How can you identify Christians? They have been baptized, and 1 Peter 3:18-22 uses some strong language to describe what your baptism means. We need to take Biblical language seriously. What does Peter mean when he speaks of “baptism that now saves you”?
Christ died for you. Once for all the righteous died for the unrighteous. Christ’s death is unique. It cannot be repeated. Christ died once for all. His death is sufficient. It accomplished what it set out to do. Christ died because of sins. It was your rebellion and disobedience that made his suffering and death necessary. He died in your place. The substitutionary atonement is at the heart of the gospel. You baptism is a seal of your union with Christ as he died in your place. You were buried with him in baptism, Romans 6. Your baptism is not only your expressing trust in Christ. It is God declaring that you belong to him.
What purpose did Christ have in dying for you? Christ died to bring you to God. Salvation is not just a matter of relieving you of the consequences and punishment of your sins. It has as its goal fellowship with God. The idea of a “carnal Christian,” saved, but uninterested in serving God, is a myth.
Peter doesn’t stop with the death of Christ. You are saved by Christ’s resurrection. By the Spirit Christ was made alive. Christ died in the flesh (body). But he was made alive by the Spirit. The Spirit is the agent in Christ’s resurrection, see Romans 1:3,4; 8:11; 1 Timothy 3:16. The Spirit is life-giving, 1 Corinthians 15:45. Christ preached to the spirits in prison. The text is a difficult one. Christ’s Spirit spoke through the prophets, 1 Peter 1:10,11. Here Christ, by the Spirit, spoke to Noah’s generation–through Noah. See 2 Peter 2:5. Noah’s life and words during the construction of the ark were God’s patient call to repentance. The patience of God in Noah’s day parallels his patience today. Disobedience was punished as the flood covered sinful mankind. The spirits are now in the prison of hell. As you suffer unjustly, remember that God is in final control. He has the last word!
Baptism is the sign and seal of you union with the risen Lord. If your baptism is a sign of having died with Christ, it is even more a sign of having been raised with him. “Baptism is the sign and pledge and seal that God’s mercy is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him and His righteousness unto children’s children.” (John Murray, Christian Baptism, p. 92). Salvation came to Noah through water. Salvation comes to you through the reality that baptism symbolizes. The administration of water alone never saves. Notice how Peter emphasizes the connection with the resurrection of Christ. Baptism is a symbol, an “antitype,” a figure. But it is not just a figure. It is a means of grace that the sovereign Holy Spirit uses build up believers. Therefore reflect on your baptism. To use the language of the Larger Catechism, “improve your baptism.” Baptism is a sign and seal of your union with Christ in his death and resurrection. Remember that Christ’s triumph is yours. As the risen, ascended Lord his is victorious. You share in his victory.
The connection between the sacrament and the reality it represents is so close that language can sometimes be interchanged. Don’t let the sign distract you from the reality, which is Christ. But don’t neglect the reality which is sealed to you in the sign. Live this week as someone who has been marked by God with the sign of baptism.