Saved Through Baptism

“When once the longsuffering of God waited In the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that Is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” —I Peter 3:20,21

THE doctrine of baptism is one of the important fundamentals of the Christian faith. “Baptism” as a word is derived from the Greek word baptizo, which means to “immerse,” or completely cover with water. The practice of sprinkling, or the pouring of water upon the head, as a mode of baptism has no scriptural background or authority, hence cannot be acceptable to God as the proper form of water baptism.

Our text indicates that the experience of Noah and his family in being brought through the waters of the Flood may properly be considered a symbol, or “figure,” of Christian baptism. We have another case of figurative baptism brought to our attention by the apostle when he speaks of the nation of Israel being “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (I Cor. 10:2) In the case of Noah and his family they were submerged, as it were, in an ocean of water. With Israel we see a whole nation immersed, the waters of the sea encompassing them on two sides, and the cloud above. By no process of reasoning could the sprinkling of a little water on one’s head be considered a fulfillment of these typical symbols. Immersion in water is the only symbol that conforms to these divinely arranged typical baptisms.

Noah and his family passed through the flood of waters from what would have been death in the old world, to life in the new world. The Israelites, by putting themselves in the hands of Moses as leader, and following him through the Red Sea, risked death and were brought safely through the waters to a glorious deliverance. Thus both of these typical baptismal services illustrate a passing into and through death to life.

Baptism in the New Testament

The first example of baptism in the New Testament is that which was practiced by John the Baptist. It is clearly stated that the purpose of John’s baptism was for the remission of sin. The water of baptism did not, of course, wash away the sins of those who were immersed by John the Baptist. The thought is, rather, that the water was a symbol of a heart cleansing, or reformation, which had already been accomplished under the influence of John’s preaching.

Even this symbolic baptism by John was related to the hope of life. It applied to Israelites who had transgressed the Law Covenant, and it symbolized their return to God under the terms of that covenant. The covenant promised life to anyone who could keep it, and by its terms those who did not obey its laws were brought under condemnation to death. The work of John the Baptist was to restore the Israelites to covenant relationship with God and thus to put them in the way of life and in the proper heart condition to accept Jesus as their Redeemer and Messiah.

At the age of thirty, Jesus came to John to be baptized. The prophet could not understand the reason for this. He knew that his baptism was symbolic of the remission of sin, and he knew that Jesus was not a sinner and therefore did not stand in need of an immersion which symbolized remission of sins. But Jesus said to John, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”—Matt. 3:15

Jesus did not explain just how his immersion in water would help to “fulfill all righteousness,” but evidently he recognized something in the Old Testament which indicated this to be the Father’s will for him. Jesus’ consecration was his voluntary agreement to do the will of the Father which had previously been written in the “volume of the book”—that is, the Old Testament Scriptures. (Ps. 40:6-8; Heb. 10:5-9) It must be assumed, then, that there was something in the “book” which indicated to Jesus that immersion in water was a part of God’s will for him. And what was it?

The Real Baptism

Jesus’ immersion in water was not his real baptism. This is apparent from his question to the two disciples who, through their mother, asked to sit, one on his right hand and the other on his left hand in the kingdom. That question was, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matt. 20:22) On another occasion the Master said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50) Thus, some time following his immersion in water, Jesus reveals that his real baptism is still incomplete.

And what was the Master’s real baptism? It was a baptism, or burial, in death. Christians are invited to participate with Jesus in this experience, and concerning it the apostle writes, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3) Baptism, then, is not only a burial, but a burial so complete that it ends in death.

But it is not a baptism into eternal death. Rather, baptism into sacrificial death is the Christian’s way to life. Jesus expressed the thought clearly in a statement to Peter, saying, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25) Jesus said this to Peter in response to the suggestion that the Master was making a mistake in going to Jerusalem where he would expose himself to the danger of being arrested and put to death. His answer shows that because he had entered into a covenant with God which called for the sacrifice of his life, any drawing back would mean the loss of eternal life because of unfaithfulness. On the other hand, faithfulness to his covenant of sacrifice—faithfulness unto death—would mean a raising up to newness of life, even to the divine nature, in the resurrection.

Symbolic Death

It is this that is symbolized by water immersion and that is foreshadowed by the experience of Noah and his family in being brought through the Flood, and by Moses and the children of Israel in their passing through the Red Sea. At the close of the antediluvian world the whole human race was threatened with death by the coming flood of waters. God apprised Noah of the danger and told him of the possibility of escape by means of the ark.

Noah obeyed the voice of God and built the ark, and, entering into that ark before the waters descended, he and his family were saved and brought through to life in the new world. The cooperation of Noah and his family in building the ark, herding the animals into it, preaching righteousness to the unrepentant people, indicates a true spirit of consecration to do God’s will. They trusted God and, by obeying his instructions, placed themselves wholly in his hands.

The Flood came—the Flood which meant death to all others and would have meant death for Noah and his family, but they passed through victoriously. In other words, they passed through a real death-dealing experience and, because of their obedience to God’s will, were brought out of it alive and were used by God to start a new world. In our text the apostle says that they were “saved by water,” the thought evidently being that they were saved out of the water.

Now the apostle says that this was a “like figure” of the manner in which baptism now saves us “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The baptism by which we are saved through the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not water immersion, but our baptism into his death—a sacrificial death. Peter wrote that we have been begotten to a “lively [living] hope by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.” (I Pet. 1:3) How true this is!

Jesus voluntarily “lost” his life; that is, he gave it up in sacrifice; but God’s promises were made good to him, and he was raised from the dead. Thus his resurrection inspires in us a hope of life because it is an evidence that if we lay down our lives in conformity to God’s will, he also will fulfill his promises to us, and we will be raised up to joint-heirship with the Master. It is this real baptism into death and the subsequent raising up to life in Christ that is illustrated by the experience of Noah and his family in being brought safely through the waters of the Flood.

The Sea and the Cloud

We have another apt illustration of true Christian baptism in the typical baptism of Moses and the Israelites “in the cloud and in the sea.” Here we have the case of a whole nation becoming dedicated to God through their leader, Moses. The fact that they decided to follow Moses’ leadership and embark with him on practically an unknown journey indicates their acceptance of the will of God as it was to be interpreted to them through Moses’ leadership. This spirit of consecration was confirmed by their slaying of the passover lamb and the use of its blood as directed by God through Moses.

Through the prophet, God speaks of the “covenant” he made with the house of Israel in the day he took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. (Jer. 31:32) This covenant was amplified and completed later at Mt. Sinai, but it began with the sacrifice of the original passover lamb. It was then that the firstborn of Israel, in danger of death, were delivered therefrom through the obedience of the Israelites to the instructions given to them in connection with the blood of the Iamb.

And not only were the firstborn of Israel in danger of death, but the entire nation risked life in putting themselves in the hands of Moses, God’s representative among them. The possibility of death became even more apparent as they faced the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army bringing up the rear, bent on capturing them and returning them to Egypt. Moses, the representative of God, said to them, “Go forward,” and hazarding their lives they moved forward into the sea and into possible extinction.—Exod. 14:15

But the sea divided and the cloud descended upon them and they passed through to safety. Thus, symbolically, they followed Moses into death, and because of their obedience, they were delivered—restored to life and favor with God. Then with Moses they sang that wonderful song of deliverance, “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”—Exod. 15:2

A Nation Baptized

Here we have the case of an entire nation, together with their leader, being baptized. First there was the heart surrender of Moses, and later of the Israelites as a nation, to do God’s will. This was a consecration which involved the possibility of death. Then, as they demonstrated the genuineness of their desire to follow the Lord, they were symbolically immersed in the sea and in the cloud. The Scriptures speak of Moses as “a servant in all his house,” and it was in this manner that the house of servants under Moses was instituted.

The fact that all the Israelites individually may not have entered wholeheartedly into this dedication of themselves to the Lord does not destroy the value of the picture. This was a national affair, and God was then dealing with his people as a nation; hence all who were members of that nation at that time, as well as throughout the entire age which followed, came under the terms of that original consecration and baptism. John’s baptism for the remission of sin, at the end, was merely to bring individuals back into harmony with that original dedication.

But with the coming of Jesus a new order of things among God’s people was introduced. The house of Israel as a nation failed to inherit the royal promises made to them. They did not keep God’s commandments and statutes, hence did not qualify to be that “holy nation” which was to be the “seed” by and through which all the families of the earth are to be blessed. (Exod. 19:5,6) We read that Jesus “came unto his own, and his own received him not”; that is, as a nation they did not receive him; but a few individuals of the nation did, and to these he gave power, or authority, to become the “sons of God”—that is, members of a new house, a house of sons, over which Jesus was to be the Head.—John 1:11,12; Heb. 3:6

Jesus said to the nation of Israel that because of unfaithfulness the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a nation which would bring forth the fruits thereof, which they had failed to do. (Matt. 21:43) This new nation is none other than the one mentioned by Peter, saying to all true followers of Jesus, those who are dedicated to do God’s will through Christ, “Ye are … a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” (I Pet. 2:9) Jesus is the High Priest over this royal priesthood of the present age, the Head over this house of sons.

Jesus the First

Jesus was the first in this house of sons and is our Exemplar. One great difference between God’s method of dealing with the house of sons and the way he previously dealt with the house of servants is that throughout this new age, the Gospel Age, the selection and training is done upon an individual basis. When God withdrew the special kingdom privileges from Israel, he did not select another nation to which he could give these privileges but turned to the Gentiles as a whole and is selecting from among all nations those individuals who show their faith in him by devoting their all to the doing of his will, thus, as individuals, becoming his consecrated people.

Now, just as the consecration of the entire house of sons is upon an individual basis, so the symbolic baptism in water, which illustrates the burial of our wills into the will of God through Christ, is also upon an individual basis. And just as Noah, as head of his house, and Moses, as head of his house, shared the typical baptism applying to their houses, so, in order to fulfill all righteousness—in this case the typical lessons of baptism—Jesus, the Head over God’s house of sons, following his consecration to do his Father’s will even to the point of death, asked John to immerse him as a symbol and public demonstration of that which had already occurred in his heart.

And this is why water immersion is important to all consecrated followers of the Master. Just as Jesus submitted to it to fulfill the type, so we, also, should be glad to have this symbol performed on our behalf, not only in fulfillment of the type, but also as a part of our privilege of following in the footsteps of Jesus. When Peter says that we are now saved by baptism, he does not, of course, mean that our salvation depends upon being immersed in water. He is speaking of the true baptism, the full surrender of our wills to God. It is faithfulness to this “covenant by sacrifice” that brings us through to the obtaining of the “great salvation” to “glory and honor and immortality” with Christ. (Ps. 50:5; Heb. 2:3; Rom. 2:7) Nevertheless, if we see that immersion in water is a part of the divine will for us but fail to submit our wills to it because we think it unimportant, it would indicate that our consecration is not as full and complete as it should be, that there is a spirit within us which is holding us back from doing the whole will of God.

Are Ye Able?

Jesus asked those two disciples, James and John, in the presence of the other ten, “Are ye able … to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Matt. 20:22) This is a heart-searching question over which we might all well ponder. Jesus’ true baptism lasted for three and one-half years, from Jordan to the cross. This entire period for him was one of dying—to self and to everything which was contrary to the Heavenly Father’s will.

When Jesus said to his Heavenly Father, “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God,” he agreed to live up to all the typical and prophetic expressions of the Old Testament which outlined for him a course of self-denial and sacrifice that would be completed only when on the cross he would say, “It is finished.” And what a course that was! Daily and hourly he used of his strength that others might be blessed. They did not always appreciate it. Indeed, very few of those healed and otherwise blessed by the Master’s ministry ever returned to give him thanks.

But Jesus was not serving man. It was God whom he was seeking to please; and he did please God. The Heavenly Father said of him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) God was well pleased with Jesus because he knew his integrity, his faithfulness, his full devotion. Yes, Jesus could be depended upon to do his Father’s will, no matter what the emergency might be and no matter what the cost.

And the cost was high. He gave not only of his strength but also of his comfort. He had no certain dwelling place and did not give much consideration to what he would eat or where he would sleep. Aside from his few disciples, the world of his day was against him. They finally plotted against his life and killed him; but he did not resist, for he knew that this was the will of God for him. As the prophet had indicated, Jesus permitted himself to be “brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before [his] shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.”—Isa. 53:7; Acts 8:32

And when the time came for the consummation of Jesus’ sacrifice in actual death, the method by which he died was cruel, and the contradiction of sinners which was heaped upon him severe. But Jesus did not murmur or complain. His heart attitude still was, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Still uppermost in his mind was the thought, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!”—Luke 12:50

Our Exemplar

In Jesus we have our Exemplar; and noting his course in life, we discover what consecration should mean to us. By watching the manner in which he carried out his death baptism, we learn what it is for us to be baptized into his death. If we follow his example we will find that we are out of harmony with the world and that the worldly-minded will look upon us as fanatics, even as they looked upon Jesus; for the servant is not above his Master. If we are faithfully living up to the terms of our consecration, the world will sooner or later manifest its enmity toward us.

And what is the purpose of the death baptism of Jesus and his church? It is the divine arrangement whereby the world is brought back into at-one-ment with God. During the Jewish Age, when God was dealing with his house of servants, the thought of sacrifice was kept prominently before the Israelites. These sacrifices were typical of the “better sacrifices” of Jesus and the church. (Heb. 9:23) Jesus sacrificed his life as the world’s Redeemer. We share in his sacrifice, not as redeemers of the world, but as co-sacrificers, being prepared to live and reign with him as the future blessers of the people.

Paul speaks of this as being “baptized for the dead.” (I Cor. 15:29) It is true, according to the Scriptures, that those who accept the invitation to present their “bodies a living sacrifice” are thereby being baptized into Jesus’ death, and in the divine economy, these sacrifices will accrue to the benefit of the dead world of mankind when they are awakened from the sleep of death during the age to come. (Rom. 12:1) It is thus that the church shares in the great sin-offering work of the present age.

If we fail to see the vision of what it really means to be a Christian, it indicates that we will not appreciate the privilege of sacrifice. And how many professed Christians there are today like that! To most of these it seems sufficient that they live upright lives and attend religious worship occasionally, but they never think of the Christian life in terms of sacrifice. Only a few go forward to sacrifice all they have and are, in God’s service. These gladly risk death and the loss of every earthly thing in order that they may even now walk in newness of life with Jesus, and also lay hold of the glorious hope of immortality and joint-heirship with him beyond the veil.

If Jesus were with us in the flesh today and asked us, as he asked the disciples of his day, “Are ye able … to be baptized with my baptism?” what would our answer be? May it indeed be, as with the disciples back there, “We are able.” (Matt. 20:22) We know that we are not able in our own strength; but God will give us the needed help, and in the power of his might we can go forward sacrificing the flesh and its interests that thus the heavenly hopes may shine more bright and clear.

A Good Conscience

In our text the apostle goes out of his way to explain that we cannot attain salvation merely by putting away the filth of the flesh; but in addition there must be the “answer of a good conscience” toward God. And what does our conscience say to us in view of the wondrous plan of God which has been revealed to us through his Word? Paul indicates what this answer should be when he says that upon discovering that Christ died for all because all were dead, we decide that we have no right any longer to live unto ourselves, “but unto him which died for [us], and rose again.”—II Cor. 5:14,15

This is the spirit of consecration, the giving of our all in the service of our God and of our elder Brother, who gave all for us. Such an attitude of consecration is the only legitimate answer of a good conscience. When the eyes of our understanding have been opened to see the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love for us and for the whole world, our conscience will not be satisfied with anything short of a full surrender of our wills to the will of God.

It is this spirit of full consecration that leads us into sacrificial death with Jesus and, through death with him, to life in the kingdom. Having thus consecrated our lives unto death, let us not seek to save our human lives by holding back from sacrifice; but let us be willing to follow on to know Christ by being made conformable unto his death, if by any means we may share in the power and glory of his resurrection.—Phil. 3:10,11

Dawn Bible Students Association
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