A Christian friend of mine asked me a question recently. He knew that I believe that those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved, even if they haven't gone through the ritual of water baptism, and he had found an interesting verse, so he asked: “In 1 Peter 3, Peter says (that) baptism saves you. How do you explain this?”
“There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 3:21 (NKJV)
It was a good question, so I'm going to write a blog that summarizes my answer to that question. First of all, there are at least three baptisms mentioned in the Bible:
1 – Water Baptism
Baptism was first introduced by the forerunner for Christ, that is, John the Baptist. This was water baptism in the river Jordan, and yet John did not preach that baptism would in some way save people. Rather, repentance – the internal quality of the heart – was the important part of the situation. John the Baptist used physical baptism as an analogy that helps to picture and symbolize a more important baptism which was yet to come:
“I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Matthew 3:11
Water baptism, according to John, was a symbol, a type, of something somehow larger - more meaningful, important. Water baptism, then, is a type (a miniature model) which helps us to understand the antitype – the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Even after the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, all believers are commanded to obey God and be physically baptized.
2 – Baptism of the Holy Spirit
As we have already established by the passages in Matthew 3 and Mark 1, there is a baptism of the Holy Spirit. John's prophecy was fulfilled after Christ's ascent ion, and we read about it in Acts 2, when the followers of Christ were filled with the Holy Spirit. And from then on, the Holy Spirit was given to all who believe in the Lord Jesus.
“Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Acts 10:47
“Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Acts 11:16
“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” Ephesians 1:13
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” Titus 3:5
Nowhere in the New Testament do we read about any exceptions, that is, any believers who are not filled with and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Everyone who is saved through belief in Jesus Christ is baptized with the Holy Spirit, and in fact we read that God saves us *through* the baptism(washing of regeneration and renewing) of the Holy Spirit.
3 – Baptism into Christ
My favorite passage about baptism is taken from Romans 6, where we read Paul's description of conversion this way:
"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
When we receive salvation, we aren't just clothed with the righteousness of Christ, we are actually baptized into Christ. If He hadn't been raised from the dead, we'd ALL be dead in the water. And again, everyone who is saved through belief in Jesus Christ is baptized into Christ Jesus and into His death and resurrection.
With all of this in mind, we look at the verse in 1 Peter 3, and notice three things:
- We are saved *through* the baptism mentioned
- The baptism he is speaking of is the antitype – the thing that is foreshadowed by an earlier symbol of type
- It does not have to do with physical contact with water, but rather an internal good conscience
The third observation definitely hints at the fact that the verse is not referring to physical water baptism, and the second observation reminds us of what John the Baptist kept talking about. He referred again and again to a coming antitype: that of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The first observation could go with either baptism into Christ Jesus of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, since both are a necessary part of salvation. Thus, the baptism in 1 Peter is not referring to immersion in water, but to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and/or being baptized into Christ.
So far, we've just answered one question: What type of baptism does the verse in 1 Peter refer to, when it speaks of the antitype of baptism that saves us? But here's another question: Is water baptism required for salvation?
First of all, we know that a person absolutely *can* be saved without being physically baptized in water. This can be said with absolute certainly because it comes from the words of Christ Himself, when He gave this promise to the thief on the cross next to him (who had not been physically baptized):
“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
So, for sure, salvation CAN happen without physical baptism. Similarly, I read a story in an old Fox's Book of Martyrs type book one true story, which was titled “Baptism by Fire” in the book. The story told of three new believers who had just accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior and were on their way to church to be baptized. On their way, they were captured by persecutors and were burned at the stake, and died. John had spoken of how the coming Christ would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,” and for these three, fire was the only type of physical baptism they received. Yet surely, no one would doubt that after they were murdered for naming the name of Christ, they went to be with their Lord.
If a person would like to be saved, and to name Jesus as Lord(Boss) and Savior, he or she is commanded to believe and to obey the Lord in physical baptism. So, for those who want to submit to God, two commands are given – the command to believe, and the command to be baptized. Two commands. But which guarantees salvation, or must both be done before salvation?
As we established previously, a person can be saved without both being done – that is, without water baptism. The Bible also explicitly spells out that if we follow the first command (believe in the Lord Jesus Christ), we are guaranteed salvation.
“So they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.'” Acts 16:31
“...if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
Here we see that if a person believes, they are promised salvation (by God, who cannot lie). Similarly, we see that the condition of condemnation is specifically spelled out as unbelief:
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:18
To please the Lord, you should do two things: believe and be baptized. If you do one thing, though, believing in Christ as Savior and Lord(Boss) of your life, you are promised salvation. What advantage does baptism have? Why was it commanded at all? Obviously, it's primarily given as a type to help us understand baptism into Christ and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Also, obeying Jesus by being baptized is a first step of public obedience to one's Lord. Finally, like a wedding and like marriage rings, baptism is public identification of oneself with Jesus Christ. Spiritually, we are baptized into Christ, and physically we represent that union with water baptism.