How Baptism Saves

Text 1 Peter 3:21 Time 25 06 17 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Well, it is a great joy to be here tonight and to have the baptistery open again after such a long spell. There are only two ordinances or sacraments for believers – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is important that whenever there is a baptism or communion that we remind ourselves exactly what they are all about. If you simply go through the motions then the meaning can easily be forgotten and the whole thing can turn into a meaningless ritual. That is why we make a point whenever we have communion or a baptism to say something about what is going on.
What I want us to do now then is to consider the verse about baptism found in 1 Peter 3:21. This verse and those that surround it are not easy ones to interpret in some ways and there has been some discussion about certain elements such what it means when it speaks of Jesus going and making proclamation to the imprisoned spirits - to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. I’m sure that what Peter is saying there is that when Noah preached to the people of his day it was the Spirit of Christ who was patiently pleading with people even then through Noah.
Peter goes on to say to believers (in verse 21) that the water of Noah’s flood
symbolises baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
He is drawing a parallel then between the flood and baptism. If Peter were here tonight to witness this baptism and we asked him to speak he might say ‘This is a little like another Noah’s ark’. Now do note that he does not say of the ark, In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved from water, rather he says they were saved through water. Of course, they were saved from the water – unlike all those who perished, they escaped from the great flood. However, Peter says that they were saved through water. It was by means of the flood that God rescued them from the wicked world in which they had been living. One can see several connections between Noah’s ark and baptism. For example, one commentator mentions how
  • Just as the ark was God’s way of saving Noah not man’s invention, so baptism is God ordained.
  • Just as Noah appears to have been mocked when building the ark, so some people mock baptism as a means of salvation.
  • Just as Noah and his family were shut up in the ark and seemed buried in it so baptism can be seen as a sort of symbolic burial. (See Romans 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death … Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism …)
  • Just as Noah and his family were surrounded by water from above and below, so when a person is baptised he or she is immersed in water.
The most important connection between Noah’s flood and baptism, however, is that there is a sense in both cases in which it is by means of water that salvation comes. So we see how he has come to the matter of baptism. However, when Peter says that baptism saves believers, what exactly does he mean? He himself clarifies by including both a negative and a positive comment.

1. Understand how this baptism does not save
Having said this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also – Peter adds not the removal of dirt from the body. Literally he says it is not the removal of dirt from the flesh. The word flesh has at least two connotations in Scripture and so we can say two things in light of Peter’s statement.
1. Baptism does not literally save by washing dirt from the body
Obviously when a person is baptised it is a little bit like a bath. We are aware of the fact that water is very good for washing dirt from our bodies. Not only is it healthy for our bodies to be regularly washed but it can be very refreshing generally. Many a person enjoys nothing better than a good soak in the bath or alternatively an invigorating shower – hot or cold. More than one religion makes a great deal of such purification rites. I remember reading about George Harrison of the Beatles, how when he first embraced Hinduism he described how good it felt to get up early in the morning and to begin with meditation and a shower. I remember too once meeting a Sikh gentleman who had travelled to India where he had felt renewed by standing under waterfall. Now Christian baptism is nothing like that. It is something that can only take place once in a person’s life and it has nothing at all to do with washing dirt from the body.
If you have been baptised. Remember that when you were baptised you weren’t washing dirt from your body.
If you’ve not been baptised, realise that no amount of washing can make you clean. Washing, like a new set of clothes or new resolutions can only affect you outwardly. You need something inward to happen to you.
Roslin, as you’re about to be baptised, recognise that this water is not like bath water. It isn’t designed to get you clean. That is not its purpose!
2. Baptism does not literally save by washing sin from the soul
It may be that Peter is also underlining the fact that in and of itself baptism cannot wash away sin from the soul either. The reason why people need to be saved is because of their sin. It is because of sin that we die and deserve to be sent to hell. The only way we can be saved is by having those sins washed away but that is not something that baptism can do. There is nothing special about this water. There is nothing that being baptised can do to take away sin.
There are people who believe that somehow baptism can wash sin from your soul. You have heard perhaps of people making quite a fuss about getting sick babies baptised before they die. Why? Because there is a belief that baptism can somehow literally wash sin away. Sometimes children in Roman Catholic Schools are taught how to perform what they call an emergency baptism, based on the idea that there is no way into heaven without baptism.
Now I’m sure that no-one believes that the power is in the water itself but there is the idea that the ceremony itself can somehow save. And yet everything else we know from Scripture warns against taking such an idea. For example, in Hebrews 10:4, 11 it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins … Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. There are many things like that in the Old Testament too. There is no way that any ceremony can take away sin. It doesn’t matter how sincere we are or how genuine our belief in such a thing may be, it cannot do it.
If I thought that Roslin was under the impression that she could wash away her sins by baptism then I would refuse to baptise her. The idea that any mere ritual can save is utterly false. I suppose it’s a little like supposing that a marriage ceremony can make a real marriage. Sometimes people go through a form of marriage in order to gain British citizenship. The government are wise to such things, however, they know that a mere paper marriage is not a real marriage and they want evidence of a real marriage. Similarly, baptism is not a matter of a mere form. Like a marriage ceremony it must rather be the seal and sign of something much deeper.
If you have been baptised, remember that when you were baptised it wasn’t that act that made you a Christian. No. it was something else that washed your soul clean. The day you were baptised was just the day when you publicly declared that God had changed your life. You may not remember exactly when you were converted but hopefully you can remember when you were baptised and it was then that you made your public profession of conversion.
If you’ve not been baptised, realise that there is no ritual on earth that can make your soul clean. There is no religious rite that can deal with your sin. Baptism won’t do it. Taking the Lord’s Supper won’t do it. Praying five times a day can’t change you. Ritual purifications and religious ceremonies are all worthless in themselves. Rather, as we have said, you need something inward to happen to you. Unless God changes you then there is no hope for you.
Roslin, as you’re about to be baptised, recognise that this is not like a ritual purification. This act isn’t designed to purify your soul. As you know, you are being baptised on the basis that this has already happened. This baptism is designed to strengthen you in your convictions not to do something that has not happened yet.

2. Understand how baptism does save
So what does Peter mean when he says that baptism saves? In what sense does it save? It is clear that Peter is speaking symbolically. Symbolically speaking, baptism saves. The way such a ceremony affects us is by affecting our conscience and teaching us.
1. Baptism symbolically saves as it implies the pledge of a good conscience towards God
So we come to Peter’s positive statement. He says not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. The words are understood in a slightly different way by different writers. Is it the pledge towards God of a good conscience towards God or the pledge of ‘a good conscience towards God’ or even baptism that now saves you towards God also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience? There is some argument about the word translated pledge too. Answer is not quite right pledge is better. It is the demand or enquiry of a good conscience or possibly the appeal. Peter may well be thinking of the way those who are baptised are often asked to first give a word of testimony or to answer questions - as we will do tonight. The question then is whether Peter is speaking subjectively of the person being baptised having a good conscience or objectively of them appealing to God for a good conscience. It is probably the first. Whichever way we understand it, it is clear that the focus is on the person's conscience.
How is it with your conscience tonight?
What about you baptised believer? Do you remember your baptismal pledge? Are you conscientiously living aware that only Christ can forgive your sins? We must never forget that he is the only one who can deal with our guilt. An event like this should remind you once more of how indebted you are to him. Cf 3:16. I say to you tonight (Hebrews 10:22) let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
What about you unbaptised unbeliever? Do you realise that is your great need - to give yourself to God, to commit yourself to him entirely. There is no way to get rid of your guilty conscience except by trusting in him. He alone can cleanse you. Gifts and sacrifices … are not able to clear the conscience (Hebrews 9:22) only Christ can. Go to him, therefore, and find complete cleansing.
Roslin. I trust you recognise that what I am saying is true. By coming to be baptised you are saying that you are guilty of sin. It is the testimony of your conscience. However, your conscience also testifies that whereas a ceremony can only at best make you outwardly clean the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, can cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13, 14). And so your conscience is resting only in the blood of Christ. It is on that basis that we baptise you.
2. Baptism symbolically saves as it points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who now reigns in heaven
Finally, Peter says that baptism saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand - with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. The New Testament speaks very often about the resurrection of Jesus and when it does so it almost invariably has in mind his death as well. Peter has mentioned the death explicitly already back in 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. Why did Christ die? Peter is clear. Christ died for sins. It was in order to deal with sin that he died. It was the death of the righteous for the unrighteous – the Son of God, the only Saviour, died taking the punishment deserved by sinners like you and me. He did it, Peter says to these believers, to bring you to God. By nature we are all sinners and we have no access to God,. We cannot come near him. However, a way back to God has been opened up by Christ’s death as a substitute for sinners on the cross. There is a way back through trusting in him and what he has done. Baptism symbolises union with Christ in his death and resurrection. That is why Paul says (in Romans 6:3-5) Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Also see Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
So baptism cannot literally save anyone but it is a symbol of a good conscience towards God and of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is by these means that people are saved – by committing themselves to god and trusting in Jesus Christ and what he has done.
Are you a baptised believer? Remember your baptism then – that symbolic uniting with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. That is what saves you – the fact that you are united to him. There is no salvation anywhere else is there?
Are you unbaptised? Realise that the only way to be saved is by looking to the Lord Jesus and what he has done. He alone can cleanse you. To be baptised without being joined to him in faith would be a meaningless charade. But if you really are joined to him there is no better symbol of it.
Roslin. Are you looking only to Christ and what he has done for forgiveness?. Then we are willing to baptise you.

Someone may be thinking, ‘Can you be saved and not be baptised?’ The answer is yes. The dying thief is proof enough. That is the exception. Normally, it is a matter of believing and then being baptised. If you have a good conscience toward God – one that bears witness both to your guilt and to the blood of Christ. If your are looking only to Jesus Christ and what he has done then I urge you to be baptised.

Learn to number your days aright so that you may be wise hearted

Text Pslam 90:12 Time 25 06 17 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

I had an unusual request the other day. I learned that Harry, who has been coming to us for a little while now was about to turn sixty. As some of you know, Harry has been struggling with illness for some time and so whereas some people might just assume that they will reach the age of sixty, Harry realises that he might well not have reached this landmark. if it were not for the kindness of God to him.
And so Harry has invited friends along here this morning in order to help him celebrate and in order to do that and for the good of all our own souls, we are going to look at a text from Scripture. You will find it in Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Now before we look at that text let me say two things.

Firstly, you may say to me but should we be celebrating birthdays? Some of you may know that the so called Jehovah's Witnesses say that you should not celebrate your birthday. They forbid it. They apparently did not before 1951 but then had a change of heart.
On July 15 in 1980 in The Watchtower they said “The Bible reports only two birthday celebrations, both of persons who were not servants of the true God. The first was that of Pharaoh of Egypt. It was marked by the hanging of Pharaoh’s baker, who had been in prison with Joseph. … The second, some 1,800 years later, was the birthday of Herod Antipas [during which the daughter of Herodias asked for] ‘The head of John the baptiser.’ … Is it just coincidental that they are mentioned and that both were for persons not having God’s approval? Or could it be that Jehovah deliberately had these details recorded in his Word, which he says is “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight”?” (pp 30, 31)
They also note Ecclesiastes 7:1 where Solomon says A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.
This is typical of their cavalier approach to the Bible, drawing conclusions on the flimsiest of evidence. Yes, the two men whose birthdays are noted are hardly exemplars to Christians and both Scriptures link birthday celebration and death but that hardly says anything against celebrating a birthday. Ecclesiastes 7:1, in the other hand, is a proverb and must be taken that way.
Rather than jumping to false conclusions let's say instead that if and when we celebrate birthdays we should do so in a sober and sensible way, remembering each returning birthday brings us closer to death and seeking not to make the mistakes that Pharaoh and Herod made in their day.
That seems to me to be a far more biblical approach.

The other thing is to say something about the context of the verse we want to consider this morning. Most though not all the psalms are by David. This one is uniquely A prayer of Moses the man of God and was clearly written during the time in the wilderness.
The prayer begins by contrasting God's eternal nature and our mortality. The Lord has been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or he brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting he is are God. We, however, are those he turns back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, you mortals." For God A thousand years ... are like a day ... just gone by, or ... a watch in the night. We, by contrast, he sweeps away in the sleep of death like grass - In the morning the grass springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.
At that time in the desert the people were under God's judgement – all Moses' generation would die before they reached Canaan. Moses sees they are consumed by God's anger ... terrified by his indignation. Because of their iniquities, their secret sins seen by God All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. People, as now, were living to 70 or 80 yet says Moses poignantly the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
The final verses (13-17) are a prayer for God's compassion - Relent, LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. He prays for God to satisfy them with with his unfailing love so that they will be joyful while they live. Make us glad he says (15) for as many days as you have afflicted us … His final request is that God's favour will rest on them and that he will establish the work of their hands.
Before that though he thinks about God's anger (11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due) and he says (12)
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Four things from this verse for us then
1. Consider what sort of request Moses makes of God – to be taught
The verse begins Teach us. This sort of thing comes up often in the psalms. For example
Psalm 25:4, 5 Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.
27:11 Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
86:11 Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness.
143:10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
In Psalm 119 it comes many times teach me your decrees, teach me your decrees (six times at least 12, 26, 64, 68, 124, 135).
29 be gracious to me and teach me your law 33 Teach me, LORD, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end 66 Teach me knowledge and good judgement, for I trust your commands 108 Accept, LORD, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws.
A request for teaching assumes ignorance on our part and that is right. By nature we do not know how to live. We need to learn how to do that. Who better to teach us than God himself. He knows the answer well for at least two three reasons.
1. He is the God who made all things including us. He designed us and made us with the view that we should be in his image and live for his glory.
2. He is also God the Son, the one who came to this earth and lived and died in the place of sinners. His life was a perfect life and so he knows by experience what it is to live as many should live.
3. Thirdly, as God the Spirit he is the one who enable the Lord Jesus to live every day for God's glory and the one who will enable us to if we look to him.
When people who know what they are doing go off to university, they find out who are the best teachers and apply to those universities. The best teacher of all is God himself. Go to him and learn.
Here then is something we need to learn, something we need to learn from God. It may well not come easy but we must learn it anyway. God is able to teach us.
2. Understand what it is Moses wants God to teach us – to number our days
So what is it that Moses wants to learn from God? He asks that we will learn to number our days.
We learn to count when we are very young. We start with addition then subtraction and then move on to multiplication an division. Next come fractions and equations. The highest maths is learning to number your days. We need to learn to number our days. What does that mean? He has spoken about death and the brevity of life and the regular manifestations of God's wrath against the people. Every person has only a limited time here on this earth. We may live 70 years or 80. Moses is rare – he reached 120. However old we get, we die. What Moses requests then, and it is something that we should all seek, is that we may be able to have the right approach to our lives. It is not that we forget about the past completely but that we focus on the day ahead.
He is not asking to know how long he has left but to be able to discern how quickly the days pass, the fact that death can come at any time and that life on earth will certainly end at some point. No doubt he also has in mind that judgement that follows death. If we are to number our days as we ought to then we will be aware of the coming judgement and we will order our days in the light of that coming judgement.
You read sometimes of people who have managed to lose millions. They once were rich but now they are poor. How does it happen? Probably not overnight. Usually it is little by little. In the same way, we learn to live wisely little by little, day by day.
Here is a good prayer for all of us to pray then. Ask the Lord to teach you, to instruct you, to help you to understand how to live – not thinking we have all the time in the world but realising that life passes by quickly and that death can call at any time. Ask him to help you to prepare for the coming judgement in the right way.
Here are three good questions for us all.
1 How long do people usually live? Here it is 70 or 80. In UK at the moment it is 799.1 (males) 82.6 (females).
2 How many of my days are already spent? For me 58 years and 33 days – I'm getting closer to70m all the time – as you are!
3 How many days to go? None of us knows!
3. Notice how the request Moses makes to God concerns not years or months – but days
You notice too that it is not Teach us to number our years or months or weeks but Teach us to number our days. The use of day emphasises how short life is but it also teaches us that if we are going to learn about this, it is going to be a daily thing, a day by day thing.
In his famous Screwtape Letters where a Senior Devil writes to a junior one C S Lewis has the senior one write this
The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time, which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity or with the Present- either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”
That is surely right. Life is to be lived moment by moment, day by day. When they were in the desert the manna that they ate descended day by day. There was normally only enough for each day. Jesus commands us to pray give us our daily bread.
God has made us to live in a day by day pattern. I noticed that on a page designed to help cancer sufferers (not a Christian thing) it highlights the benefits of living like this. It says things like riding out your feelings, not pretending we don't have bad days, not worrying or being consumed by what ifs, get up in the morning and go to bed at a sensible time – all good advice.
For Christians each day should begin with God. You may not have time for reading your Bible then but at least begin with prayer. The day should end with prayer too. I was reading about Jane Austen the novelist the other day. She died 200 years ago this year. There seems to be evidence that she was a Christian. She wrote a prayer for the end of the day.
Look with Mercy on the Sins we have this day committed, and in Mercy make us feel them deeply, that our Repentance may be sincere, and our resolutions steadfast of endeavouring against the commission of such in future. Teach us to understand the sinfulness of our own Hearts, and bring to our knowledge every fault of Temper and every evil Habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow-creatures, and the danger of our own Souls. May we now, and on each return of night, consider how the past day has been spent by us, what have been our prevailing Thoughts, Words, and Actions during it, and how far we can acquit ourselves of Evil. Have we thought irreverently of Thee, have we disobeyed thy commandments, have we neglected any known duty, or willingly given pain to any human being? Incline us to ask our Hearts these questions Oh! God, and save us from deceiving ourselves by Pride or Vanity.
That is a good way to end each day.
One way people often suggest to live learning to number their days is to live each day as if it were their last. Not easy to do but strongly recommended. Too easily we forget about death.
Back in the seventies there was a hit song called one day at a time sweet Jesus. It is not a great song from a Christian point of view but the idea of living one day at a time, conscious of Jesus is a spot on.
4. Realise why it is Moses asks God for what he does ask - that we may gain a heart of wisdom
When we do what our text says and number our days aright, we begin to gain a heart of wisdom. We remember that we are all going to die one day. We learn to be humble and to fear God – the beginning of wisdom. We realise that we do not have enough time at our disposal to justify wasting a moment.
It is to the end of becoming wise that we are to seek God then to teach us to number our days. Further it is wisdom we need – not riches or anything else.
Someone once observed that it is a pity that it is not until people are about to die that they really understand how they ought to live. They “know not to what end they were born into this world, until they are ready to go out of it”. Let's not wait until is almost too late.
You notice the phrase is a heart of wisdom not a head of wisdom. Spiritual wisdom is something that takes hold of the heart not just the head. The man whose heart learns wisdom says one Puritan (Henry Smith) “learns more in a month after than he did in a year before, nay, than ever he did in his life.” You learn a thing best when you put your heart into it.
Of course, wisdom is found above all in Jesus Christ and so we can say that as we learn to number our days so we are directed to Jesus Christ. That is how it should be.

We will all only know how to be wise if we remember how short our lives are. Let's remember the fact and learn to be wise. In the little time we have let's trust in Christ and live for his praise. Sadly, we forget too easily how brief life is. Let's not.