Baptism and Salvation
“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 3:21)
By the Holy Spirit, the pre-incarnate Christ warned Christ of God's judgement through faithful Noah in the days preceding the great flood. As is well known, the vast majority of humanity did not turn from its wickedness but was destroyed by the waters God poured forth in judgment.
However, as 1 Peter 3:20 reminds us, this was not the fate of every person on earth at that time. Eight people were spared death because they were safely in the ark. These select few identified themselves with Noah and lived on to replenish the earth (Gen. 9:1).
Understanding the background of the flood presented in 1 Peter 3:18-20 is important if we are to understand properly today’s passage regarding baptism. In verse 21, Peter tells us that baptism corresponds to the events of the flood and even saves us.
However, contrary to the teaching offered by some theological traditions, this verse is not teaching that the ceremony of baptism has an automatic efficacy for salvation. Verse 21 does remind us that it is not the washing of the water that cleanses but the “appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” In other words, it is trust in Christ alone, which trust is evidenced by our humble request for God’s forgiveness based on Christ’s work and promise, that saves us.
What then is the connection to the flood? As the flood waters manifested God’s judgment in the days of Noah, so too is the water of baptism a visible reminder of God’s judgment today. If we were to face this judgment alone, we would be destroyed. But if by faith we identify ourselves with Christ, we will pass through it safely just as Noah’s family did by identifying with him and entering the ark.
Baptism then is a visible sign and seal of our union with Christ. Our faith, whether it comes before, during, or after the ceremony of baptism itself, alone unites us with Jesus who saves us from God’s wrath because He bore it in place of His people. When we have true faith, the rite of baptism reminds us that because we are united to Christ, we need not fear God’s judgment.
Noah’s curse on his son Ham (Gen. 9:20-25) shows us that not all who were saved by identifying themselves visibly with Noah actually had true faith. Today many outwardly profess Christ and have been baptized, but because they lack saving faith have not been united to Him. Only those who are truly in Jesus will be spared God’s eternal wrath. If you have never trusted Jesus, trust Him today. If He is your Lord, look to your baptism as a sign of your union with Him.
Passages for Further Study
Gen. 6:9-8:22, Rom. 6:3-5, 1 Cor. 10:1-11, Gal. 3:27