Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Does Baptism Save Us?

(Continuing Discussion from Sunday's message)

Short answer: No.

Question: Then what does 1 Peter 3:21 mean?

Long answer: The following is excerpted from Wayne Grudem's Introduction to Systematic Theology, chapter 49:
Finally, what about 1 Peter 3:21, where Peter says, “ saves you”? Does this not give clear support to the Roman Catholic view that baptism itself brings saving grace to the recipient?15 No, for when Peter uses this phrase he continues in the same sentence to explain exactly what he means by it. He says that baptism saves you “not as a removal of dirt from the body” (that is, not as an outward, physical act which washes dirt from the body—that is not the part which saves you), “but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience” (that is, as an inward, spiritual transaction between God and the individual, a transaction symbolized by the outward ceremony of baptism). We could paraphrase Peter’s statement by saying, “Baptism now saves you—not the outward physical ceremony of baptism but the inward spiritual reality which baptism represents.” In this way, Peter guards against any view of baptism that would attribute automatic saving power to the physical ceremony itself.

Peter’s phrase, “an appeal to God for a clear conscience,” is another way of saying “a request for forgiveness of sins and a new heart.” When God gives a sinner a “clear conscience,” that person has the assurance that every sin has been forgiven and that he or she stands in a right relationship with God (Heb. 9:14 and 10:22 speak this way about the cleansing of one’s conscience through Christ). To be baptized rightly is to make such an “appeal” to God: it is to say, in effect, “Please, God, as I enter this baptism which will cleanse my body outwardly I am asking you to cleanse my heart inwardly, forgive my sins, and make me right before you.” Understood in this way, baptism is an appropriate symbol for the beginning of the Christian life.

So 1 Peter 3:21 certainly does not teach that baptism saves people automatically or confers grace ex opere operato. It does not even teach that the act of baptism itself has saving power, but rather that salvation comes about through the inward exercise of faith that is represented by baptism (cf. Col. 2:12). In fact, Protestants who advocate believers' baptism might well see in 1 Peter 3:21 some support for their position: baptism, it might be argued, is appropriately administered to anyone who is old enough personally to make “an appeal to God for a clear conscience.”

15 15. The next three paragraphs are adapted from Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter TNTC (Leicester: IVP, and Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), pp. 163–65, and are used by permission.
16 16. Some have argued that “pledge” is a better word than “appeal” in this verse. Thus, the NIV translates, “the pledge of a good conscience towards God.” The data from other examples of the word is slim with regard to both meanings, and no conclusions can be drawn from an examination of other uses of the word alone (see discussion in W. Grudem, 1 Peter p. 164).
But much more significant is the fact that the translation “pledge” introduces a theological problem. If baptism is a “pledge to God” to maintain a good conscience (or a pledge to live an obedient life, which flows from a good conscience), then the emphasis is no longer on dependence on God to give salvation, but is rather on dependence on one’s own effort or strength of resolve. And since this phrase in 1 Peter 3:21 is so clearly connected with the beginning of the Christian life and identified as the feature of baptism that “saves you,” the translation “pledge” seems to be inconsistent with the New Testament teaching on salvation by faith alone; it would be the only place where a promise to be righteous is said to be the thing that “saves you.” And since the lexical data are inconclusive for both senses (while suggesting that both senses are apparently possible), it is better to adopt the translation “appeal” as a sense much more in accord with the doctrinal teaching of the rest of the New Testament.
17 17. Col. 2:12 can be used in the same manner: Paul says that in baptism Christians were “raised with [Christ] through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” This presupposes that those who were baptized were exercising faith when they were baptized—that is, that they were old enough to believe.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Thank you, Pastor. This was helpful. I had to look up ex opere operato. No, its not Mozart's latest hit.

The Catholic teaching that the grace of a sacrament is always conferred by the sacrament itself. Ex opere operato literally means “from the work performed.”

Its tempting to look for loopholes in Scripture with a pure motivation of wanting to see people rescued from the horrors of hell. At least originally this was probably the case. I can imagine priests sprinkling water over crusaders passing beneath with genuine concern for their souls. God isn't in the loopholes however.