(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
The pledge of a good conscience
26th January 2013
1 Peter 3:20-21
Noah believed what God had told him - that God was going to judge the Earth - and he obeyed what God had instructed him to do - build the ark. When the flood came, the ark kept him and his family alive, while everybody else perished in the water. The ark separated those on board from those who were perishing.
Peter says that this story symbolises baptism, which separates those in Christ from those who are perishing. In every generation, just as in Noah's generation, most will suffer God's judgment and will perish. We, like Noah, can be saved by believing God's word and obeying it. That is, by faith and repentance.
In his first sermon, Peter told those who believe:
Now let's look again at 1 Peter 3v21. Peter writes to those who believe, "baptism... saves you" but he makes it clear that baptism can only save you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you don't repent and believe, baptism is of no value to you. We don’t become Christians by being baptised, but by God-given faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. But when Peter writes that baptism saves you, he's saying that baptism is the pledge of a good conscience towards God.
We’re saved from Hell, and saved into Heaven, we’re saved from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, we’re saved from being servants of the evil one to being servants of God, by faith in the blood of Jesus and repentance towards God. But God also wants to save us from a guilty conscience, and He does that through baptism.
When we're baptised, we make promises to God, which echo our prayer when we first became followers of Jesus Christ; we confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour, expressing our faith, and we repent, promising to obey God in all of our lives. We make a pledge of a good conscience towards God. But there's more to it than that. In baptism, God also makes a pledge of a good conscience. In Baptism God washes away our sense of unrighteousness. It's a reassurance that we have been totally forgiven for our sins, which allows us to have a clean conscience:
As our bodies are washed in baptism, our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. Because we’re baptised, we're more sure than we could ever be otherwise, that we truly belong to God, that we’re truly forgiven, and truly acceptable in His sight.
Baptism strengthens our faith, and it goes on doing so all our lives. When we’re tempted, when we feel like failures, when – as sometimes happens – we wonder if we’re really Christians at all, we can remember our baptism, and what it felt like, and be reassured.
We should never rob anybody of the joy of this assurance, by saying that they’ve been christened so they mustn’t be baptised.