Tag Archives: Dr. Steve Orr

A Call to Arms

1 Peter 4:1-6

We’re beginning to look at a new chapter today and it begins with what we might consider to be “a call to arms”. We see that because, in verse 1, Peter gives another one of his imperatives by saying “arm yourselves”. He’s not alone in using that sort of language. In Ephesians 6 Paul urges his readers to “Put on the whole armor of God” and he speaks in several other places of armour and taking up weapons. I wonder what sort of picture that conjures up in your mind. It sounds quite militaristic, doesn’t it? You perhaps think of taking up weapons to defend ourselves against an enemy or even to attack an enemy. At the very least, it suggests facing a struggle. It suggests hard work and discipline. This isn’t an inappropriate picture because, although being a Christian involves great joy and confidence, in this life it also involves effort and facing hardship because we are under attack from the world, the flesh and the Devil.

1 Peter - Steve Orr

Peter hasn’t suddenly issued this call to arms out of the blue. We mustn’t think that chapter 4 issomehow separated from chapter 3. You see, Peter begins chapter 4 by saying: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh”. Saying that “Christ suffered in the flesh” is a reiteration of what he’d said in chapter 3. In verse 18 of chapter 3 he’d said “For Christ also suffered” and Peter went on to say that He’d done so by “being put to death in the flesh”. The word “therefore” in our passage indicates that he’s drawing a conclusion from the fact that “Christ suffered in the flesh”. Now, Peter had mentioned Christ’s suffering in the flesh in the context of having spoken of believers suffering “for righteousness sake” and it being “better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil”. That’s what led on to him saying that “Christ suffered in the flesh” and the chapter went on to conclude that His suffering resulted in the fact that He “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him”. The point was that Christ’s suffering was the pathway to His victory and exaltation.

So, it’s in view of that context, that Peter goes on to issue what we might consider to be “a call to arms”. What does he mean by saying that believers in Christ are to arm themselves? Well, from verses 1 to 6 of chapter 4 we can see five points in connection with this call to “arm yourselves”:

The requirement for arming ourselves

The result of arming ourselves

The reason for arming ourselves

The response to us arming ourselves

The reassurances in arming ourselves

The requirement for arming ourselves

The first and most obvious question is: with what are we to arm ourselves? What does this arming ourselves require? It should go without saying that Peter does not have any sort of physical weapons in mind. He’d learnt that lesson first hand from Jesus. You’ll remember what Peter did when the mob was about to arrest Jesus. We read in John 18v10-11: “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus)”. Was Jesus grateful to Peter for defending Him in that way? Did Jesus commend him for it? No! The text continues by saying: “So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?””. Jesus made it clear that the use of a physical weapon was not appropriate. Paul also makes it clear that the weapons we are to use are not physical weapons. He said in 2 Corinthians 10v3-4: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds”.

If we’re not being called to arm ourselves with physical weapons what are we to arm ourselves with? Dating back to 1938 there was a pseudo-Christian movement known as “Moral Re-armament”. It promoted the idea of living according to four moral absolutes of purity, unselfishness, honesty, and love as the way to defend ourselves against warfare. Did that movement perhaps capture the sense of what Peter had in mind when he urged us to arm ourselves? Are we to arm ourselves with morality? Well, commendable though such aspirations might seem to be, Biblical teaching is always concerned with more than mere, outward morality. The Biblical emphasis is always that any real change and any real power comes from what God works within us and not from any attempts that we make to be externally moral.

So, with what weapon does Peter want us to arm ourselves? We see from the text that it’s neither a physical weapon nor morality. Rather, he says: “arm yourselves with the same way of thinking. The NIV puts it as: “arm yourselves also with the same attitude. So, we’re to arm ourselves with a “way of thinking” or an “attitude”. Now, if you hear that someone has “an attitude” that often has quite negative connotations, doesn’t it? It either means that their behaviour tends to be arrogant and disrespectful or that they have a surly, negative outlook on most things, perhaps a bit like Kevin the Teenager in the television programme “Harry Enfield and Chums”. Clearly, we’re no more to arm ourselves in that way than we are to arm ourselves with physical weapons or morality.

Saying that we’re to arm ourselves with a “way of thinking” or an “attitude” is saying that we’re to arm ourselves with a particular outlook. You might remember a song that was popular back in the 1980’s that went “don’t worry, be happy”? Is that the outlook that Peter was encouraging? Always look on the bright side of life. The power of positive thinking is much vaunted in our society, isn’t it? Is that the “way of thinking” or “attitude” that we’re exhorted to arm ourselves with? Are we to force ourselves to be optimistic come what may? Well, notice that Peter is speaking of the same way of thinking” or the same attitude”. So, we need to answer the question “the same as what”? Well, Peter began the verse by saying “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh”. The point is that since Jesus suffered, we, as His people should expect to suffer too. Peter has already made that clear in chapter 3 but now he’s going on to say that our attitude towards such suffering should be the same as Jesus’ attitude to suffering. What was His attitude towards suffering? Well, He not only expected it, He accepted it and even embraced it. In fact, He chose it. Suffering wasn’t simply something that happened to Him. He deliberately chose it. He said in John 10v18: “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord”. We’ve already seen that He said to Peter: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”. You see His attitude. There was a determination to face the suffering that was in store for Him. He had no intention of trying to avoid it. We see the same emphasis in Matthew’s account of the same event. In Matthew 26v52-53, we read that Jesus said: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”. You see, Jesus could have been defended infinitely more effectively than any defence that Peter could attempt but He deliberately chose not to call upon the resources that were at His disposal. It would have been very easy for Him to avoid suffering but He deliberately chose to face it. To advocates of modern day positive thinking that would sound rather defeatist or fatalistic or even downright stupid. However, the reality is that positive thinking usually has no sound basis and often amounts to nothing more that unrealistic wishful thinking. In contrast, Jesus was realistic about His suffering and He could embrace it positively. Why? Not because of helpless defeatism. Not on the basis of wishful thinking but because He knew that His Father was at work in all that was happening. He said: “shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”.

So, it’s not the power of positive thinking that’s being encouraged but the power of realistic thinking in the light of the fact that our loving heavenly Father is in control and is working out all things for our good. Just as soldiers are prepared for battle, we as Christians are to be prepared for suffering. We are to arm ourselves with the knowledge that suffering will come and with the disposition to face it with confidence because we know that God is in control. That is to be our “way of thinking”. That is to be our “attitude”.

The result of arming ourselves

Or, you could ask “what are we arming ourselves against”? Well, Peter continues by saying: “for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin”. He’s saying that we’re to arm ourselves with this attitude that we will positively embrace suffering, even if we’re suffering for doing what is right, because being willing to suffer in that way shows that we have “ceased from sin” or, as the NIV puts it, “done with sin”.

Now, we must be careful to not misunderstand this. Firstly, Peter is not saying that our own suffering in some way deals with our sin or gets rid of our sin or stops us from sinning. Suffering as such is no defence against sin. Make no mistake that it is the shed blood of Christ that cleanses us from sin and it is the work of the Holy Spirit within us that enables us to sin less so that we grow in holiness. Secondly, we must not think that Peter is talking about sinless perfection. The Bible is very clear that we can never expect to be completely without sin in this life. So, when Peter says “ceased from sin” or “done with sin” he doesn’t mean “never to sin in any way again”.

In that case, what does Peter mean when he speaks of having “ceased from sin”? Well, he goes on to clarify that in verse 2 where he says: “so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God”. By “the rest of the time in the flesh” I think he means the rest of your earthly life and he’s talking about a change in the way that you live that life. He says that you live “no longer for human passions”. The words “no longer” indicate that “human passions” are what used to motivate you but they don’t any more. Peter has already alluded to that in the letter. In chapter 1 verses 14 and 15 he said: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct”. You see, those passions dominated a believer’s former self but things have changed. Then, in chapter 2 verse 11 he said: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul”. You see, to have “ceased from sin” is to live “no longer for human passions”. Instead of being motivated by sinful, human desires it’s to be motivated by the desire to do “the will of God”. Arming yourself with the willingness and readiness to “suffer for righteousness’ sake” or to “suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will” enables you to resist “human passions” or “abstain from the passions of the flesh”. It enables you to defend yourself against “the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” and, instead, live “for the will of God”.

How does that work? I think the point is that if you have the attitude that you are willing to “suffer for righteousness’ sake” you are showing your commitment to doing “the will of God”. If being faithful to doing “the will of God” leads to suffering and you’re not prepared to suffer what does that say about your commitment? If you’re only prepared to do the will of God so long as it’s easy and painless then “human passions” are still in control. If you’re willing to suffer for the sake of God and the gospel you have armed yourself against the attack of “human passions”.

Well, that’s the result of arming ourselves. Next, let’s consider:

The reason for arming ourselves

We read in verse 3: “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do”. It begins with the word “For” so Peter is now giving a reason for arming ourselves with the “way of thinking” that is willing to suffer for the sake of the Father as Jesus did. What reason does he give for doing that? Well, the ESV says “the time that is past suffices” or the NIV says “you have spent enough time”. In other words, enough is enough! You have spent enough time doing what? Well, the ESV says “doing what the Gentiles want to do” and the NIV says “doing what pagans choose to do”. As we’ve seen previously in the letter, by “Gentiles” or “pagans” Peter means unbelievers. That’s his way of referring to those who have not come to faith in Christ as their Saviour. Now, the expression “what the Gentiles want to do” or “what pagans choose to do” should literally be translated as “the will of the Gentiles” because it’s the same Greek word here as was used in verse 2 for “the will of God”. Peter goes on to give some examples of what “the Gentiles want to do”. He mentions: “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry”. Those are some examples of living “for human passions”. That’s what dominated you when you were an unbeliever and it’s completely at odds with doing “the will of God”.

The point that Peter is stressing as a reason for arming ourselves is that we spent more than enough time living in that way before we came to Christ. Even if you came to Christ very early on in your life you spent too long living for self. It was too much. It was more than enough. In coming to Christ, we say “no more”. We renounce that old way of life. We want to make a clean break with sin. So, we need to arm ourselves against slipping back to living “for human passions”. We do that by being ready to suffer for “the will of God”.

So, that’s the reason Peter gives us for arming ourselves. Next, let’s consider:

The response to us arming ourselves

In other words, how can we expect those around us to react to us arming ourselves with a determination to suffer for doing the will of God rather than joining them in doing what they want to do as they follow the dictates of their “human passions”. Well, we see a two-fold response in verse 4.

Firstly, we read: “With respect to this they are surprised. They think it strange. They can’t comprehend your behaviour. What are they surprised about? Well, according to the ESV, they’re surprised that “you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery”. The phrase “join them” is actually a bit weak. The Greek word actually means to rush along with others. It’s to run with the pack. It’s to be taken up with the thrill of the herd mentality. It’s the idea of rushing headlong with reckless abandon or even to plunge into something. The NIV picks up on that idea by saying: “They think it strange that you do not plunge with them”. The picture that this conjures up in my mind is that of lemmings running over the cliff edge and plunging into the sea. You see, they’re so taken up with the thrill of being part of that charging hoard that they can’t comprehend that anyone would not want to join them. It just seems to be the obvious thing to do.

What does Peter see unbelievers plunging into? Well, he describes it as a “flood of debauchery” or a “flood of dissipation”. The word “plunge” fits well with the fact that Peter speaks of entering a “flood” doesn’t it? The image of a flood perhaps indicates the idea of an excess. It perhaps also suggests something that is widespread. The idea is that this “debauchery” or “dissipation” is commonplace. It seems to be the norm, so, to those who are caught up in it, it is incredible that anyone wouldn’t join in. So, for someone to be willing to suffer for doing the will of God rather than join in the fun and thrill of hedonistically following their passions, seems very strange to them. They are surprised to say the least. But, their response doesn’t stop at that.

Secondly, we see that Peter goes on to say: “and they malign you” or “and they heap abuse on you”. You see, their response quickly goes from surprise to hostility. Because they find it strange they go on the offensive. That’s a very common response to people who are different or not understood isn’t it? Think of the way in which schoolchildren might cruelly make fun of a handicapped classmate. Why? It’s because they’re different and they can’t understand that difference. Well, as Christians we’re different and the world can’t understand that difference so it responds with hostility. Saying that “they malign you” or “heap abuse on you” suggests that the opposition primarily takes the form of verbal abuse. Peter has already mentioned that back in 1 Peter 2v12 where he said: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation”. That being spoken against is part of the suffering that we are to willingly bear. Remember that Peter said in 1 Peter 3v14-17: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil”.

Finally, let us consider:

The reassurances in arming ourselves

We see two reassurances in verses 5 and 6. Firstly, in verse 5, Peter goes on to say: “they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead”. By “they” he means those who live “for human passions” and indulge in the ensuing “flood of debauchery” and “malign” believers for being different and not joining with them. They might seem to be whooping it up and having good time. They might seem to be dominant and intimidating but we have the reassurance that the tables will be turned because they will one day have to “give account” to God. That’s courtroom language and it refers to the final judgement because it speaks of “him who is ready to judge the living and the dead”. That He will “judge the living and the dead” suggests that this judgement is inescapable. Everyone who has ever lived will stand before God as judge on that day. That He is ready to judge” suggests that this judgement could come at any time. The reassurance that stems from recognising that the final judgement is coming lies in knowing that those who malign us will eventually get their comeuppance. Justice will be done. That thought encourages us to arm ourselves with the willingness to suffer for the sake of God’s will in this life.

The second reassurance lies in the words that we find in verse 6 where Peter says: “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does”.

As with some previous passages in the letter, these words are difficult to understand. For the sake of time, I’m not going to delve into them in detail. I think that if we just grasp the gist of Peter’s words here we’ll quickly see how they provide a reassurance as we arm ourselves with the readiness to suffer for Christ’s sake.

The verse begins by saying: “For this is why the gospel was preached”. The word “For” is pointing back to verse 5 where Peter had been speaking about the final judgement. You see, the gospel exists because there is to be a final judgement. That’s why the gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ is needed. That’s why God provided it and it’s why that gospel message is preached. It’s so that those who believe can face the judgement and not be condemned. Peter goes on to say: “even to those who are dead”. By “those who are dead”, he meant “those who are now dead”. The gospel had been preached to them but, at the time of Peter writing the letter, they had died. They were then physically dead. Some of them might even have died as a direct result of persecution.

You can imagine that some of Peter’s readers could well have found themselves wondering “what’s the point in us being willing to suffer for Christ if we just end up dying in the same way as everyone else anyway?” Well, Peter’s next word is “that” or “so that” in the NIV. That’s a purpose clause so Peter is going on to explain what the preaching of the gospel achieves for those who receive it. Before stating that purpose he inserts the words “though judged in the flesh the way people are”. You see, before stating what the preaching of the gospel achieves, he tells us what it does not achieve. It does not enable anyone to escape being “judged in the flesh the way people are”. What does that mean? I think it refers to the physical death which came into the world as a judgement for Adam’s sin. Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, is subject to that physical death unless they happen to be alive when Jesus returns. The gospel does not save people from physical death. So, why is the gospel preached to people? Peter said that it’s so that “they might live in the spirit the way God does”. You see, although we face physical death just as unbelievers do, when it comes to the final judgement we won’t be condemned as unbelievers will be. We will: “live in the spirit the way God does”. We look forward to eternal, spiritual life. Those who had heard and received the gospel and had died might seem to have been judged like everyone else but they haven’t. They are alive forevermore. They are with the Lord. What a staggering thought! They live “the way God does”. They live an eternal, holy, glorious life! So, we can be reassured that arming ourselves with a willingness to suffer for Christ in this life is not a foolish thing to do. Paul said in Romans 8v18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”.

In 2 Corinthians 4v16-18 he said: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal”.

So, arm yourselves with the willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ. Compared with the “eternal weight of glory” that Jesus has secured for us any such suffering is but a “light momentary affliction”.



The Appeal of Baptism

1 Peter 3:21-22

Last time we looked at the very difficult passage in 1 Peter 3v18-20 where we read: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water”.

1 Peter - Steve OrrIt’s a passage that Roman Catholics would use to support their mistaken doctrine of purgatory. We didn’t allow ourselves beside tracked by that particular red herring. Rather, we did our best to work out what the passage means and concluded that it’s actually saying that through Jesus’ death on the cross, although His body died, His spirit was made even more alive. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15v45 Jesus became a life-giving spirit” in that His gospel, with its power to give new life and save, became a reality through His work on the cross. As such, He then “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison”. We worked out that that meant that He then proclaimed the gospel of liberty to sinners. He did that and continues to do so through the witness and preaching of His church upon which He has poured the Holy Spirit.


Moving on from there the passage continues to be quite difficult to understand. We read in v21-22: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him”.

That passage is clearly about baptism and it is sometimes used to support another false doctrine. That doctrine is known as “baptismal regeneration” and it is the teaching, held by Roman Catholicism and some others, that baptism is necessary for salvation because they maintain that it is the means of regeneration. If that is so, administering baptism almost mechanically bestows saving grace upon people, in which case, we don’t need to preach the gospel and encourage people to come to faith in Christ. We just need to get them dunked and that’s job done!

Let’s see what Peter has to say about baptism. In verse 21 we can identify two basic points about baptism. Firstly, we see Peter presents “Baptism Exemplified” and then we see him present “Baptism Explained”. So, let’s start by looking at what Peter had to say about:

Baptism Exemplified

We see that because verse 21 begins, in the ESV, by saying “Baptism, which corresponds to this”. The NIV has “and this water symbolises baptism” but the word “water” is not actually in the Greek text and rather than “this symbolises baptism” the text actually says “baptism is symbolised by this”. The idea is that baptism has been pre-figured by something. There has already been an example of something similar. Clearly, in saying “Baptism, which corresponds to this or “this symbolises baptism” Peter is referring back to what he’d just said in the previous verse. He’d been talking about the days of Noah and the ark “in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water”. What is the correspondence or connection between baptism and what happened then? Some would be quick to say that the connection is “water”. That seems to be the obvious common factor and it’s what the NIV suggests. However, if you give it a moment’s thought you’ll quickly realise that that doesn’t actually make very good sense. Although baptism and the flood both involve water, there isn’t really a good correspondence between baptism and the water of the flood. Why do I say that? Well, Peter is going to say that “Baptism …….. now saves you”. We’ll think about the sense in which that is true in a while but, for now, it’s difficult to see any sense in which the water of the flood saved Noah and his companions. The fact is that the flood was sent as God’s judgement upon the sinful people of Noah’s day. It was sent to destroy them and that’s exactly what it did. The fact that Noah and his companions were saved from the flood certainly wasn’t because of the water. The water didn’t save them. Rather, that’s what they were saved from. What saved them was the ark that God provided. So, in saying that they “were brought safely through water”, Peter wasn’t saying that they were saved by means of the water. He was saying that, as a result of being in the ark, they came safely through the turbulent, destructive water of judgement. So, they “were brought safely through water” or “saved through water”. You could think of it in terms of being saved from the water by means of the ark that God provided.

Of course, baptism involves passing through water, so, it seems to me that the point of correspondence between baptism and what happened in Noah’s day is the idea of being “brought safely through water” or “saved through water” by means of something else. Now, of course, the water that is used in baptism isn’t actually dangerous or destructive. It’s clean, calm water. At worst, it might be a bit too cold for comfort. But, by relating baptism to what happened at the time of the flood, Peter is saying, maybe among other things, that the water in baptism represents the judgement and punishment that we deserve as sinners. Baptism itself then represents being saved from that judgement and punishment.

So, with that example as helpful background, let us go on to look at what Peter had to say about:

Baptism Explained

According to one commentator: “1 Peter 3:21 is the nearest approach to a definition of baptism that the New Testament affords”. Peter’s explanation of baptism is given in the words: “Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

Now the sentence construction there is such that it’s very easy to miss the thrust of what is actually being said. The words “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience” are really in parenthesis. That’s not to say that they aren’t important but they are an aside. They are in addition to the main thrust. They are providing clarification. So, if you take those words away for a moment the main thrust of what Peter is saying becomes much more evident. That is: “Baptism now saves you ….. through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

Firstly, notice that Peter says: “Baptism now saves you. So, this is personal. His readers were believers in Christ. As such they were saved and they had been baptised. This isn’t just theoretical. Peter is referring to their own experience.

Secondly, let’s make sure that we don’t overlook that little word “now”. It would have made perfectly good sense had Peter have said “Baptism saves you ….. through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” but he said “Baptism now saves you ….. through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. Why did he make a point of saying that? You might think that he just means in his day and our day rather than in Noah’s day but the point is that there is a huge difference between now and then. In Noah’s day, God’s judgement took the form of sinful people being cast out of His presence by means of the physical destruction inflicted by the flood. Noah and his companions “were brought safely through water” or “saved through water” because they were saved from that physical destruction by means of a physical ark that God provided. Now, that physical destruction was a foreshadowing of the eternal judgement to come and no mere boat will save anyone from that. The point is that there is now something that can save from that judgement to come. Back in verse 18 Peter said: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God”. You see, Jesus has now suffered in our place for our sins to “bring us to God”. He is our ark who can bring us safely out of judgement. His resurrection is the proof and vindication of what He has done. It demonstrates that He has come through judgement safely and, because He did that in our place and on our behalf, we are in Him just as Noah and his companions were in the ark and we are brought safely out of judgement and back to God just as surely as Noah and his companions “were brought safely through water”.

So, be in no doubt, it isn’t baptism itself that saves. It’s Christ who saves us through His death on the cross. Paul alludes to baptism in Colossians 2v12-15 where he says: “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him”. You see, baptism represents our being in Christ. It’s not baptism that saves. We’re saved by being in Christ in His death and resurrection. It’s “through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead”. We see that “God made us alive together with him”. We see that God has “forgiven us all our trespasses” because Christ bore them on the cross for us. Our salvation is entirely God’s doing through the work of Christ.

That being the case, in what sense is it true to say that “Baptism now saves you”? How does it work? What is the connection between being baptised and being saved through the resurrection of Jesus? Well, Peter explains that by means of those words in parenthesis and he’s careful to make it absolutely clear by means of a contrast. You’ll see those words “not” and “but”. He shows how it doesn’t work as well as how it does work to make absolutely sure that there’s no room for misunderstanding.

So, firstly, he says that it’s “not as a removal of dirt from the body”. The removal of dirt from the body is the natural effect of being immersed in water but Peter is saying that that is not the point of what’s going on in baptism. That immediately tells us that there is nothing physical that is having an effect. In the case of Noah and the others they “were brought safely through water” by being physically present in a physical ark but the physical act of being baptised does not have a similar effect. As an aside it’s worth noting that, although the mode of baptism isn’t particularly the focus of attention here, it does seem to suggest that Peter was thinking in terms of baptism being by immersion. The sprinkling of a few drops of water would hardly bring the idea of the “removal of dirt from the body” to mind.

It’s interesting to note that the Greek word that has been translated as “body” here is “sarx”. Now that word is usually translated as “flesh” and it speaks of the fallen, corrupted human nature. So, Peter is not only saying that baptism is not about producing physical cleansing. He’s saying that it doesn’t produce moral or spiritual cleansing either. Being baptised doesn’t magically bring about a moral transformation. Peter is really saying that baptism is neither mechanical nor mystical.

So, what is baptism about then? How are we to understand what’s going on? Well, Peter goes on to say: “but as an appeal to God for a good conscience”. The NIV translates it as: “the pledge of a clear conscience towards God”. Clearly, the words “appeal” and “pledge” have quite different meanings. If the word is “appeal” it would mean “ask”, “request” or could even be as strong as “demand”. In that case, it would speak of our need and dependence and placing our confidence in someone else. If the word is “pledge” it would mean something like “promise” or “commitment”. In that case, it would speak our confidence in ourselves to deliver. The Greek word in question could have either of those two meanings in ancient Greek but it only occurs on this one occasion in the New Testament so we can’t look to other New Testament usage to help us. How are we to ascertain which meaning Peter intended? To do so, we need to consider what is either being appealed for or pledged. We see that to be “a good conscience” or “a clear conscience towards God”. That’s the idea of being able to stand before God without shame and without fear. It’s the idea of being confident that we are acceptable to Him.

Once you see that, the intended sense becomes obvious, doesn’t it? We can’t promise God that we’ll be worthy. We can’t promise to love, honour, obey and serve Him with all our hearts, minds and souls as we should. It’s hard to imagine a promise that would be more rash and deluded. No, we must appeal to Him. We must ask Him to give us the “good conscience” that He looks for and that we need. The wonderful thing is that although we fall so helplessly short of what He requires, we don’t have to “appeal to God for a good conscience” in a sort of panicky desperation. Sometimes, when someone has been found guilty of a crime they’ll go on to the Court of Appeal. To do that there has to be a basis for that appeal such as an alleged irregularity in the original trial or some new evidence having since come to light. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the appeal will succeed. The verdict could go either way so it’s a tense and uncertain situation for the defendant.

We stand guilty before God but we can appeal to Him for a good conscience and we can do so with confidence of a successful outcome. The basis of that appeal is not that there was an irregularity in the original trial because that was conducted perfectly by the book by the judge who is infallible. The basis of that appeal is not that there is new evidence to consider. Any new evidence is every bit as damning as any previous evidence. Yet we can make an appeal with absolute confidence because the basis of the appeal is Jesus and what He has done in dying on the cross for us.

We read in Hebrews 9v14: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God”. You see, we plead the blood of Christ to purify our consciences.

We read in Hebrews 10v19-23: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 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 with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful”. What confidence is being expressed there! How come? Because we’ve been cleansed from an evil conscience by the blood of Christ.

He is the perfect and certain ground for appeal. That’s how “Baptism now saves you ….. through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. It’s not because the water is either naturally or supernaturally doing anything. It’s not because of the ritual or ceremony or any words spoken in conjunction with it. It saves solely because it represents an appeal to God on the basis of the saving work of Christ that came to completion when He rose from the dead. To quote John Piper: “Baptism is an outward expression of a spiritual, inward appeal to God for cleansing. In other words, baptism is a way of saying to God: “I trust you to apply the death of Jesus to me for my sins and to bring me through death and judgment into new and everlasting life through the resurrection of Jesus””. From that it follows that baptism can only be for believers. Apart from faith in Christ it is nothing more than an empty, meaningless, outward ritual.

So, baptism saves solely and simply because it is an appeal of faith. Paul said in Romans 10v13: “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved””. Baptism is such a calling on the Lord. It is an appeal to Him for forgiveness of sin and newness of life on the basis of the work of our risen Saviour. It’s precisely for that reason that baptism is for believers. In the absence of belief and faith in Christ no such appeal is being made to God. So, someone might be immersed in water but it’s not Christian baptism unless it is being done as an outward expression of a personal, Christ dependent “appeal to God for a good conscience”.

We’ll close by briefly looking at verse 22. Having said that “Baptism now saves you ….. through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” Peter goes on to say of the risen Christ: “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him”. In the context of today’s sermon that might sound a bit like a postscript but in the context of the chapter it provides a glorious climax. It’s a grand finale.

You sometimes hear the question asked “Where are they now?” Almost invariably, that question is being asked of people who were once famous and the answer to the question is often that they are no longer anywhere special. They’ve returned to obscurity. They’ve had their moment of fame but in most cases their lives are now quite ordinary and mundane. In some cases, their lives are even quite sad or tragic. The man Christ Jesus is very much the opposite of that familiar pattern. Although He was popular in some quarters for a while, His life on Earth is really best summed up in the words “He was despised and rejected”. He was mocked. He was mistrusted. He was falsely accused. He was abused. His life was a life of suffering that led to His death on the cross. If the rich and famous can fall into obscurity where would you expect the likes of Him to be? Peter has told us that Jesus has risen from the dead but “Where is Jesus now?” Well, Peter answers that question by saying that He “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him”. There we see His place, His position and His power.

What do we see about His place? Well, we see that He “has gone into heaven”. He’s returned to the glory from which He came. He’d prayed in John 17v5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed”. That prayer has been answered. He is, once again, in the presence of the Father.

In addition to that we see something about His position in the presence of the Father. Peter says that He “is at the right hand of God”. That speaks of a position of honour and authority. It’s not being flippant to say that Jesus is God’s right hand man. That’s not just as an honorary position.

We see that He has real power in occupying that position because Peter speaks of “angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him”. The clear message is that the risen Lord Jesus Christ is now reigning over all things from heaven. His enemies and our enemies are all subject to Him.

The message is: “Jesus suffered terribly but just look at Him now!” Why did He suffer so? Well, verse 18 said that it was so “that he might bring us to God”. Peter is saying that his readers might also have to suffer in this world now but their baptism is their appeal to God to be saved through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, that points back to His death on the cross and the forgiveness of sin that it accomplished but it also points forward to His subsequent ascension and all conquering reign. He is now with God on our behalf and will bring us to God as was intended. If we are in Christ, besides having the joy of knowing that we are forgiven, we also have confidence that we will be brought through suffering to share in His victory. In fact, there is a very real sense in which we can think of ourselves as already being there with Him. Does that sound presumptuous? Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 2v4-7: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”.