I was preaching about Noah on Sunday, and while the account of Noah and the flood may be found in Genesis, you can’t think about Noah without wrestling with a Scripture from the other end of the Bible – 1 Peter 3:18-22. Peter specifically writes about Noah and the Ark and makes the connection with us and our salvation, but along the way he perhaps leaves us good evangelicals with a few awkward questions. While one of those questions might be about Christ preaching to the spirits in prison, the more pressing question is probably the one found in verse 21, where Peter tells us that baptism ‘now saves us’!
Why does Peter say that? Why does he say that baptism ‘now saves us’? Well, remember, this is the Word of the LORD. It’s not just Peter’s ideas – it’s God’s very words. So it’s definitely true what he says.
So, what exactly does Peter say now saves us?
There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)Baptism, he says, saves ‘through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’. So, it’s not some magic power in the water or the baptistery or the pastor. No, the power that saves is Jesus in His mighty, victorious, resurrection power. So, it’s not about what we do, but all about what Jesus has done – dying and rising for us!
And, he clarifies, it’s 'not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God' that he’s talking about when he’s talking about baptism. So it’s not a ritual that saves us. Rather it’s the appeal to God through baptism. (The word that gets translated answer really means an earnest request – so it’s an appeal for something you intensely desire.) In other words – calling out to God with faith in Jesus! And this faith in Christ means a ‘good conscience’ for those who trust in Him are fully forgiven in Jesus and clothed with Him for righteousness.
The Bible is very clear that it’s only ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast’ (Eph. 2:8-9). So baptism’s not a work by which we earn our salvation. No! Baptism is the expression of that faith in Jesus by which we’re saved.
Baptism is the NT way – the biblical way – to respond in faith to the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. So often today we’ve replaced baptism with raising a hand or filling in a card and then put off baptism for ages. But God says Baptism is the way we respond in faith to the gospel appeal. We’re saved by faith in Jesus, but we see that we’re saved – and everyone else sees that we’re saved – as that faith is expressed in baptism. (And that’s why the Lord’s Supper is for those who have been baptised!)
But what’s baptism got to do with Noah’s Ark? Isn’t Jesus the true Ark, not baptism? Yes, Jesus is the true Ark. And Jesus’ baptism – His double baptism, the one in the Jordan and the one on the Cross – that’s the true baptism. In our baptism we’re united to Jesus in His baptism. We’re united to Him in the waters of the Jordan hearing the Father’s declaration of love. And we’re united to Him in His death and resurrection. So in baptism, we’re baptised in Jesus – the true Ark. And in Jesus we pass safely through the waters of God’s judgement and come out safely on the other side. So baptism is a wonderful gospel picture of that great gospel truth. Baptism is a visible Gospel Word.