21 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,” (I Peter 3:21).

Is water baptism the means by which God saves sinners? This question continues to be debated within churches, and among Christians, even to this day. One church or person says baptism saves, while another church or person says no. Who is right? Can we know for sure the answer to this dilemma?

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that water baptism it is the entrance into a covenant relationship with God, or the first means (among many)  of God’s grace to the sinner. Most Lutheran churches agree, as do the Disciples of Christ denomination.

At the same time, there are many evangelical churches and believers who teach and preach that baptism is only an outward sign of the sinner’s salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. It is a beloved sacrament or ordinance of the church, the Lord’s Supper being the other, and which serves as a public testimony of one’s faith in Christ as Savior and commitment to Christ as Lord. Therefore, while water baptism is important it does not save.

One proof text cited as evidence that water baptism does indeed save is I Peter 3:21. On the surface, it would appear that this verse is undeniable proof that water baptism is the way by which God saves sinners. But is this what the Apostle Peter means? Let’s find out.

The verse begins with the word baptism. Our English word baptism is derived from the Greek word βάπτισμα (baptisma) which means to be immersed in water in a religious ceremony symbolizing purification from sin on the basis of repentance. Peter explains that water baptism is a type or picture paralleling the deliverance God provided Noah and his family during the flood.

One theologian writes, “Baptism represents a complete break with one’s past life. As the Flood wiped away the old sinful world, so baptism pictures one’s break from his old sinful life and his entrance into new life in Christ. Peter now applied to his readers the principle he set forth in verses 13–17 and illustrated in verses 18–20.”

Well, if this is the case that baptism is only a picture or symbol of salvation, then why does Peter say in vs. 21 that “baptism…now saves you?” We must remember the context in which this verse is found.

Peter is exhorting believers to have the courage to commit themselves to Christ as Lord by taking a public stand for Christ through water baptism. The act of public baptism would “save” them from the temptation to sacrifice their good consciences in order to avoid persecution (I Peter 3:13-17). For a first-century Christian, baptism meant the believer was following through on his/her commitment to Christ, regardless of the consequences.

Peter explicitly says this when he writes that baptism, or being immersed in water, is not for the purpose of taking a bath to become physically clean, but rather it is an appeal to God for a good or beneficial conscience.

One Bible teacher comments, “Baptism does not save from sin, but from a bad conscience. Peter clearly taught that baptism was not merely a ceremonial act of physical purification, but (alla, making a strong contrast) the pledge (eperōtēma, or “appeal”; cf. nasb) of a good conscience (syneidēseōs; cf. v. 16) toward God. Baptism is the symbol of what has already occurred in the heart and life of one who has trusted Christ as Savior (cf. Rom. 6:3–5; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12). To make the source of salvation perfectly clear Peter added, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Peter 1:3).

More to come!

Soli deo Gloria!

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