The Baptism That Saves
…in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. – I Peter 3:20,21
I can picture the Apostle Peter sitting in a house church somewhere. The room is filled with people listening intently as he teaches. There are some children present and they are listening, too.
Peter is explaining to them how Noah and his family were saved by water, using this as an example of water baptism, when one of the children asks an innocent question.
“If Noah wasn’t in the ark would the waters have still saved him?”
An embarrassed mother swiftly clasps her hand over the child’s mouth.
Peter smiles and goes on to explain. “No, child, Noah would have drowned without the ark. The baptism that saves us is not the outward, physical act of submitting our bodies to the water, but the answer, the response, the obedience of a good conscience toward God, which has been produced by faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The ark is Christ, and faith in this ark must be established, secured, finished and boarded before it can be launched into the obedience of water baptism. If we do not believe in the atonement and we are baptized are we saved? No, like Noah without the ark, the waters would drown us. Salvation must precede water Baptism. The Gentiles in acts (Acts 10:45-47) were saved and filled with the Holy Ghost before they were baptized; their ark was prepared and finished before they were formally baptized into Christ.
Just as there can be no resurrection unless it is preceded by the cross, there is nothing we can do for God that is acceptable to Him without faith in the atonement going before us. Cain brought his works to God, the fruit of his labors and his offering was rejected. Abel brought a lamb, symbolic of Christ’s atonement for our sins and Abel’s offering was received.
Justification by faith alone is the predominate theme of the Apostle’s message with holiness being the fruit of our faith and our relationship with God through Christ. Water baptism is the covenant we make with Christ for our continued regeneration by the Holy Spirit. We are symbolically buried with Him in baptism, willing to die to our old natures and we rise out of the waters to a new life in Him. This new life in Him is the continuing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to conform us into Christ’s image. This is what it means to be baptized into Christ. We are making a commitment to walk with Him for a lifetime. We are beginning the journey from unity with God to union with Him as we are being made one with Him, as the Father is one with His Son. The Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father and we in Him, (John 14:11, 20). We are submerging ourselves into the waters of this Spirit union.
Like a marriage ceremony, or the "mikveh," the Hebrew betrothal ceremony upon which baptism is based, water baptism is the covenant we make with Him to remain faithful to the end where we will receive the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls at the first resurrection, (I Peter 1:5, Romans 11:22). We are making the commitment to walk with Him and without this commitment which is represented by water baptism, we cannot be saved. This is the baptism that saves us “by a good conscience” - the commitment to continue our walk in the faith.
Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, sanctifying their walk for His service, first by the washing of His Word (Ephesians 5:26, Romans 10:17) which produces our faith, secondly by the washing of His Spirit (I Corinthians 6:11) which the waters of baptism represent. If we are not willing to let Him wash us this way, we can have no part of Him. If we cannot make our commitment to Him by the covenant of baptism, and we are not willing to receive His Spirit and submit to the Spirit’s renewing within us, how can we walk with Him?
There are two ordinances that Jesus established for His church, water baptism and communion. Water baptism is not a work of the law that no longer needs to be kept for our salvation, it is an ordinance that the Lord asks us to obey. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” (John 14:15).
We board the ark that is Christ by repentance and faith in the atonement; we are launched into the waters of baptism – where we make the commitment to remain in the Ark until we reach our destination, that higher ground, the pinnacle of heaven where we receive the outcome of our faith the salvation of our souls. The ship that Noah built had no rudder; it was directed to its destination by the elements of wind and water, which are symbols of Christ’s Holy Spirit. He directs the journey; He guides our ship into the obedience of holiness and communion with God in Him. Within our ark are the provisions for our survival, the bread and the wine. As we partake, we remember the sacrifice that keeps us safe from the destruction of the world beneath us. We have been saved and set apart by the blood of the Lamb. We ingest the bread, the symbol of His broken body and the bread of His word. We drink the wine of His blood through which we have received His Holy Spirit and we rejoice in eternal life.
We cannot be saved without commitment – we cannot abide without communion with Him through His Word and His Spirit.
We can partake of baptism, but without commitment baptism becomes a dutiful bath.
We can partake of communion, but without the continuing ingestion of God’s Word and Spirit, in an abiding relationship with Him, communion becomes a mere ritual.
To partake of either water baptism or communion without understanding what these ordinances truly represent robs the believer of the richness of both experiences.
We are justified by faith in Christ’s sacrifice for us and if we are saved, this faith, this salvation, this good conscience of knowing what we have been given in Christ, propels us with gratitude into the waters of baptism – and anywhere the Lamb of God chooses to lead us for the rest of our lives.
copyright 2009 by H.D. Shively