Thursday, February 26, 2015

Some Perceive Water Baptism Saves According to 1 Peter 3:21. . .Is This True?

I would like to take this time to thanks those for the feedback I have received in these postings responding to this whole thing on baptismal regeneration. As I conclude this series, I know that much more could be addressed and that there are some other passages out there, that are used in the feeble attempt to defend this dogma. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this series, my friend holding to this teaching, threw down some verses, and we have addressed all of the main ones except the passage in 1 Peter 3:21,

Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you -- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. . . " (NASB)

Those who believe that baptism is required for salvation are quick to refer to this passage, which is nothing more than a “proof text,” that states “baptism now saves you.”

If Peter was really saying that the act of being baptized is what saves us, then he would be clearly contradicting the many other passages of Scripture that clearly show people being saved (as evidenced by their receiving the Holy Spirit) prior to being baptized or without entering into the baptism waters at all.  There are countless passages of Scripture clearly teach that salvation comes when one believes in the gospel, at which time he or she is sealed “in Christ with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).

There are several examples in Scripture where salvation came without baptism or baptism came following salvation or in follow up to the salvation experience. Think with me on a couple of examples here. 

One that comes quickly to mind is the event of the crucifixion where Jesus was hung on a cross between two criminals. Many of us are familiar with the passage where one thief believes in Jesus while on the cross (Luke 23:39-41). What did one of the thieves ask of Jesus?  Verse 42 tells us what he said to Jesus, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.'" 

Did he know who Jesus was? Yes he did. And this is revealed in the rebuking of the other thief who railed out at Jesus. He said to the other thief, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering JUSTLY, for we are receiving WHAT WE DESERVE for our deeds; but this man  HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG." (Caps emphasis mine)

It was following this rebuking of his fellow condemn criminal where he makes his statement to Jesus, essentially requesting Him to remember him when He enters His kingdom. This thief knew his sinful condition, and he knew who Jesus was and that He was suffering unjustly. What was he asking of Jesus? Jesus knew that he was asking to be saved. This was indicative from Jesus' response: "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." There was no time for this thief to be baptized by water![1] 

So we move from a believing condemned man to another instance where Peter is involved. Bear in mind that understanding the dynamic of this next passage will settle Peter's words in 3:21 of his First Letter.  That passage is found in the context of Acts 10:23-48 with Peter's encounter with Cornelius and those that were with him, including his household.

There are few things that we would do well to notice in this passage:

1. Peter meets Cornelius, vv. 21-23

2. Peter preaches the gospel to Cornelius, his household and those they invited, 23-43. 

3. The Holy Spirit falls upon the those listening to the message that Peter was preaching and they were exalting God. It was at this point those who believed were saved. 

It was until AFTER this glorious moment of salvation that Cornelius and the other new believers were baptized.  The reason they were baptized after being saved is due to the facthat they had received the Holy Spirit, which was the evidence of salvation.[2]  This was the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized (vv. 46-48). 

So if Peter did not baptize Cornelius and his household until after their salvation, what is he really meaning according to his statement, "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you -- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. . . "[3]   

What Peter is REALLY Saying

Thankfully, though, we don’t have to guess at what Peter means in this verse because he clarifies that for us with the phrase “not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience.” While Peter is connecting baptism with salvation, it is not the act of being baptized that he is referring to (not the removal of dirt from the flesh). 

Being immersed in water does nothing more than (maybe) wash away dirt. What Peter is referring to is what baptism represents, an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, Peter is simply connecting baptism with belief.  It is not the getting-wet part that saves but is the “appeal to God for a clean conscience” which is signified by baptism, that saves us. 

The appeal to God always comes first. First there is belief and repentance, and then the new believer is baptized to publicly identify ourselves with Christ, and His baptism. Therefore, the baptism that Peter says saves us is the one that is preceded by faith in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ that justifies the unrighteous sinner (Romans 3:25-26; 4:5). Baptism is the outward sign of what God has done “on the inside, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).


This is the final installment on the subject of baptismal regeneration. As is the case with any single verse or passage, we first need to discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the whole Bible teaches on the subject at hand. We have been looking at a doctrine that is taught by many denominations, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration or salvation by faith + baptism. 

In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, in the posting and the previous postings, it has been demonstrated that any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act or work, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation, and is therefore a gross misrepresentation of biblical soteriology (the doctrine of salvation).

[1] Because Jesus was shedding His blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, this ties in beautifully with His words to the disciples at the Lord's Supper, where He says, "for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."(See Matthew 26:28) 

[2] See Romans 8:9; Ephesian 1:13; 1 John 3:24. 

[3] 1 Peter 3:21.


Mike McCarthy said...

Rob what is your definition of "baptism" in this text, and is Peter correct in saying that it "saves you" or is he incorrect?

Rob Lundberg said...

The second part of your question challenges my view on Scripture. Peter is correct. The first part of your question, what is baptism appears a little baiting. LOL.

You are missing the point, if you are wanting the definition to prove your point when if you read the last part of the posting, I stated, that "what Peter is referring to is what baptism represents, an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, Peter is simply connecting baptism with belief."

A person is dipped or immersed in water because they have believed or "as a result of" their belief in Jesus and His resurrection. They are following the Lord in obedience to the command to be baptized, but it is not for salvation, but discipleship. The are proclaiming the picture on the inward change of being buried with Christ and rising to walk in newness of life. (c.f. Rom. 6:4).