by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
1 Peter 3:18-22:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made 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. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes 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, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Our study in this chapter is a very important truth regarding the Sanctuary and our human response. God has redeemed all men, not just believers, in Christ by His doing and dying which is the reality of the Sanctuary. God’s supreme gift to man is salvation in Jesus Christ. The New Testament describes this salvation as the gospel. But for this redemption to be effective there has to be a human response. We discovered in the last study that, because God is love and because He created us as free moral beings, we have to enter into that sanctuary. We have to be washed by that laver before we can enter into the presence of God. In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus describes the human response:
He [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
We looked at faith in the last study; in this study we will look at baptism. We saw that faith involves three elements:
The Bible talks of baptism in two ways:
As a church, we have tended to put the emphasis upon the act. The reason for that is that the Christian church has deviated from baptism by immersion to baptism by sprinkling. This problem did not exist in the New Testament. They only knew one method and that was by immersion. Later on, sprinkling came in the third and fourth centuries. The result is that we have been pushing the emphasis on the immersion, which is correct. But there is a problem. I knew one pastor in Africa who was very particular. He would not allow his candidates to bend their knees. He said, “You must be straight,” and he would practice with them. He was very accurate in the act. This same man would not allow women to wear bathing caps. Every part had to go under. Nothing could come out dry.
One of our African pastors gave a young man a few Bible studies. The young man said “yes” to everything and asked, “When can I be baptized?” The pastor said, “What’s the hurry?” “I’d like to join your church,” he responded. It’s exciting for a pastor to hear that. Three weeks later he was baptized. As he came out of the water, all wet, he said to his friend in Aramaic, “I have just saved myself $150 a year.” That was all he joined the church for. Four years later, after he got his education at a cheaper rate, he said “good-bye” to the church. He got what he came for. It was an act. It was correctly done, by the way, but there was no salvation to it. The thief on the cross, on the other hand, was never baptized by the act but he was baptized by the truth. Jesus said (Mark 16:16a):
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved....”
I want to study with you about the truth of baptism. Now the act is done by the pastor. The truth is not done by the pastor; it is done by the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12, we find out who performs the truth. It is God and the Holy Spirit who do it. They do it only to those who have obeyed the truth. The pastor cannot read your heart. That pastor in Ethiopia could not read the heart of this young man. Outwardly he was very sincere, but he had no desire to enter the truth. He simply accepted the doctrine because he wanted a cheaper school fee. That’s all.
In 1 Corinthians 12:13 we read:
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
That is the truth. It is the Holy Spirit who baptizes you into the body of Christ. In Galatians chapter three, we find out what it means to be baptized into that one body and what the truth of baptism is. Notice statements that Paul makes in Galatians 3:27-29:
...for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The promise God made to Abraham is found in Genesis 18 where God said that in him all nations would be blessed and inherit the earth made new. And if you are in Christ, then you belong to Abraham and you belong to the promise of God. Verse 27:
...For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
That is the truth. Baptism as a truth is always into Christ. Baptism as an act is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I say this because there is a problem in the Christian church. A group of Pentecostals have taken the position that anyone who is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit cannot be saved. So they are calling their people back to be rebaptized into Jesus Christ. They have failed to make the distinction between the act and the truth.
The act is always in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus said so in Matthew 28:19 because all three Persons are involved in our salvation:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit....
It is God who put us into Christ. It is Christ who saved you and it is the Holy Spirit who brings that salvation to you and makes it effective. All three are involved but it is your position in Christ — your surrender to the truth as it is in Christ — that makes that salvation effective. Baptism as a truth is always into Christ.
To find out what Paul meant by the phrase “into Christ,” we go to Romans six where Paul has several verses dealing with this issue. We must look at the context of this passage. In the last part of Romans 5:20, Paul makes this statement:
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more....
By that he meant that, no matter how terrible a sinner you are, grace is capable of saving you. There is no depth to which you can go where grace can’t save you, but Paul was aware that this statement can be twisted. A person can take the statement and say, “What Paul is saying is, ‘the more I keep on sinning the more grace will cover me.’”
Paul is not saying that, so he clarifies himself in Romans 6:1:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
He is talking about attitude here. Can a Christian have the attitude that it is all right to sin because grace will increase? Verse 2a:
By no means!
The answer is, “God forbid.” It is unthinkable. Then he asks the question (verse 2b):
We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
This phrase appears three times in chapter six. Twice it applies to the believer: here in verse two and in verse eleven. In verse ten it applies to Christ. The question is, “When did we die to sin?” Verses three to six tells us when: at our baptism. Verse three:
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus [now he is talking about the truth] were baptized into his death?
In other words, His death becomes our death. In verse ten, His death was to sin:
The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Verse eleven says:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
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.
In other words, baptism as a truth simply means we have identified ourselves, we have linked ourselves, with Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, and resurrected. This means that His death becomes our death, His burial becomes our burial, and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
His death was to sin, the life of sin — the Adamic life died on the cross, not for three days, but forever! And, in exchange, the human race was given the life of Christ — the immortal, the eternal life, the life of righteousness. So Paul is saying, “We were buried with Him because our life died in Christ and we were raised with Him because we accepted the new life.”
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
The Greek word there for “united” is the same word that we use in English for grafting, and grafting is uniting two branches or two things together. We were linked with one another in baptism. That’s why it is into Christ. God put us into Christ two thousand years ago. Faith is accepting that and baptism is confessing it.
When my wife and I became American citizens and we had to swear allegiance publicly in Grand Rapids [Michigan, U.S.A.], we had to make a statement. It was hard for my wife because she was born in England and the Queen meant everything to her, but we had to give up all allegiance to all foreign governments and accept the United States government as the only country that we will be loyal to. And we had to do it publicly. Baptism is saying, “I’m giving up the old for new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
That is not true in experience. It is true only in Christ. You are accepting something that is true in Christ that may not be true in you. When you are baptized, the old life doesn’t die, yet it is dead. It is dead only by the surrender of the will to the cross of Christ. Romans 6:6:
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin....
Some translations read “old man” instead of “old self.” Where I was raised up, that expression “old man” was used to refer to our Dad. We used to call him “the old man.” Paul is not referring to your father; he is referring to your old Adamic life that you were born with, the life of self, your old life of self crucified with Him. That means that His death becomes your death, that the body of sin might be destroyed. That is not the best translation. The original does not say that. In the original translation it says: ...That the body of sin might be deprived of its power.
What the text is really saying is this. Let us say that you are travelling from here to Los Angeles in a bus. The church is going on a trip. We have two drivers who have agreed to drive this bus from Walla Walla, Washington, to Los Angeles, California. One drives half way and the other drives the other half. The first driver is one of those who likes to take the corners on two wheels. And, as you sit in that bus, every corner he takes, your heart is in your mouth. You wonder when the next driver will take over. The problem is not the bus. The problem is the driver.
Then when the half-way point is reached, the old driver steps out and the new driver takes over. He is a very careful driver and you sit back and relax. It is the same bus but two different drivers. That is exactly what happens in your Christian life. The old driver was the life of self. It loves sin, it enjoys sin; its very nature is anti-law. It delights to oppose the law.
When I was at Newbold [College, England], I had a roommate from Ireland. Some of the Irish people are hard to deal with and some are good people. This fellow was hard to deal with and I discovered he always liked to go the opposite of what I told him to do. So I discovered that the best way to get him to do something you wanted him to do was to tell him the opposite of your wishes. Three months later he caught onto it and he said, “You are very crafty.” “Well,” I said, “I have to be.” He’s a minister today in England. I hope he has reformed. We have a nature like that. Paul brings it out in Romans seven. When the law says, “Do this,” we do the very opposite.
When I was president of our college in Uganda, we had a brand new tractor that came through the thirteenth Sabbath overflow. The farm was two miles down the road. So the young people would all sit on the fender to get a ride to work instead of walking there. So I passed a law that there would be a fine of two dollars for anyone sitting on the fender of the tractor. Well, three days later a young man was caught sitting on the fender. He didn’t even work on the farm. So he got into my office. I said, “Why did you do it?” He said, “Because you made the rule.” So I said, “All right, so you pay the price.” I signed my name on the slip and said, “You take this to the office and they will deduct two dollars from your bill.” He said, “Pastor, I don’t have money.” I asked again, “Then why did you do it?” “Pastor, I can’t tell you. Something in me simply was rebellious and I did it.” He was telling the truth. So I put my hand in my pocket and took out my wallet and gave him the two dollars. I said, “I’ll suffer but this has to be paid for.” We became very close friends because I paid his fine.
Jesus Christ paid our fines. He suffered the death that we deserved. When you accept Christ, you are exchanging the old driver for the new. The body itself is not sinful. That’s the mistake of the Greeks. Our matter is not evil. The body is neutral. It’s like the bus. It’s the driver that is the problem. And, in Christ, we have received a new Driver who loves the law and who loves doing good. That is why David could say, “I delight in the law.” Psalm 119:70:
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law.
The need of all of us is to delight in the law.
...Because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
The word Paul uses for freed is “justified.” Baptism is into Christ. When you die, you are justified because the law demands that the soul that sins must die. Ezekiel 18:4b (and 18:20a):
The one who sins is the one who will die.
If you have died in Christ, you have done justice to the law. The law says, “You are justified, acquitted, free.” That’s why we have this statement in verse eight:
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
With this in mind, let us now go to 1 Peter 3. Because this is a difficult passage, we will go step by step so that we can see what Peter is talking about here. 1 Peter 3:18:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
This means the human life — that is, our corporate life — died in Christ and baptism is accepting that death. The Holy Spirit brought to Him that new life which He had given up and the humanity of Christ came back to life in the resurrection. So these are the two facts: the old life died and the new life took over in the humanity of Christ, which is our humanity. 1 Peter 3:19:
After being made alive, he went [that is, Christ through the Spirit] and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits....
Now this is a text that is used by many Christians to prove that when a soul dies it goes to heaven. Look at the context. The word “spirit” doesn’t always mean a ghost that goes out of you. Here is an example. Turn to 1 John 4:1 where the same word is used referring to people:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
So the word “spirit” here is not referring to some part of you that disappears at death. It refers to human beings in the form of false prophets. So we see who 1 Peter 3:19 is talking about in verse 20:
...to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water....
This is the picture. God comes to Noah and says, “The world is going to be destroyed by a flood. I want you to build an ark.” It took Noah 120 years to build the ark. If we took 120 years to build a church, we would be in trouble because all those who had made a commitment would be dead. Noah took 120 years building the ark but, besides building the ark for those 120 years, he preached. He preached that the only hope for them was to enter into the ark.
The ark was a type of Christ and only those who entered into the ark would be saved. Eight souls entered. Were they all good people? Well, in fact, the leader who entered there would be disfellowshipped from the church because he was found drunk after the flood. That was because of human weakness, not because he wanted to. He was still a human being. He entered in because he believed God when He said that the only safety was in the ark. He was still struggling. That is what Peter was saying in verse 21:
...and this water symbolizes 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....
When the flood came, the ark lifted in the water. The people who refused to enter into the ark were drowned.
The same message is being preached today. You must enter into Christ by the obedience of faith and baptism. When Christ comes, those who entered into Christ will rise up to meet Him in the clouds. Those who refuse to enter in will be destroyed by the brightness of His coming. So the question is, “Are you in Christ or are you out of Christ?” That is the question. In verse 21, Peter takes this example of the flood and applies it to our baptism:
...And this water symbolizes 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, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Baptism does not make you sinless. You still have a sinful nature. Baptism doesn’t clean you.
I got a terrible sickness baptizing in Ethiopia. They call it citosoma. It’s a terrible thing to get. I thank God that He helped the doctors discover it before it reached my liver. I don’t think I would be here today if they had not. But you see the water of baptism doesn’t cleanse you. I thank God that the water in America is clean and chlorinated. The waters in the third world are anything but clean. When you baptize in that water you never know what you are stepping into. It is the truth that cleanses you. You have stepped into Christ. You may still be a sinner but remember that, in Christ, you stand perfect in nature and in character because both were redeemed in Christ.
Also remember that, in Christ, you have received a new life. And now Paul tells us in Romans six you must walk in this new life. This new life can conquer the flesh! The life of Christ is greater than the power of sin! The life of Christ conquered death! Remember that, if you enter into Christ, that is where your hope is. Peter says, “Those who were enemies will be saved not by the putting away of the filth of the flesh but by the answer of a good conscience toward God.”
In Christ, you have a good conscience. In yourself, you are always struggling with sin. Your conscience and yourself say you are a sinner. The day you say you are not a sinner in yourself, you are a liar, because the Bible says so. But in Christ you have a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ because, when Jesus rose from the dead, He did not rise with sin. He left sin in the grave! And you leave sin in that watery gravewhen you are baptized.
In the SDA Bible Commentary 6, p. 175, is a statement as to why we need to understand the meaning of baptism:
“The new birth is a rare experience in this age of the world. This is the reason why there are so many perplexities in the churches. Many who assume the name of Christ are unsanctified and unholy. They have been baptized but they were buried alive....” [It is illegal in this country to bury anyone who has not died and pastors should never bury anybody who hasn’t died spiritually.] “...Self did not die [that is, the old life did not die] and therefore they did not rise to newness of life in Christ.”
In other words, they went through the motions of baptism. They went through the act of baptism, but the truth did not accompany that act and, therefore, they were not raised up in newness of Christ. The question is, “Have you understood the truth and accepted the truth of baptism?”
I discovered this truth five years after my ordination. What do you do when you discover the truth of baptism after you have been ordained as a minister? If I went to my fellow pastor and said, “I want to be rebaptized,” I know what would happen. There would be chin wagging. “I wonder what he did wrong?” So I went under a wild fig tree and went on my knees there in Uganda and I said, “Lord, I have been through the act already but now you have opened my eyes to the truth. I surrender myself to this truth.” We don’t have to go through the act once again; the truth is what sets us free.
Let us turn to an incident in life during the Exodus. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul identifies the Exodus with salvation. He identifies the crossing of the Red Sea with baptism. He uses Moses as a type of Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-5:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
As we are baptized into Christ, they all were baptized in Moses when they crossed the Red Sea. When they crossed the Red Sea they said “good-bye” to Egypt, which is a type of the world, and they said “good-bye” to Pharaoh, who is a type of Satan. But they did not say “good-bye” to the life of Egypt. So, therefore, their baptism was only an act, not a truth. Therefore, when they were headed for Canaan, their hearts were in Egypt. “Oh I wish we could go back where they have cucumbers.” (Cucumbers in a hot country like Egypt are a delight, but never eat them without washing them.) But their hearts were in Egypt. “Oh, I wish we could go back to Egypt where we had cucumbers and leeks and onions and Kentucky-fried chicken. How we miss it!” Their hearts were in Egypt. Physically they were on the way to Canaan. Some of those who left Egypt entered Canaan. Some of them above the age of twenty. It is a tragedy if we join the church and never enter Canaan.
When they finally came to the borders of Canaan, God took them through a very difficult route through Petra, which was very mountainous. God said to Joshua, “When you cross the Jordan, this time I want your baptism to be genuine,” and He gave special instructions. Joshua 4:1-7:
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
The expression “cut off” in Hebrew means “the old was cut off and the new came in.”
When Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, John said, “I cannot baptize you. You are the One who should baptize me.” Jesus said, “It is necessary for me to be baptized here so that all righteousness might be fulfilled.” Matthew 3:13-15:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
The baptism of the Jordan is the true baptism. The baptism of the Red Sea is simply the act of baptism without the truth. The question to ask is: “Which baptism were you baptized into: the act or the act with the truth?” It is the truth that saves you.
In 1981, I took a Week of Prayer at Middle East University [then Middle East College, in Lebanon]. A young man gave his heart to Christ and wanted to be baptized. His father, who was a member of the Maronite Church, which is an offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church, came to me furiously. He was angry with me and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, your son has requested to be baptized.” “In this filthy Lebanese water?” he objected.
Then he told me what happened. When his son was born, he drove all the way to the Jordan and took a barrel and filled it with water from the river Jordan and brought it all the way to Lebanon and baptized his young baby boy by immersion in the waters of the Jordan. “Now you are taking him and baptizing him in this filthy Lebanese water.” I said, “What you did was the act. What I’m doing now is the truth. This young man has seen the truth and he wants to give his life in exchange for the life of Christ. The water is filthy, I agree with you, but the truth is pure, because the truth is Jesus Christ.”
The act of baptism is not what saves you. It is the truth that saves you. The truth is in Jesus Christ and my prayer is that you have accepted the life of Christ in exchange for your life which must die. That is the meaning of true baptism and Jesus promised us, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” It is my prayer that if you have not surrendered to the truth that you will do it today.