The Baptism that Saves Us (1 Peter 3:20–21)

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“…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…” —1 Peter 3:20–21 (ESV)

The salvation of Noah and his family through the waters of judgment corresponds to baptism. The phrase “corresponds to this” is a single word in the original language which, though rarely used, can come straight into English—antitype. We speak of David being a type of Jesus. This means Jesus is the antitype. When you hear this kind of language think of those ancient and obsolete machines known as typewriters or the printing press. Picture the metal die with a letter etched into it, say the letter “B.” The metal die is the antitype. When it strikes the paper, you see the type, the letter “B”. When we say David is a type of Christ, we mean that Christ actually came first and that David is a copy, an impression of Christ. David being patterned after Christ anticipates Him.

Noah’s salvation through the waters of judgment is a type of paptism. Baptism is the antitype of Noah’s salvation. We could say that the flood was a sign of baptism. Baptism is itself a sign. The salvation of Noah through the waters of judgment then is a sign of a sign. When Peter goes onto say that baptism saves us, he makes it clear that he is speaking not of the sign, but of the thing signified.

Rome has a sacerdotal view of baptism. The term sacerdotal comes from the Latin word for priest. Rome believes that the priest is able to convey saving regenerating grace through the sacrament of baptism. This happens ex opere operato, which amounts to “by the working of the work.” By this Rome means that the efficacy of the sacrament isn’t dependent on the goodness of the priest but on the validity of the act. Thus when Rome baptizes you, you’re made new and infused with real righteousness. Contra the Reformers, Rome doesn’t say this righteousness is imputed to you but imparted to you. You are not counted, but made righteous.

Additionally, the Church of Christ believes that baptism is necessary for the remission of sins. Across all denominational lines, professing Christians need to hear this: the physical act of water baptism does not save you. How can I say this? Peter just wrote, “baptism…now saves you,” right? Isn’t this a clear contradiction of the text? No, I am saying precisely what Peter said. The kind of baptism that saves is “not the removal of dirt from the body.” In other words, it isn’t the sign, but the thing signified that saves. So what is signified in baptism? Union with Christ in His death and resurrection.

“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.” —Romans 3:3–5 (ESV)

Being put into Christ, baptized into Jesus, is a work of the Spirit. Here Paul speaks not of the sign, but the thing signified.

But how does this jive with Peter’s definition of the kind of baptism that saves, namely, “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” or, as I believe it can be better translated, “as an appeal to God from/of a good conscience?” When the Spirit regenerates you and makes you new, this is a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As soon as you are born again, you believe. Faith is “an appeal to God from/of a good conscience.” Faith is the cry of the new heart in response to the gospel by which we were born again (1 Peter 1:23–25). This salvation, signified in water baptism, is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3). Because of this new birth, through Jesus, we believe. “Through [Jesus we] are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1:21).

The Exegetical Systematician: The Future Determined the Past

There are other considerations, also, which may be derived from these passages, especially Hebrews 9:9-14, 22-28. They are the considerations which arise from the fact that Christ’s own sacrifice is the great exemplar after which the Levitical sacrifices were patterned. We often think of the Levitical sacrifices as providing the pattern for the sacrifice of Christ. This direction of thought is not improper—the Levitical sacrifices do furnish us with the categories in terms of which we are to interpret the sacrifice of Christ, particularly the categories of expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation. But this line of thought is not the characteristic one in Hebrews 9. The thought is specifically that the Levitical sacrifices were patterned after the heavenly exemplar—they were ‘patterns of the things in the heavens” (Heb. 9:23). Hence the necessity for the blood offerings of the Levitical economy arose from the fact that the exemplar after which they were fashioned was a blood offering, the transcendent blood offering by which the heavenly things were purified. The necessity of blood-shedding in the Levitical ordinance is simply a necessity arising from the necessity of blood-shedding in the higher realm of the heavenly. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

The Exegetical Systematician: Love Constrains the Atonement

It is necessary to underline this concept of sovereign love. Truly God is love. Love is not something adventitious; it is not something that God may choose to be or choose not to be. He is love, and that necessarily, inherently, and eternally. As God is spirit, as he is light, so he is love. Yet it belongs to the very essence of electing love to recognize that it is not inherently necessary to that love which God necessarily and eternally is that he should set such love as issues in redemption and adoption upon utterly undesirable and hell-deserving objects. It was of the free and sovereign good pleasure of his will, a good pleasure that emanated from the depths of his own goodness, that he chose a people to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The reason resides wholly in himself and proceeds from determinations that are peculiarly his as the “I am that I am.” The atonement does not win or constrain the love of God. The love of God constrains to the atonement as the means of accomplishing love’s determinate purpose. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

If (Colossians 1:21–23)

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,

he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. —Colossians 1:21–23

This once/now contrast is only a reality if. Colossians 1:21 is true of all men. All men were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, but for many, there is no contrasting now, as evidenced by the failure of this if. This is not to say that a Christian can revert from their now of reconciliation to their once of alienation. It is to say there is evidence that they never made the transition. Who they once were, they’ve always been and still are.

This is not an if of grounds, but an if of evidence. When a doctor says, “If you have these symptoms, then you have the flu,” the symptoms are not the grounds or cause of the flu. Coughing doesn’t make you sick; being sick makes you cough. Symptoms are not he grounds of sickness; they are the evidence of sickness.

Continuing in the faith does not make you reconciled, any more than sneezing makes you sick. Continuing in the faith evidences reconciliation. If one is reconciled, they necessarily show forth this evidence. “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 4:13).”

The saints of old spoke of “the perseverance of the saints,” whereas we hear “once saved always saved,” or “eternal security.” Perseverance does not say less but more than these other terms. “Once saved always saved,” taken alone, is a neutered version of perseverance. “Eternal security,” is a good enough term, but often disguises an emasculated doctrinal definition. Perseverance says God’s saving grace not only secures your justification and glorification, but keeps you on the road of sanctification that runs from one to the other. Listen to how the Westminster Divines teased this out.

They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

The flip side of perseverance is preservation. We persevere in the faith because God preserves our faith. What God gave, He keeps. By God’s power, we are guarded through faith for salvation (1 Peter 1:5). We will remain faithful because God is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24). Our continuing is the result of His sustaining (1 Corinthians 1:8–9).

If you do not continue, your once is your now. “But I walked an aisle, I said a prayer, I have a Bible with a date in it, I was baptized, my parents and my pastor told me I was saved.” There are two serious problems here. First, you’re grounding assurance of your salvation in something you did in the past instead of what Jesus did in the past. Second, you’re not meant to find assurance about your future by looking for grounds in the past, but evidence in the present. Is there fruit that you have the root of salvation in Jesus’ work of reconciliation? Are you continuing in the faith right now, stable and steadfast, not shifting?

If not, don’t try to continue in a faith that you’ve never had. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved with so great a salvation that you will continue in the faith.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” —Jude 24–25

The Exegetical Systematician: So Close

“The fact is that the Lord Jesus came not only into the closest relation to sinful humanity that it was possible for him to come without becoming himself sinful, but he also came into the closest relation to sin that it was possible for him to come without thereby becoming himself sinful.” —John Murray, The Death of Christ

The Exegetical Systematician: Why?

So in the death of Christ we encounter an absolute abnormality. In all other cases men and women deserve to die. He did not deserve to die. Yet he died. What is the reason?

But there is something, perhaps more astounding. This arises from who he was. He was the eternal and only-begotten Son of God and for that reason equal with God the Father in respect of Godhood, of divine identity. He, the Word, eternally pre-existing, eternally with God, and eternally God, became flesh. He was the eternal life with the Father and in him was life. So death was not only the contradiction of what he was as human. It was the contradiction of all that he was as God. This is the astounding feature of Christ’s death. He died. But death in his case was the contradiction of all that he was as divine and human, as God-man. This, therefore, points up the absolute uniqueness, the unprecedented unparalleled character of his death. And it points up the urgency of the question: why? —John Murray, The Death of Christ

The Apologist: The Battleground

The real battle for men is in the world of ideas, rather than in that which is outward. All heresy, for example, begins in the world of ideas. That is why, when new workers come to L’Abri, we always stress to them that we are interested in ideas rather than personalities or organizations. Ideas are to be discussed, not personalities or organizations. Ideas are the stock of the thought world, and from the ideas burst forth all the external things: painting, music, buildings, the love and the hating of men in practice, and equally the results of loving God or rebellion against God, in the external world. Where a man will spend eternity depends on his reading or hearing the ideas, the propositional truth, the facts of the gospel in the external world, and these being carried thought he medium of his body into the inner old of his thought, and there, inside himself, in his thought-world, either his believing God on the basis of the content of the gospel or his calling God a liar. …

It is for this reason that the preaching of the gospel can never be primarily a matter of organization. The preaching of the gospel is ideas, flaming ideas brought to men, as God has revealed them to us in Scripture. It is not a contentless experience internally received, but it is contentful ideas internally acted upon that makes the difference. So when we state our doctrines, they must be ideas, and not just phrases. We cannot use doctrines as though they were pieces to a puzzle. True doctrine is an idea revealed by God in the Bible and an idea that fits properly into the external world as it is, and as God made it, and to man as he is, as God made him, and can be fed back through man’s body into his thought-world and there acted upon. The battle for people is centrally in the world of thought.

The third conclusion is that the Christian life, true spirituality, always begins inside, in our thought-world. All that has been said in our earlier study of being free in this present life from the bonds of sin, and also of being free in the present life from the results of the bonds of sin, is meaningless jargon, no more than a psychological pill, if is divorced from the reality that God thinks and we think, and that at each step the internal is central and first. The spiritual battle, the loss or the victory, is always in the though-world. —Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality