I wanted to share some core truths about baptism that I learn from Peter’s writings on this subject. I hope that this is of help to those who are not yet baptized, but I believe that this is as applicable to those of us who are already baptized.
1 Peter 3:18,21 - 4:2 – 18For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.. 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, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
Verse 18: Jesus died to bring us to God.
The world tells us that we don’t need God at all – that our increasing knowledge and study of ourselves and the world around us is all we need. This is exactly how the devil deceived us in the Garden of Eden at the very outset of humanity, and this is how we continue to be deceived by him today.
Jesus came to permanently save us from this deception. The path of salvation from this deception is an IMMERSION (baptism) into the original goal and purpose of our lives: To be with God. And we know that Jesus came to introduce us to God as a loving Father (John 14:6).
So our baptism is a clear statement of agreement, that henceforth, the goal and purpose of our lives is to be with God. So no matter what distracts or even deceives us, we will keep repenting and renewing and resetting our lives to the goal of being with God.
Verse 18: The just for the unjust
But how did Jesus bring us to God? The ONLY way was by Jesus (the just One) addressing the evil in me (the unjust one). The greatest injustice ever done was when the just Jesus died for the unjust me.
We should take time to think deeply about that. Even small children hate the thought of things being unfair. From a young age, we hate it when we feel that our parents or teachers or coaches are not fair – i.e., when some receive unfair and undeserved favor over the others. Well, the greatest injustice ever experienced was on the cross of Calvary – where I personally benefited immeasurably and Jesus suffered immeasurably. And what makes this immeasurable injustice truly unique is that Jesus willingly took on this injustice. This was an explicit proclamation and demonstration of Jesus’s immense LOVE for us. We were helpless and without any hope So Jesus, because of His immeasurable love for us (Romans 5:8,10), accepted the punishment of sin that we deserved (and He didn’t) – all so that He could bring us to God.
This truth must never leave us. In fact, even if every other thing tgat we think of as truth is disproved, we must hold fast to this truth. So even decades after we choose to be baptized in water (a one-time act), this truth will (eternally) be the only way to come to God. And what’s more, the longer we are Christians, the deeper must be the conviction that the just Jesus died for the unjust me (1 Timothy 1:15-16). The depth of the unfairness of that act must increase in our hearts over time.
So the just Jesus dying for the unjust me is an essential truth to actively embrace as I consider baptism.
Verse 21: Baptism is a total immersion
There is still a lot of debate over baptism, and whether it is a sprinkling or an immersion. Sadly, over the past few centuries, thousands have even physically died because of a difference of belief in this matter.
The Greek word Peter uses here is baptisma which means to dip or sink (immerse). Peter uses a different Greek word rhantismos, which means sprinkling, earlier in 1 Peter 1:2. So Peter clearly knew these two separate Greek words and its different meanings. So the baptism we embrace is not a mere sprinkling of a new way of life.
Also, dipping and sinking (immersing) can be interpreted very differently – we could dip just a part of our body in water, or we could dip/sink/immerse our body completely in water. So which one is it?
I get my answer from Paul in Romans 6:3-4 – 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 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).
Paul makes it clear that baptism is a burial. We do not dip a dead body partially in the ground and move on. No! We immerse and surround the dead body in sand when we bury it – because that old dead body is actively rotting and decaying. So the symbolic act baptism must clearly indicate the complete immersion, not a partial dipping or sprinkling.
Verse 21: Baptism is a physical act, but symolizes a cleansing AND as burial
Baptism is not merely a symbol of a cleansing, but also a symbol of a burial.
Peter makes it abundantly clear that while we are physically immersed in water, it is not a physical cleansing that we need. We surely need to be totally cleansed from sin, but that cleansing is spiritual and given us us when we come in simple faith in Christ. His life and death and resurrection makes theis cleansing possible, and our baptism by immersion in water is a symbol of the thorough and complete washing away of our sins (Acts 22:16).
But baptism is as much a symbol of our commitment to permanently BURY our rotting old way of life. We make this free-will choice because we see our old way of life as dead and rotting, and because we want a new way of life that wants to be with God and wants to know Him and please Him. This is what Peter calls an “appeal to God for a good conscience.”
Verse 21: Baptism is our appeal to God for a good conscience
God gave us a conscience when we were created. A conscience is like a spiritual weighing machine that tells us whether we are doing something good or evil.
When we ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we were telling God that WE wanted the autonomy in deciding what was good or evil. We wanted full independence from God in determining that. But true life is being with God and knowing God. That is why God told us that we died that day - because that instince to be dependent on God was severed.
But the life and death and resurrection of Jesus created a way for us to have a good conscience (Hebrews 9:14). And what is a "good conscience"? A conscience that indicates what is right and what is wrong through a dependence on God. Our baptism is a statement of our totally-immersive desire for this good conscience. It is a testimony to our choice to a new lifestyle. It is a physical way of telling others that we are permanently burying our old way of life, and that we are now rising up to a brand new life of being with God and seeking to know God more and more.
Verse 21: Our appeal for a good conscience requires the authority of Christ’s resurrection (not just His death)
Our appeal for a good conscience is validated through the resurrection of Jesus. So we cannot stop at the death of Jesus, but His resurrection that validates our request. This is both wonderful and important for us to meditate on. Baptism is not merely a rejection of our dead and rotting past way of life, but also an embracing of a thriving new life that is pleasing to God. That is why our request (appeal) to have a good conscience is only possible through the RESURRECTION of Jesus.
Paul elsewhere says (1 Corinthians 15:13-19) that a life without the resurrection life of Jesus is pitiful and hopeless. Why is that? Because at best we can bury our old way of life, but we have no (zero) hope of a new life. That is what the resurrection of Jesus brings us.
This is the importance of our coming OUT of the water, and our being LIFTED UP out of the water by someone else. Baptism is not self-emergence, and we are not forcing ourselves out of the water. We allow the person baptizing us to raise us up out of the water. In this, we are making the immense appeal to Jesus for HIS NEW LIFE to be our power and strength – a new life where even physical death has no power over me. We are made ALIVE with Christ – where ALL the forces of darkness are rendered powerless and we can live triumphantly (Colossians 2:13-15).
2 Peter 4:1-2 – This new life is a life of suffering
Many Christians have a misconception that the Christian life is the easy life. Not at all. Yes, Peter is very clear that the new life gives us the eternal benefit of a good conscience to where we can be pleasing to God. But he is also very clear that this involves a life of suffering here on earth – just like Jesus our Example Himself suffered. And Jesus Himself made it clear in Matthew 7:13-14 – 13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow (afflicted) that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
The Greek word for narrow in verse 14 is thlibō which means to press or afflict. The Amplified Bible says it this way: But the gate is narrow (contracted by pressure) and the way is straitened and compressed that leads away to life, and few are those who find it.
I really wish that all of our Bible translations had used the word “afflicted” or “contracted by pressure” instead of narrow. Because that is exactly what the Christian life is.
Now this does not mean that cannot and will not have comforts in this life. I read a study that the average person in most cities today has a more comfortable life than the richest man over a 100 years ago. All of us reading this are probably more comfortable (in terms of earthly conditions) than even the richest people 500 years ago. So everyone reading this is probably living a more comfortable life than the richest person from a few centuries back.
So what is this life of suffering? The Christian life of suffering is in the denial of our own will when it goes against the will of God (John 6:38; 1 Peter 4:2). And the suffering required in that denial has not changed one bit. And I believe that NO ONE suffered as much as Jesus in letting go of one's own will and doing the will of God (Hebrews 4:15). He suffered in denying Himself more than David, Daniel, and all of us. And on top of that, He suffered perfectly - that is, He suffered over and over again for 33+ years, denying Himself consistently and perfectly – and hence did not sin even once.
This is what uniquely qualified Him to take our sins (the just for the unjust). But even better, this is what uniquely qualifies Him to be our Example! And as we read in Hebrews 12, Jesus is our Example who suffered immensely, but with a joy firmly set in front of Him.
So this is the balanced view of the resurrection life of Jesus – totally triumphant over all the forces of darkness, and finding our satisfaction and joy in being completely devoted to seeking to do God’s will, even though it means a life of suffering.
1 Peter 4:12-14- 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Here are the main points once more:
Jesus died to bring us to God and know Him as our Father (1 Peter 3:18; John 3:16 and John 17:3; John 14:6)
The greatest injustice is this: Jesus, the Just, dying for me the unjust (1 Peter 3:18; Romans 5:8-10)
Baptism is symbolized by a complete immersion in water because we are totally rejecting our old way of life and are completely embracing a new way of life.
This brand new way of life is guided by a conscience (spiritual weighing balance) that is made good. A person who has a good conscience is one who depends on God in seeking to know what is right and what is wrong.
With this brand new good conscience as our guide, we also embrace a brand new way of living where:
We embrace the total and complete cleansing of all our past sins by the sacrifice of Jesus (1 Peter 1:2,17-19; Acts 22:16)
We embrace the total and complete burial of our old way of life, where we disregarded the will of God and did our own will (1 Peter 4:1-2; Romans 6:1-11).
We embrace the total and complete new way of life, where just like Jesus, we only and always seek to do God’s will (1 Peter 4:1-2; John 6:38)
This new life, which is just like the life of Jesus, is a life first of suffering but which then leads to everlasting joy (1 Peter 4:1-2; Matthew 7:13-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14; Hebrews 12:1-2)
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
(fully take in His life of spiritual suffering – so that He always did God’s will),
Look forth on His wonderful face
(The face of Jesus was full of love for God and every human, but also full of hatred for sin);
And the things of this earth will grow strangely dim
(all our past sins and all the glory of this world will lose its hold on us)
In the light of His glory and grace.
(In the light of Jesus the just who lived the perfect life of suffering and died for me, the unjust)