Jesus as the Baptism
How do you see baptism as it relates to your Christian life?
Baptism is certainly important. In fact, Jesus endorsed baptism in the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matthew 28:19–20). The Great Commission tells us to make disciples of all the nations.
What are we to do with these disciples?
We are to first baptize them. Then we are to teach them to obey the commands of Christ as recorded in the New Testament.
We have been going through the First Epistle of Peter. In our previous discussions, we noted that Peter was commenting on the persecution the Jewish Christian were facing when they were scattered abroad. Peter argued in favor of endurance, unjust though the matter be, since such experiences may lie in the will of God for His people (verses 17–22). Even Christ, the beloved Son of God, suffered in the carrying out of God’s will. From mentioning Christ and His death, the apostle demonstrated the success achieved at Calvary.
Subsequently, Noah and his generation are offered as a case example of God’s justice. In the case of the Flood, only eight souls were saved. Peter makes the point that they were “saved through water. Now Peter is prepared to confront his fellow believers again. Peter transitions directly from Noah serving through the water to mention of a new baptism.
Peter writes, “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…” (1 Peter 3:21).
This again is a difficult verse that has brought about much controversy. Indeed, this passage has led to outright battle between those who profess baptismal regeneration and those who deny any saving power in baptism.
Baptismal regeneration is the belief that water baptism effects the saving work of the Holy Spirit in washing away original sin. In Roman Catholicism baptism (usually of infants) is understood to confer grace upon the individual, whether or not faith is present. In Lutheran theology baptism must be accompanied by faith, whether the faith of the individual or of the parents, to be effective in washing away sin. Other Protestants reject baptismal regeneration, arguing that it contradicts the concept of justification by grace through faith alone.
How are we to understand 1 Peter 3:21?
This passage seems to be saving there is a “baptism” which saves us–but it is not in water baptism. The baptism of which Peter is speaking is the action taken by Jesus on Calvary. Christ’s death was a baptism. Jesus told us this when He said, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). Jesus is referring to the redemption for lost mankind on the Cross. This was a baptism that no one else could undergo. Only Jesus–the God/Man–could satisfy the demands of God for the sins of humanity (Romans 3:25-26). Only Jesus is found to be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Jesus taught that only through faith in Him could a person be saved. Only by trusting in Christ and His work on the cross can we reap the benefits of His baptism by death. But each of us–as individuals–must accept His death for ourselves. Just as Noah and his family had to enter the ark to be saved, so we must place our faith in Jesus as our only Savior.
When we do this we become identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. At that moment we have been crucified with Him. Consider Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
All of this is pictured in believer’s baptism. The ceremony of water baptism of the believer (a person who has the capacity to trust in Jesus…therefore, this is not infant baptism) is an outward sign of what has taken place spiritually. When we are baptized in water, we are baptized into Christ’s death.
Therefore, this passage does not teach that baptism saves. Only faith in Jesus, the Messiah–our Lord–can save. Jesus said that only He was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Water is not the way.
Besides, if water could save, then Jesus’ death would have been in vain. If water could save, then Jesus didn’t need to die. When we read this verse, it is not saying that water baptism saves. It is saying that Christ’s baptism of death is sufficient for us to be reconciled to God.
Our faith must lie only in the finished work of Christ–His death, His burial, and His resurrection. This is His baptism. Only His baptism is able to save.
Have you put your trust in the finished work of Christ or are you trusting in your water baptism to save you?
My prayer is that you put your faith…your trust…in Jesus, the Christ; He alone can give you eternal life. Jesus said this: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24, NKJV)
Have you crossed over from death to life by believing the Word of Christ?
 Grenz, Stanley, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket dictionary of theological terms 1999 : 19. Print.