Do you remember when you were baptized? It was likely a powerful moment in your life. It was the starting point of your Christian life, the moment where your faith went public. Yet, the reality of your baptism isn’t meant to be relegated to the memory vault of nostalgia. It’s a reality that should be often remembered and lived out.
1 Peter 3:21 says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not as the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Does Baptism Save?
Peter is making an argument via correspondence here (the word is antitype). His argument is that like the Noah’s ark was a symbol for God’s rescue of sinners in Christ, so is baptism. It “saves” us – not by removing our sins (only Jesus’ blood can do that; eg.1 Peter 1:19; 2:24); but as a pledge of a good conscience. Baptism is like a wedding band. A wedding band doesn’t make someone married, but vows make someone married. Yet, those wedding bands are the visible expression of the marriage. Baptism “saves” inasmuch as it’s the vehicle by which we pledge our faith in Christ. Our faith isn’t in baptism; our faith is in Jesus. Yet, that faith is made visible in the act of baptism.
Most importantly, baptism is a visible display our new identity in Christ. In a world that’s seeking salvation by achieving an identity (best mom, best student, etc.), Christianity is an identity to be received. As a person is plunged under the waters, they show that they’ve been united to Jesus in His death and burial. Their old self and old their sins have been judged in Christ! We are then raised up out of the water to show that we are united with Jesus in His resurrection, to walk in newness of life (Rom.6:1-4). We are born again, new creations in Christ. This is an identity that can’t be shaken by anything in this world. It’s an identity that is safe and secure as Christ, seated with Him in the heavens (Col.3:1).
When someone from a foreign country seeks to become a citizen of the United States they must take a citizenship oath. Two parts of that oath are 1. a renunciation of fidelity to any foreign country; and 2. a pledge of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution. This is not unlike the Christian’s oath in baptism. At baptism, we renounce the Devil and His kingdom of darkness. We switch loyalties and transfer citizenship. We then pledge our allegiance to Christ and His kingdom. Baptism is a loyalty pledge in which we declare that we belong to Christ and will live for Him all of our days.
A Good Conscience
When someone becomes a Christian, their conscience is cleansed. All of their guilt and shame is erased by the cleansing blood of Jesus. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). Only the gospel in which Christ says “It is finished” can put a guilty conscience at rest. We don’t have to do anything to fix what we’ve done wrong, but receive Jesus as the one who pays the penalty for our sins and draws us into His arms. Baptism is a pledge of loyalty from the person who has received the cleansing of their conscience through faith in Christ.
Yet, baptism is also a pledge that we will continue to submit our consciences to Christ for cleansing. Hebrews 9:14 – “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?” A former Supreme Court Justice once said, “More important than your obligation to follow your conscience is your obligation to form your conscience correctly.” We must realize that our conscience is always being formed. Our conscience gets formed by comparison: “I’m not as bad as that person, therefore a little bad won’t hurt.” Our conscience gets formed by society: “If it’s the majority consensus or the law of the land, who am I to go against the grain?” Our conscience gets formed by moral norms: one people’s vice, might be another people’s virtue. Our conscience gets formed by political platforms: we commit to certain biblical principles to the exclusion of others simply because of a political affiliation.
Remembering and living out one’s baptism is a pledge that our conscience will be formed by Christ. We must be on guard and remember that our primary allegiance is to King Jesus and His commands.
- Scripture: When we devote ourselves to the whole counsel of God found in Scripture, we are forming our consciences in line with the pledge we made at our baptism. Isn’t this what Jesus meant when He said that those who are newly baptized should be taught to observe everything He commanded?
- Prayer: When we devote ourselves to prayer, we should ask the Lord to reveal places that our conscience has perhaps been co-opted by the patterns of this world. When the Spirit gives us insight, we should repent, and ask Him to empower us to live in a way that makes our conscience good before the Lord.
- Church: When we devote ourselves to the life of the church, we are committing to let other people inspect our conscience with us. A brother or sister who knows us well can help point out the blind spots or weak spots that might not be as apparent to us. In this way, the church into which we were baptized, becomes the context for conscience formation. Humble people will welcome this.
Remember your baptism! It was there that you first pledged allegiance to Christ and His kingdom. Live out your baptism! You are a new creation, a citizen of the kingdom of light. May we live in a way that finds us loyal in the pledge that we’ve made, but also rests in the pledge that Christ has made that He will never leave us or forsake us.