1 Peter 3:20-21 “In it (Noah’s ark) only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”
Baptism saves you, just like the great flood saved Noah and his family in the ark. Peter’s words may sound strange to many Christians in a couple of ways.
First of all, the flood probably seems more like an act of judgment than an act of salvation. Almost everything that breathes died in the flood. Just two of some kinds of animals made it, just eight people. But those eight people were saved from something far worse by the flood. They were saved from the unbelief of their godless neighbors. They were saved from becoming spirits locked in an eternal prison, like the rest of the souls among whom they lived. They were saved from a world that was trying to murder their faith.
Think of the flood as a great antibiotic for the world of that time. An antibiotic like penicillin is a killer. It works by killing what’s killing you. The bacteria must die if you are going to continue to live. The antibiotic deals death and judgment to the cells that have invaded your body, just like the flood dealt death and judgment to the unbelief that had invaded the ancient world. Then it is possible for the good cells, like God’s people, to live. Both of them save by killing.
That’s why “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also…” Here is the second surprise for many Christians: Baptism saves you, too. It saves by killing. It deals death to the sin that was destroying our souls. But some might object, “I thought that Jesus saved me. I thought that he saved me when he died on the cross and rose again from the dead.”
And so he did. Baptism is not an alternative. Baptism is one way that God makes Jesus’ saving gifts, like forgiveness and grace, your very own. It’s power and promise pours these things into your heart and soul where they become yours by faith. Peter is making that connection when he says that baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge (God’s pledge! God’s promise!) of a good conscience toward God.” God’s forgiveness promises you a good conscience–freedom from your guilt and sin! Disconnected from Jesus? No, “it saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
You see, it’s not the way we usually think of it, but this grace, this forgiveness God pours out in baptism, is a killer, just like the flood, just like the antibiotics. Forgiveness deals death to the power of sin to condemn us. It wipes that sin out–takes it all away. Forgiveness deals death to the sinful nature inside of us. Our desire for sin dies and loses control the more the promise of forgiveness fills us with faith in God’s love. It gives new life to a new heart within.
That is the promise of my baptism: Christ has saved me by dealing death to my sins and the sinful nature that produced them.