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God’s Word for You

1 Peter 3:21-22 Baptism saves

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 5, 2022

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.  (NIV)

The purpose of baptism is to save. The washings of the Old Testament, such as the priest who had to bathe before putting on his robe, was a ceremonial removal of dirt and a symbolic washing in obedience to God’s command (Numbers 19:7). Baptism is not a symbol, since its purpose is not to show something else (which is what a symbol does), but to do something: Baptism saves. Since it is able to accomplish its purpose, it is effective (efficacious). How does it bring about its effect? By the power of God through the word of God. God’s command is that we baptize to forgive sins, that is, to save. It is a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Baptism accomplishes this as a means of rebirth.

1, Since we put on Christ through baptism, faith is granted in baptism. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). This granting of faith is rebirth, as Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).

2, Baptism gives forgiveness. To be released from sin means to be reborn into a new life. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Also: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26).

3, Baptism puts a person into the covenant of God’s grace, into the state or status of being God’s child, and into the expectation of eternal life. It also pulls the person out of the kingdom of Satan. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16); “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). These passages along with our verse today, 1 Peter 3:21, demonstrate that baptism effects rebirth; it is a means of grace.

4, Baptism is not a work we do, but it is a treasure which God gives us and faith grasps. Just as the Lord Christ upon the cross is not a work but a treasure comprehended and offered to us in the word and received by faith. (Luther, Large Catechism, § 37).

5, “When our sins or conscience oppress us, we must retort: ‘But I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.’ This is the reason why these two things are done in baptism: the body has water poured over it, though it cannot receive anything but the water, and meanwhile the word is spoken so that the soul may grasp it’ (Luther, Large Catechism § 44-45).

Christ was raised from the grave into a new life, and in the same way we are raised from being dead in our sins to being alive in Christ through baptism. Peter has been thinking of the tomb of Jesus which he himself went and saw (Luke 24:12; John 20:6-7), and he has drawn this perfect picture for us of what happened. Christ came to life, he descended into hell to proclaim the victory. Those he preached to included the spirits who died in the flood, but while they were put to death with water, we who have faith in Christ were saved by water, the water of baptism. Christ emerged from the tomb, completing his resurrection from the dead, and we rise from the dead state we have in our sins to life through baptism, that is to say, through the powerful word of God in baptism, which is the gospel. And, Peter goes on, Christ also ascended into heaven and he is at God’s right hand, with all the spirits of heaven (the angels) in submission to him.

Peter also calls the angels by other names: authorities and powers. Authorities are the exousion (ἐξουσιῶν) and powers are the dynameon (δυνάμεων) that Paul also mentions sometimes (Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:16, 2:15). We don’t really know anything about ranks or divisions of angels. Are there different kinds? Are there different gifts for different angels? It would be better to line them all up in our minds the way a child might line up different spoons without knowing what they’re all for. They’re all there, and God knows their differences, strengths, uses, and talents. That’s all we need to know.

Here again is a good place to run back to our baptism. We have received forgiveness by means of God’s grace in our baptism. This forgiveness remains, except for those who throw it away, for our whole lives. So as long as we carry the old Adam around our necks and as long as we slip and stumble into many sins every day, we have the forgiveness of Christ applied to us. Each of us can hold our head up and know that we are forgiven in Christ. My goal is not to sin, but to serve God. So even though I fall flat on my face, I am washed clean in my baptism, and God does not count my sins against me, for the sake of Jesus my Savior. And just as Peter says above: “And this baptism saves you also.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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