Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Symbols of Baptism: Part 3 (of 3 parts)

3. Salvation:

For this symbol, the Apostle Peter supplies both the symbol and the meaning in 1 Peter 3:18-22 (NIV) 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 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. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
The Apostle Peter makes an interesting comparison between the ark built by Noah which saved 8 people from dying in the worldwide flood, and our baptism which he said “saves you also.” Lest we are inclined to make too much out of the action of baptism itself, he said “not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”
There is much contention in theological circles these days about the importance of baptism and whether or not it is essential to salvation. The problem is that just like it was with circumcision in New Testament times, people are inclined to become legalistic on both sides of the baptismal argument. Some insist that baptism can not possibly save anyone because it is a “work” and the Bible declares that “works” cannot save us (Ephesians 2:8-9). Others point to this passage in First Peter or to where it says in Mark 16:16 (NIV) 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
I once preached a sermon on all the things the Bible says “saves” us and discovered that the Bible declares no less than 30 different things to have the ability to save us including Christ, grace, faith, preaching, hope, repentance, confession, baptism, obedience, enduring to the end, and even childbearing! (1 Timothy 2:15) The point is that fighting over baptism sidetracks people from the heart of the matter, which is what baptism can mean for the person who submits to baptism for the purpose of connecting with Christ.
In the First Peter passage we see a connection between the ark of Noah and the work of Jesus on the cross. It would be easy here to add the ark that saved Moses in the Nile river (Exodus 2:3-5) as yet another example of what we are talking about. The ark of Noah and the ark of Moses were both provisions of a loving God to intercede and provide a covering over the occupants of the ark and to save them through (or in spite of) the waters which would have otherwise drowned them all. The ark was a covering to provide salvation through water. In baptism, Jesus is provided to us as our covering who saves us. And this connection is made for us when we are baptized into Christ. We read in Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV) 26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
If we see baptism as a connection point with Christ himself we are looking at the heart of the matter concerning baptism. Being baptized for any other reason, such as for the purpose of joining a church congregation, is to miss the mark.
Though there is much more that could be said about baptism, this should be sufficient information for the purpose of identifying the meaning of baptism and the proper symbolism behind the act of baptism. If in our baptism we can see ourselves being buried with Christ and retelling his story (so to speak) in ours, and if we see ourselves participating in the sign of the new covenant which is a circumcision done without hands, and if we can see Christ as our covering and savior in our baptism, then we are looking at baptism as it was meant to be understood. Baptism is far from just a ceremonial washing. It is full of meaning in all the ways it connects us to Christ. I have tried to explain the meaning of baptism. So what does baptism now mean to you, and if you haven't been baptized yet, what are you going to do about it?

1 comment:

Sra. Hicks said...

I appreciate your explanation. I meet with a group of people that firmly believe that one is saved by repenting, confession that Jesus is Lord, believing in his death and resurrection, and baptism. We teach the same to others that want to know and follow God, becoming true followers of Jesus. Understanding the heart and the commitment that Jesus expects and deserves from us shouldn't be a matter of question. The scriptures say that in order to follow him we must deny ourselves and carry our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Understanding that baptism represents his sacrifice on the cross by dying to ourselves and living for him ((Romans 6:3-6), it makes his expectation of his followers a fact in our lives. Thanks.