual baptism, in Heb. 9:14, ". . . the blood of Christ . . .[will] cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God."

Without the cleansing baptism from God above, the Church was not, and could not, be ultimately saved, for it was only that divine baptism of Spirit-power that could keep the Church faithful and spotless through the fiery judgment of God unto the end. {6}

 

Conclusion

As Noah and his family endured patiently in the ark, so were the first-century Christians patiently enduring a spiritual and fiery baptism, sharing the sufferings of Christ. Old-Covenant baptisms were a fading and ceremonial removal of the filth of the flesh, but New-Covenant, spiritual baptism in Christ was the appeal of a good conscience toward God. (Heb. 10:2) By means of it, believers remained faithful through the power of God in Christ, and retained a clean conscience. (I Peter 3:16) And as Christ was exalted after He patiently endured, so to was His Church-Body called and chosen through His resurrection-power to soon be exalted with Him in the end of the old-covenant age.


Footnotes:

1. The predicted baptizing with the Holy Spirit here is a future-active baptizing, which corresponds with the present-active saving work of the baptism in I Peter 3:21, indicating that I Peter 3:21 is a record of the fulfillment of John's prediction of the coming spiritual baptism.

2. The fact that John was administering an old-testament ritual is borne out in Jn. 1:25 where the Pharisees asked him, "Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ?" We should infer from this question that the Scriptures teach that Messiah was to come baptizing as John was doing, and that John was thus working in accordance with the Law.

3. Note that the mode of spiritual baptism in these passages was pouring. It is not unlikely then that John's baptism, which was a symbol / foreshadow of spiritual baptism, was administered by pouring (or sprinkling), the water coming from above as the Spirit from heaven.

The references below demonstrate that spiritual baptism was not an immersion but a pouring / sprinkling:

Isa. 44:3, "For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants."

Zech. 12:10, "And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced...." (See also, Prov. 1:23, Isa. 32:15;45:8; Eze. 39:29).

Isa. 52:15, "He will sprinkle many nations."

Eze.36:25, "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols."

4. Christian ritual-baptism was administered by men with water, and was a baptism "into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" in Matt. 28:19; "into the Name of the Lord Jesus" in Acts 8:16; 19:5; "in the Name of the Lord" in Acts 10:48 (Some manuscripts have for Acts 10:48, "in the name of Jesus Christ"); and "on the name of Jesus Christ" in Acts 2:38. (Cf. I Cor. 1:13,15).

In contrast, spiritual baptism is administered by God with His Spirit, and is a baptism not into the "name" of, but into Jesus Christ in I Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:3; and Gal. 3:27 (Cf. I Cor. 10:2).

The difference between being baptized into the name of someone and being baptized into someone is the difference between ritual and non-ritual baptism. The one is a sign and the other is what the sign signified.

5. It was a fiery baptism (I Peter 4:12) of which Peter spoke as being the antitype to the experience of Noah and his family "through waters," even as Peter made the same water / fire parallel in his second epistle:

"...The world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire..." (II Peter 3:6,7).

6. Note that the mode of the various baptisms that could not make the worshipers perfect in conscience in Heb. 9:9,10 was explained to be that of "sprinkling" in Heb. 9:13,19,21. Note also (below) that the mode of spiritual baptism in the context of keeping a good conscience is spoken of as "sprinkling." That baptism was the sprinkling of the redeeming blood of Christ on the hearts of believers:

Heb. 10:22 (cf. 12:24), "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts having been sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body having been washed in pure water [of the Word]." (Cf. Eph. 5:26).

I Peter 1:2, "...unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ."

It is also helpful to note here that Christ's "one baptism" of the Church with the Holy Spirit was a triune baptism:

1. a pouring out of His "Spirit" upon the Church (uniting the church with Christ),

2. a spiritual sprinkling of His "blood" on the heart of the Church (creating a clean heart and conscience), and

3. a spiritual washing of the Church body with pure spiritual "water" in the Word (making the body and works of the Church acceptable to God).

This reveals the meaning of I Jn. 5:8: "There are three who bear witness on the earth: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three agree in one."



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