“BAPTISM, THE ANSWER OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE”
“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” 1 Peter 3:21
Through the centuries, the ordinance of Baptism has been misrepresented as to its purpose and benefit in the New Testament Church. It was during the 1800’s, that Spurgeon preached his great sermon against “Baptismal Regeneration” which sermon is still available today in the reprinted sermons of this great preacher. Simply, and we must add, Biblically put, baptism is “the answer of a good conscience”.
What does this mean? It is an answer back to God from a conscience that has been relieved of guilt by the revelation of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for that person. This is the best way to describe a conscience that is good: it has been comforted and relieved from guilt.
The conscience is made good towards God and self: towards God because the wrath to come has no more power over the conscience for it has found its ransom, its resting place, its scapegoat, its hiding place, its atonement in the person of Jesus Christ. There is a good and peaceful feeling towards God. Our Holy Father is no longer seen as Mt. Sinia which thundered and smoked. Now we know Him as a loving Father who loves us, watches over us and has provide what we needed to dwell with Him in glory.
The conscience is made good towards self because the sinner has become honest with self, how the debt they could never pay has been paid in full by Jesus and they go from law to grace; from trying to fulfill the law themselves to living in the grace of Jesus Christ. They now understand how their sin sickness will be ultimately cured. They are no more relying on self, they rely on Jesus.
We must equally understand what this does not say. It does not say that baptism makes the conscience good. It could never do that for a person who has not found their Savior. If the conscience has not been relieved we can come up out of the water with a conscience just as condemned as when we went in. But once a person has found Christ and have seen their sin debt paid in full by His precious blood upon Calvary’s cross, they can then, and only then, give an answer back to their Holy Father in the only way the He has ordained: by water baptism.
There have also been various arguments as to whether baptism should be in running water or a standing pool. I remember attending a baptism as a child at a river in our area. When the young man was immersed, his mother said that his sins were floating down the river. I looked, and I did not see anything floating down the river. I suppose if our sins were as earthy as the water it could be so. Yet, sins are spiritual and nothing can wash them away except a spiritual cleansing form One who is perfectly clean. As the song goes, “What can wash away my sins, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
The purpose and intent of complete immersion is to represent something. As Peter said, it is a “figure”: It is a figure of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One who desires to give an answer to the relieved conscience should have a desire to be identified with the one who was crucified, buried and raised for their redemption. Running water or still water are equally sufficient.
Baptism will not make a person walk aright the rest of their life nor will it cause a person to be faithful. This is witnessed by the believing Church for some who have been baptized have departed and brought reproach upon the house of God. If this ordinance gave life, spiritual life, we must say that it has failed in many instances and God must be charged with folly.
Yet, there are spiritual benefits to be enjoyed by those who are obedient to their conscience. For those whose conscience has been made good by a complete faith in Christ, an extra measure of the Holy Ghost is given which adds force and strength to their confession and character. As Peter so beautifully said, “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him”(Acts 5:32). In any act of obedience, the Holy Ghost is given in an extra measure providing peace, comfort, strength, light, wisdom and all the endued powers of the Holy Ghost.
Baptism has always been a believer’s response. Only those who believed in Jesus Christ, who He was and why He came, were allowed to be baptized in the New Testament Church. John the Baptist forbade many who came to his baptism demanding that they bring forth fruits of repentance before he would administer the ordinance. Surely, if the liquid ordinance would have had any redemptive or changing influence on the person, John would have baptized all who came to him.
Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by being baptized at the hands of the Baptist. Thus, baptism is a righteous act and the fulfillment of our earthly pilgrimage as Christians. Jesus was certainly not born again at that moment, nor was anything added to His spotless purity. It did for Jesus as it will do for us today. It identified who He was and who He belonged to. The Father and the Spirit were present to identify the Messiah and this witness becomes our own when we too fulfill all righteousness.
As we have already noted, this is the ‘Only” answer that God has given for the conscience of the sinner to truly answer with. It is the ordinance that God the Father ordained for the Saints in light to display to all the world that they love and belong to Jesus. It is humbling and distinguishing. It is more difficult to the flesh than giving money, than going to church, than reading the bible and being seen with other Christians. It is the Cum Laude of our experience because before we are baptized we must come to some conclusions. We must decide what we believe, who we believe, who we are and where we are going. Then the conscience is made good. If the Father has spoken to our hearts, surely we should answer Him back!!