(I actually intended on writing a post about ‘where Jesus went when He died,’ but as I commenced I began to realize that I really needed to build a platform of understanding. The topic mentioned heavily involves the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, before discussing which, I really needed to lay greater groundwork on the water-baptism (for reasons which might not be immediately apparent, to most readers but I trust will become evident as you read.))
Baptism of Repentance
1 Peter 3:18-22
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) BY THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST:
22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
What does it mean, that Jesus went and ‘preached unto the spirits in prison’? It speaks of those who were disobedient in the days of Noah while the ARK (salvation) was PREPARING. You see, here – in typology – Peter is speaking of Noah and the ark. In prophetic language Peter is speaking of ALL WHO LIVED PRIOR TO CHRIST. Noah IS (Typologically) Jesus (in that his [Noah’s] ministry was to save all life on earth) – the ark represents the great salvation of God: THE CROSS.
Why does Peter interlude himself to use this prophetically ambiguous language regarding the ministry of Christ after death and the prophet Noah? Because the ministry of Noah was not only one of the first biblical prophecies of salvation through the cross, his was also the first prophetic revelation of the water baptism. In Noah’s case the cross of salvation (the ark) and the passing through the waters of baptism was one and the same thing. This speaks of death and resurrection. This is why Peter speaks of salvation via the water baptism: ‘The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.‘
I have found in the church that typically, all the greater teaching and understanding we have on water baptism is this: ‘Its an outward sign of an internal commitment.’ Is that True? I tell you, it is a drastically, and tragically abbreviated teaching – and it is all the more that most evangelicals know – not trying to pick on anyone, I just haven’t found many places that teach any much fuller meaning to the water baptism.
If ‘an outward sign of an inward commitment’ is all that there is to the teaching, then the water baptism is merely a [for some reason] required ‘religious duty;’ simply a ‘liturgical ritual’. But then, evangelical theology is generally against that, for: ‘Christianity is a relationship, not a religion,’ right?!
The water baptism (that baptism by which Peter declares we are ‘saved’) represents our death and resurrection. Does passing through the water literally save our soul? Well… not exactly, the remission of sins is through the blood of Jesus Christ – BUT the waters of baptism speaks of our death and resurrection with Christ, meaning it represents the actual entering into that salvation (resurrection). The blood is OFFERED forgiveness, the water is your ACCEPTANCE of that forgiveness.
We do not attain forgiveness automatically because the blood of Christ was shed, we must needs REPENT, and BELIEVE in order for that blood to apply to us. The repentance is the part we play in agreement with the salvation of God. Water baptism is the FULL demonstration of repentance. (I wrote a post called ‘Why did Jesus Repent?‘ Please read that for further clarification.)
The act of repentance is the turning away from the lifeless deeds of our flesh, and of the world UNTO God. To ‘REPENT’ literally means to ‘turn away.’ There is something to turn away from, AND there is something for us to turn toward. The act of water baptism is an act of commitment to God, in which you declare that you are DYING – you declare that you, yourself are DEAD, and that you will ONLY EVER live to the Will of God. If God has even a preference, His preference goes above your passionate desire in things pertaining to your own life, and body.
When a Christian wants to get a tattoo, my first question for them is: “Are you water baptized?”
Do you get that? Are you making a personal decision about what to do with your body? If you are water baptized, it is not YOUR body anymore, but God’s – if He has a preference, and you do something contrary to HIS PREFERENCE in your life or in your body you are, in fact, breaking the commitment you made in water baptism. You are saying, in effect – ‘I know I was water baptized, but my body really belongs to me, and not God, I will do as I please with it.’ Unless the voice of God commanded you to get a tattoo (which idea I am not entirely opposed to because I believe in prophets – God commanded Isaiah to walk naked some span of time (Isaiah 20), He also commanded Ezekiel to eat food baked over feces (Ezekiel 4:12), and had unclean birds bring food to Elijah (1 Kings 17:4 & 6); all of which were contrary to the revealed general will of God as according to the law of Moses), why are you considering it? (Now, this isn’t really about tattoos, that’s just an example I have run into a few times.)
Do you see that it is important for the church to have a better understanding of the meaning of water baptism? If you don’t understand the commitment you are making when you get married, you might be prone to think your body belongs to YOU, and you can do whatever you want with it. Not so – in marriage AND the covenant of baptism, your body is not your own, it belongs to another.
In order to fulfill all righteousness, it was necessary for Jesus to be water baptized – He was literally God’s body on the earth – now He committed His body fully unto God in receiving the water baptism. In HIS baptism, He died to self (again, see post: ‘Why Did Jesus Repent?‘); He made the commitment that He would die on the cross, and fulfill all the will of God in His life, and in His body.
It was also on the basis of THAT commitment that Jesus received the Holy Spirit, that the heavens were [permanently] opened to Him, and that the Father testified of Him audibly (Matt 3:16 & 17; Mark 1:10 & 11; Luke 3:21 & 22). Notice that there was a threefold witness at Jesus water-baptism.
- The heaven’s were opened to Him (This VALIDATES the WORD – Jesus is the Word of God – the heavens are opened to the Word, HE has full, and complete access to every heavenly realm.)
- The Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove (The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus)
- The audible voice of God the Father testifies of Jesus
I’ve got a full teaching on that three-fold witness which I will not go into further here, but why is this threefold witness important?
1 John 5:5-8
5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.
7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three ARE one.
8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
The threefold witness is the express testimony of God in the world. In the case of the water baptism, there is a threefold witness of God – the Spirit (resurrection), the water (repentance), and the blood(the actual remission of sins).
Jesus blood is for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). There is no remission of sins without that blood ((Hebrews 9:22) I.e. we could not attain it ourselves, remission of sins required the OFFERING of the life of Christ).
Though the blood was shed, there is no forgiveness of sins without our repentance and faith (for we must ACCEPT the offering – in this way faith and repentance are one and the same). Water baptism is repentance fulfilled (in the form of an action).
So Peter declared that the waters of baptism save us, it is absolutely True, for: faith without works is dead (James 2:20-26). Thus we are ‘saved in the waters of baptism’ in that we are – as an act of faith – committing ourselves to complete repentance before God. The blood, and the water agree in one.
I’ll use a brief parable: If believing that the Gospel is True is the seed (faith), then repentance is the first sprouting of ROOTS into the soil (the beginning of our heart changing its direction unto God) – that seed of faith springs to life in the upward growth of the stem (ACTION: works of faith): water baptism is the ACT of faith and repentance – it is the beginning of the stem which pushes the vine through the surface of the soil (resurrection life). Water baptism: the first covenant ACT of faith on our part.
As I pointed out: in baptism you declare yourself dead to your own desires, and alive only to God it is the fulfillment, and ultimate act of repentance. The PRACTICAL COMPLETION of repentance is a cleansed, sanctified life (incidentally ‘sanctification’ is the reason that the Holy Spirit could light upon Christ in the form of a dove).
To be ‘sanctified’ means to be set apart unto God, to be cleansed, to be made holy for His use.
Can you see, then, how the TYPE of water baptism is a demonstration of becoming cleansed? We repent of all sin, and dead works: this is like washing ourselves – interesting that the baptism of repentance is done by water immersion; this is no coincidence (Yes, IMMERSION was the historic, biblical mode of water baptism).
The water baptism, being the fulfillment of repentance is depicted by washing the body with water – it should be noted, however that the putting away of filth from the physical body is not really the purpose of water-baptism, it is just an illustration, as Peter declared: ‘(not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,)‘ (1 Peter 3:21).
The True cleansing is that of the heart through enacting repentance of which baptism is fulfillment. I hope that that ‘answer of a good conscience toward God‘ part now makes more sense (it seems to be ‘theologically ambiguous’ to many). Our consciences CAN be clear because we repent of our sins, and receiving baptism is taking the form of death with Christ so we know that His blood covers us (due to the agreement of the water, and the blood).
To be baptized is to be immersed, in this case we immerse ourselves in water (there is also a spiritual baptism, in which one is baptized by the Holy Spirit – this IS different than the deposit of the Holy Spirit we receive at salvation. For in the same way one is immersed in WATER during the baptism of repentance, one is also IMMERSED in the Spirit at the baptism of the Holy Spirit (but that, also, is a topic for another time)).
Repentance is the foundation of the water baptism. Water baptism is the foundation of sanctification.
When we repent we turn to the will of God – God’s Word, and immerse ourselves in His Word. This is what we turn TO when we repent.
…Christ … loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water BY THE WORD,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Notice that this passage equates the ‘water’ to the Word of God. In the water of baptism we declare that we die WITH CHRIST, and are raised WITH CHRIST – Jesus Christ IS the Word (John 1:1). Thus, our immersion REPRESENTS our becoming ONE with the Word, being literally IMMERSED also in the person: Jesus Christ. When you receive the water baptism, you are also committing your life to a complete immersion in God’s Word, and a fellowship with His person.
A person who has received the water baptism should have this immediate evidence of commitment to God in their life: that they immerse themselves in the Word of God. If you commit to the water baptism – declaring that you will live only ever for the will of God, you must become passionate about WHAT the will of God IS. You can never know the will of God, if you are not reading His Word. Recall what I said: ‘water baptism is the foundation of sanctification’?
Jesus declared that the Word cleanses us. After the twelve disciples had followed Him around for a few years He told them: Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. (John 15:3) The practical application of our commitment unto the utter will of God will compel us to immersion in God’s Word – which renews our minds! God’s Word purifies the soul. King David declared: ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul…‘ (Psalm 19:7) – actually, the Hebrew word for ‘converting,’ means: ‘to turn back, or turn away,’ thus it could as easily be translated ‘REPENTING’ the soul!
Thus sanctification is the practical outworking of the True heart commitment of water baptism.
Just as there is no remission of sins without the blood, and no forgiveness of sins without the repentance of faith, so also there is no sanctification, or resurrection of the dead without the water (ACT OF FAITH – PARTICIPATION with the offering).
The water represents cleansing, it represents entering the Word, and it also represents DEATH, and resurrection. This one of the three seems to be the more clearly known, but in the process there is a linear progression. Remember the threefold testimony of God? You could consider water baptism in three stages:
- Repentance (You lie down in death to self, submitting yourself to the water (God’s will, or God’s Word))
- Sanctification (You are immersed in the water – cleansing, purification)
- Resurrection (You are raised up from the form of death having – by faith – left your sins, and carnal desires in the watery grave)
At this point I think I had better digress. I’m sort of an information warrior, so I can go studying and reading all day, but the above post is probably a fair brain-dump to most, so I will leave you with that to chew on. Perhaps next time I can get to the intended topic, and the resurrection of the dead.