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


“…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).

No Adam, No Christ

We need salvation. How does salvation come to bear upon our need? Racial solidarity in Adam is the pattern according to which salvation is wrought and applied. By Adam sin-condemnation-death, by Christ righteousness-justification-life. A way of thinking that makes us aloof to solidarity with Adam makes us inhabile [not fit or qualified] to the solidarity by which salvation comes. Thus the relevance of the Adamic administration to what is most basic, on the one hand, and most necessary, on the other, in our human situation. —John Murray, The Adamic Administration

The Most Shocking Letter in the Ancient World? (Philemon 1–7)

When one reads through the Bible each year, while Exodus lasts a matter of weeks, and Ezekiel seems to never end, Philemon is mist soon forgotten. It is read one day a year and with a few other chapters from another book. But what we are so quick to pass over might have been one of the most shocking letters in the ancient world.

The nature of one’s slavery in the Roman Empire depended on the nature of their lord. A slave’s lot might be such that he is envied by many free men, or, it might be horrid beyond our comprehension. The slave/lord relationship would most often be dominated by fear. Lords fearing their slaves and slaves their masters. Slaves comprised upwards of a third of the Roman Empire. Most were owned by few, and no double many of the non-elite would side with the slaves. Though over a century past, Spartacus’ slave rebellion was an indelible cultural memory. Once that rebellion was quelled, some six thousand captives were crucified lining the Appian Way, the major highway to Rome, for over a hundred miles. Roman men were taught to dominate their households and ensure the submission of their slaves by whatever force necessary.

A runaway slave being returned to their master could expect the harshest of treatment and likely death. But, here is Philemon, returning, not by force, but willingly, with a letter from Paul, asking that his lord receive him as a brother.

This kind of thing can only happen in Christ. Paul doesn’t attack slavery head on. He attacks no social evil in this way. Sinners gotta sin. Outside of Christ, all is Babel. In Christ, there is Pentecost. Outside of Christ, man doesn’t understand man, man is fearful of man, and man is against man. Outside of Christ fear rules the relations of men. Outside of Christ, the powerful enslave the weak in a multitude of ways. Outside of Christ, even brothers kill one another. But in Christ, Pentecost has brought the different together. In Christ, Jew and Gentile, slave and free sup around one table as brothers with their Lord serving them. In Christ, we are speaking and hearing one message—Jesus. Only in Jesus do we see reconciliation and forgiveness of this magnitude and we see it in Jesus because it is dwarfed by that which we have received in Him.

The Exegetical Systematician: You Cannot think of Christ apart from the Church

We cannot think of Christ properly apart from the church. All the offices he exercises as head over all things, he exercises on behalf of the church. If we think of the church apart from Christ, or transfer to the church prerogatives that belong only to Christ, then we are guilty of idolatry. But if we think of Christ apart from the church, then we are guilty of a dismemberment that severs what God has joined together. We are divorcing Christ from his only bride. The central doctrine of the Christian faith should remind us of the evil of such divorce, for this doctrine is that ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it’ (Eph. 5:25). —John Murray, The Church—It’s Identity, Functions, and Resources

The Fruit of Salvation is Grown in a Community Garden (Colossians 3:12–17)

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” —Colossians 3:12–13 (ESV)

Growth in Christ, or sanctification, has two parts, mortification and vivification. If mortification is an odd cat, vivification is an extraterrestrial green alien. The word is rare, the reality likewise. To mortify is to kill, to vivify, to enliven.

One reason that vivification is rare is that it requires community. Solo spirituality cannot sanctify. The virtues of Paul’s vivify list all deal with people and they assume people are something to deal with. Just as you must kill the old, know that your brother is doing likewise. He has to deal with you and you with him. If you want to kill the old man, you must do so in community. False spirituality is an individual sport where you get to show your best. The Christian faith is a team sport. We see one another at our best and at our worst, and we admonish and teach one another for the good of the whole.

Too many pick a community where there is no need for this. They don’t really know anyone and they come together on the basis of secondary issues. Hobby churches, instead of carrying a byline like, “est. 2010,” need to be honest and say “dividing the church since 2010.” The unifying factor of the church becomes Jesus plus. Jesus plus bikes. Jesus plus cowboy culture. Jesus plus hipster culture. Jesus plus music preference. Michael Horton warns:

“It is not my church to shape into my image, according to my own cultural preferences, ethnic background, politics, or socioeconomic location. It is Christ’s community—and he is the location that we all share together. He is the demographic niche and the political rallying point of this kingdom. I still belong to other groups based on my cultural affinities, but my family is not something I choose; it is something I am chosen for.”

Get in a church that is centered on Jesus so that it crucifies your flesh, so that you center on Jesus. Get in a place where you have to put on love; a love that has its roots in Christ.

Sanctification is communal. We are not simply to put on the new man, we are to put on the new humanity, a new humanity comprised of Jew and Gentile, black and white, cowboy and biker, hipster and boomer, all because Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11).

Plumbing Matters (Colossians 3:5–11)

“5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” —Colossians 3:5–11 (ESV)

Religiously, man doesn’t care much about the plumbing; he just wants a shiny faucet. Shame may be felt once the faucet is turned on and the water spits, sputters, and leaks, but that’s tolerable compared to the idea of having a plain old faucet. Man’s religion is a shiny body covering an engine ready to blow. It’s a stunning mansion built on a defective and doomed foundation.

Many scholars have likened Paul’s vice and virtue lists to those of the Greek Philosophers. It seems likely that the false teachers threatening the Colossians had the very same list, it’s just that their asceticism was of “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23).” Paul’s list is different not in what it consists in, but in what surrounds it and grounds it. Sin is to be killed because we have died with Christ.

This isn’t contradictory, but rather, it’s the only rational basis upon which to wage war against sin. It is only the free former slave who can really fight against his slave behavior. Those locked in the dungeon cannot fight in the battle. The Prince of the Puritans, John Owen, wrote, “Men must be gold and silver in the bottom, or else all refining will do them no good. Mortification is a refiner’s fire. Iron cannot be refined into gold. It must be miraculously transformed. Only then can the refining work be done.

Union, All the Way Up (Colossians 3:1–4)

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” —Colossians 3:1–4 (ESV)

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:5–6 (ESV)

The saints union with Christ isn’t hanging by a thread. Nor is our connection with Christ one of steel cables linking us to certain points of Christ, say His death and resurrection. You are as immersed into Christ as a baptized Baptist. With respect to my Presbyterian brothers, you are not sprinkled into Jesus. Further, when you come up out of the baptismal waters you don’t come out of Jesus. Jesus is the ocean the saints swim in. As united as a man is to his wife, so Christ is united to His Bride; two have become one.

Jesus is in such union with His people, that now, as the God-man, He does nothing without them. This union goes all the way. If you are in Christ:

Jesus’ death, is your death.

Jesus’ resurrection, is your resurrection.

But the glories do not stop there.

Jesus’ ascension, is your ascension.

Jesus’ session, is your session.

Jesus’ appearing, will be your appearing.

These are things that are above. These are heavenly things. The ascension and session of Christ are two neglected doctrines. Perhaps this is why our lives are more earthly than they ought to be.