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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Baptism Now Saves You

In his first epistle Peter comes out in a clear declaration that Paul was wrong and we are not saved by faith apart from works.
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, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)
First, "corresponding" to what? Well, Noah and family were saved by an ark that took them "safely through the water" (1 Peter 3:20). So, quite clearly, baptism is what saves us, not "faith apart from works" (Rom 3:28).

This position is, of course, problematic. First, it removes any reliability of Scripture if we pit one text against another to remove one or the other. So much for "God breathed," eh? (It doesn't help that Peter himself called Paul's writings "Scripture" (2 Peter 3:14-16).) But further, having undercut "justified by faith apart from works," by what are we justified? Baptism, I suppose, but is that it? What else? No, if we are saved by baptism apart from faith, this is a big problem. So ... are we?

It's interesting to note that Scripture uses "baptism" — literally "to dip or immerse" — in a literal and a figurative sense. No one, for instance, in Jesus's day believed baptism washed away sin. That wasn't the point. It was symbolic of that function, even in Jewish culture, but not actual. That is, if literal immersion in water has always been the means of salvation and God never once brought it up to His people, there is a serious problem. So Paul uses it figuratively in Romans when he writes, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). Now, no one actually dies when they get immersed in water, so clearly the water immersion concept is a visible metaphor of a different kind of immersion. Paul uses a similar image in Colossians "In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Col 2:11-12). Again, dipping in water does not circumcise anyone. Indeed, Paul makes it clear this circumcision was "made without hands," and it is done by "baptism." "There, see?" some might say. "Baptism accomplishes this circumcision." Well, perhaps, as long as you ignore the text which says that our baptism was "through faith in the working of God." That is, it is not the physical nature of being dunked that accomplishes this, but through faith.

Let's circle this around, then, to Peter's comments. How was Noah saved? The ark? Sort of. But Hebrews says, "By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Heb 11:7). Yes, the ark was significant, but Noah was saved by a faith that produced the ark. In the same way ("Corresponding to that"), the faith that immerses us into Christ is displayed in the outward show of being immersed into water — baptism. But it's not the dunking that saves — "not the removal of dirt from the flesh" — but the faith that causes us to call on Him. We are saved by that baptism, that circumcision not made by hands, that faith that is shown outwardly to all in the immersion into water as a sign of an inner reality. It turns out, then, that Peter and Paul agree.

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