1Pe 3:21-22 “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: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”
Prior to this verse of scripture, Peter has just spoken of Noah and his family and how they were saved by water. He then goes on to tell us that we have a counterpart (like figure) to that now. The Greek word translated as “save,” according to Strong’s, carries the idea “to save, that is, deliver or protect (literally or figuratively): – heal, preserve, save (self), do well, be (make) whole.” There are those that believe water baptism is essential to us living with God in eternity, but Peter is very careful to rightly divide the word of truth in these scriptures.
Water baptism does not put away the filth of the flesh. The word “not” is referred to in Strong’s as “the absolutely negative adverb.” In other words, there is no circumstance where this act will ever put away the depravity (filth of the flesh) of man. Water baptism will not and cannot cleanse us from our sins: only the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient for that. Jesus stated on one occasion that the Father always heard Him (Joh 11:42). Jesus prayed in the garden for the suffering of the cross to pass from Him if there was any other way. Do you not think the Father would have spared Him from the cross if water would do the job?
Water baptism will not cleanse us from our sins, but Peter tells us that it is the answer of a good conscience toward God. Keep in mind that Peter’s focus in this epistle is instruction on how resident foreigners (strangers) are to conduct themselves before God and the disobedient. He is giving counsel to us on our behavior so that God will be glorified. God will put the willfully disbelieving to silence through His work in the lives of His obedient children. Water baptism is a work of obedience when, and only when, we are moved to this act by the Spirit of God through our understanding of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
I believe the only baptism that adds people to the Church is the baptism of the Holy Ghost. God is the only one that can add to the Church. If God has not added an individual to the Church, then being dipped in the water is meaningless. Have you ever seen someone baptized in water whose daily walk never changed or they never showed up to the worship service again? They were only baptized because of peer pressure, fear of some supposed dire consequence, or hope of some type of reward. There were men like this who showed up for John to baptize them, and he referred to them as a generation of vipers. Water baptism is not the cause of change in a man’s life.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit changes us, and we may then desire water baptism as a profession of our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. When He was resurrected, He ascended into heaven and is on the right hand of God. Angels, authorities, and powers are under His rule. He will never again suffer being bound by time, confined to a body of flesh, being made sin for us, or dying on a cross. When our faith and confidence is grounded in Him, we then understand that God has added us to the Church.
Knowing that God has loved us and added us to the body of His only begotten Son (1Co 12:27) brings us a good conscience toward Him. Water baptism is our response (answer) to Him for that good conscience. Just as Jesus’ existence changed after His resurrection, so should ours. He went into heaven; we are called into heavenly places in Him. He is on the right hand of God; we know we are in Him. Angels and authorities and powers were made subject to Him; the message we bring with our lives, our liberty, and the strength of our service are made subject to the life of Christ that we bear in these mortal bodies.
May God bless us to know that only the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sin, only He adds to the church, and water baptism is the answer of a good conscience!