“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” (1 Peter 3:21).
ACCORDING TO PETER, BAPTISM SAVES US. Its effectiveness does not lie in the washing of dirt from the body, and even as an action that is considered spiritual or religious, being immersed in water would surely not produce the forgiveness of sins if somebody did that in a rote, mechanical way, with no genuine penitence or faith in Christ. Nevertheless, Peter says that baptism saves us — and we need to understand what he meant by saying that.
In v.20, Peter had mentioned Noah. It was in Noah’s ark, built at God’s command, that eight people were “saved through water” (NKJV). Then, in v.21, Peter said that baptism “corresponds to this.” Building the ark was an act of faith (Hebrews 11:7), but the outward act was not optional. It was not as though Noah had already been saved and the ark was just a sign of his commitment to God.
In a striking way, baptism is parallel to Noah’s situation. Like Noah’s obedience, baptism is an act of faith (Colossians 2:12), but also like Noah, we will not be saved without doing what God said. If God says to be baptized for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38), we need not expect the gift to be given until we obey Him.
But let us be clear: the critical factor in baptism is what takes place in the heart. When one is baptized, he is longing to be saved from his sins. Making “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” he yearns for his conscience to be eased by the grace of God’s forgiveness — and “calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16 NKJV), he does what God has commanded, crying out for salvation.
When the Ethiopian official in Acts 8 learned the gospel and was baptized while he was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, the text says that he “went on his way rejoicing” (v.39). And the Philippian jailer, after being baptized in the “same hour of the night” was said to have “rejoiced” (Acts 16:33,34). Surely, if there is anything in the world that can turn our sorrows into a song, it is the relief that comes from our conscience being cleared, the burden of sin’s grief having been lifted (Romans 8:1,2).
“The gospel is like a fresh, mild, and cool air in the extreme heat of summer, a solace and comfort in the anguish of conscience” (Martin Luther).