Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sermon--Faith's Pledge of a Good Conscience--1 Peter 3:21-22

A Pledge of a Good Conscious--Making it and Keeping It

This week we are dealing with a very difficult passage of Scripture. It has been used as a proof-text for arguing that baptism is necessary for salvation. However, that is not the point of the passage--we will be looking at the larger context of the passage today. Turn to 1 Peter 3:13-22 and look closely at vs. 21 which describes our baptism as “not the removal of dirt from the body but…” some translations say “appeal”, “promise”, or “answer”—which is an important point in a minute, I like the way the NIV translates this word, “the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” Underline the word in your Bible and note pledge in your margin and keep your finger there. Before we look closely at that passage we must understand what a pledge in the mind of someone like Peter would be. Turn back to Numbers 30.

Numbers 30:1-2—this whole chapter deals with pledges and vows. Pledges are Irrevocable even if they are foolish, done without thinking or have a high cost. In the OT, if you have made a pledge to God, there is no going back. In the same way you were not allowed to go back on a pledge, keep in mind that once Noah agreed to get on the ark and God closed the door, there was no way he could go back to his old world.

The Water of Judgment was also the instrument of Salvation—lifting Noah and His family to safety—but once they passed through the water—the world was forever changed—Noah could not go back.

Jesus addressed the subject of vows and pledges in Matthew 5:33—

Jesus said that elaborate promises and vows are wrong and unnecessary, but to let your “yes” be just as binding as a pledge, your “yes” be “yes” and your “no,” “no”. By saying this, if you agree to something, your honor and relationship with God will hold you accountable to being truthful, honest, and filled with integrity. Again, a vow or pledge does not have to be fancy or formal to be binding for a believer. Take everything you agree to seriously and see to it that you fulfill your word.

When you became a believer, you made a pledge to God.

What is the Evidence of Your Pledge of a Good Conscious? READ 1 Peter 3:18-22

Jesus died for sins (v. 18) in order to bring us to God. We know He was successful because God raised Him from the dead and has (vs. 22) gone into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God. A position of Power, Honor, Rest and Intercession.

You have been brought to God--while those around you have not. The only way to be brought to God is to have your sin forgiven and your conscious cleansed. Hebrews 10:22-23—“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

You have a good conscience before God in Christ. Your life does not have to be dominated by Guilt & Shame.

Your Pledge is your commitment to Live the Life that Christ has called you to, no matter what—even if it turns into suffering. By becoming a Christian, you are making an irrevocable pledge to be a Disciple—to die to yourself and live for God. The visible symbol of that completed transaction is Baptism.

Pledge out of or in possession of a Good Conscience. “Answer” is also a good translation, but it is an answer in response to a question. Many baptism traditions, even from the early church, ask the candidate a series of questions. The affirmation of believe is what qualified the person for baptism or made the baptism a significant moment. They gave their answer and it changed their world and their lives forever.

Consider the Baptism of Jesus. He did not get baptized in order to be saved or because He needed His sins to be forgiven. It was also more than just setting an example for us. This is the beginning of His public ministry that lead Him to the Cross. He knew from the beginning where He would have to go in order to save you and me. Jesus knew exactly what needed to be done in order to “fulfill (bring about) all righteousness)”—Matthew 3:15. This moment was His pledge—a demonstration of His commitment to fulfill the Father’s plan. The very next moment was Satan tempting Jesus to take a shortcut and not walk that path—not fulfill that pledge. But Jesus refused. When The Father called out—“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Jesus said, “Here am I. Send Me.”

Baptism saves you because of how you have answered the questions. It occurs after you have been forgiven, and the blood of Christ, and the power of the resurrection has been applied to you. It occurs after your conscience has been cleansed, after you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, after you have been brought near to God.

It is a symbolic testimony to what has already happened. Baptism is not only your testimony to your faith, but your dedication to live and fulfill your faith. Baptism is evidence of your pledge and your commitment to the decision you have made to follow Christ. It is a proclamation of your “YES, I will follow Christ”. And Jesus taught clearly that you should follow through with your word no matter what it costs you.

Baptism does not save; baptism in water in itself means nothing. Baptism is not a guarantee of a person’s salvation—all it will do if there is no decision for Christ is make a sinner wet.

The Water itself did not save Noah—God did—by finding Noah favorable, by speaking to, by directing Noah to build the Ark, by Himself closing the Door, by seeing that they survived the flood, telling Noah when it was safe to leave the Ark.

There is no power in baptism, or in the water to do anything for the believer, the power comes only in what it represents.

The Resurrection of Christ is what holds the power in Baptism. Without the resurrection—there is no salvation, there is no good conscience toward God and nothing to pledge your life to.

Without the Power of Easter Sunday—baptism is worthless—we are still in our sins, our conscience has not been cleansed and as Paul said—we are to be pitied above all men.

Your baptism symbolizes what Christ did for you in saving you--dying, being buried and rising again. Baptism doesn't clean your body of dirt physically, it doesn't spiritually either.

What cleans away your sins is the blood of Christ, not the waters of baptism.

So that means that this verse cannot mean that we are saved by faith plus baptism.

If baptism were necessary for salvation, this would mean that the Savior’s work on the cross was not enough. When He cried, “It is finished,” it wasn’t really so.

If baptism is necessary for salvation, it is strange that Jesus did not personally baptize anyone. John 4:2 states that Jesus did not do the actual baptizing of His followers; this was done by His disciples.

The Apostle Paul thanked God that he baptized very few of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:14–16). This would be strange thanksgiving for an evangelist if baptism were essential for salvation!

The fact that Paul did baptize some shows that he taught believer’s baptism, but the fact that he baptized only a few shows that he did not consider it a requirement for salvation.

It is not possible to be Filled with the Holy Spirit apart from genuine salvation, apart from the application of the Blood of Christ and Reconciliation with God, yet the filling of the Holy Spirit occurred before Baptism

The Gentiles who were saved in Caesarea received the Holy Spirit when they believed (Acts 10:44—“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message… 47—Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”),

The Holy Spirit showed that they already belonged to Christ (Rom. 8:9b). After receiving the Holy Spirit, that is, after being saved, they were baptized (vv. 47, 48). They were saved first, filled with the Holy Spirit, then baptized in water.

There are about 150 passages in the NT which teach that salvation is by faith alone. These cannot be contradicted by two or three verses that seem to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. To do so makes baptism a work, added to the work of Christ.

Your baptism--your willingness to be baptized in the Name of Christ is a demonstration of your commitment, not of your salvation. If you have not committed yourself to Christ, there is no reason to be baptized.

It is a visible act of your internal Pledge made because you possess a good conscious before God. By making this pledge, you are agreeing to believe even if it means hardship, difficulty, and suffering. You should not accept Christ thinking that everything will be clear sailing—it will likely bring on hardship—you should know that going into it—once your answer is given—with full knowledge, awareness and understanding, you cannot go back on what you have agreed to even if it means suffering as Christ suffered. Philippians 3:10-11--"I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

We get baptized because you are pledging your life to Christ—no matter what the consequences of that decision are. You may be called to endure hardship and persecution b/c of your relationship with Christ as the readers in Peter’s day were experiencing.

People may make fun of you when you choose to go to church on Sunday and Wednesday, when you choose not to drink, smoke or do drugs. You may not be tempted to totally walk away from your faith—after all, here in America our lives are not in jeopardy, but you may be tempted to hide it, to not talk about it, to fit in rather than stand out.

The question is whether or not you are going to give up, whether you are going to quit and go back on your pledge and commitment to Christ. What decisions are you making because of your faith? What do you see others doing or getting away with that you refuse to? How can you keep your pledge and your good conscience in the face of temptation and if you are suffering?

How to Keep Your pledge and a Good Conscious—

Thankfully, Vs. 14 says you are blessed only if you suffer for what is right and the following verses give us all hope.

Endure hardships and Persecution--only for standing for your faith. Peter himself understood this. When Peter and the other apostles were arrested in Acts 4 & 5 they had to decide who they should obey, the governing authority or God—they said “We must obey God rather than men.” Even if it meant punishment, (they were beaten or flogged) their consciences were clear. If there was wrongdoing or a genuine basis for accusation against them, their conscience would not have been clear.

In your Hearts--Set apart Christ as LordIn biblical revelation, the heart is the religious center of man that affects and controls the rest of the body and mind. When the center of your life is rightly related to God, no matter what happens around you, you will respond with the power of the Holy Spirit and keep a good conscience. Even if you sin in some way, the Spirit will quickly point it out to you and you will seek forgiveness from God and we know that He is “faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”—1 John 1:9.

Show the Hope that you have —your hope is based on the Resurrection of Christ—that you have been brought near to God--that certainty that your sins are forgiven, that you have power to live for today, and a joyful expectation of eternity. Never let those things be squashed by the pressures and troubles of life to where you don’t have joy in the Lord. Never forget what it took to redeem you, never fail to let your Hope change the way you live.

Be Prepared to give an answer—when you truly live your hope—truly live with the reality of a Good Conscience before God, be prepared to answer why. Be prepared to defend what you are doing, the decisions you are making and how you are living. It’s not your concern whether they fully embrace or understand what you’re doing—your concern is to provide a faithful witness and leave the results up to God.

How will you explain your different way of life? When was the last time someone noticed a difference that you had to? You are fulfilling your pledge to Follow Christ and keeping a clear conscience by giving an answer and sharing your faith.

When you are tempted to be discouraged about how many are embracing Christ just remember that people listened in Noah’s day for 120 years with no response. Only 8 people made it through that time.

Baptism in Noah's day was the burial of the world--judgment of God came--and there was no resurrection for those under the water.

But your baptism says something completely different. You not only were buried under water--death—the penalty you and I deserved which was given to Jesus on your behalf--but you were brought out of the water through the Resurrection of Christ.

The people in Noah's day experienced death and judgment on their own terms--physically and spiritually. In Christ we may experience physical death, but we will never experience spiritual death. Our baptism is not only our public declaration of our faith in Christ, but it is a commitment and a pledge to die to ourselves and live for Christ.

Difference - in Noah's day no one came out of the water, but today, God wants to baptize the whole world again. Not in judgment, but in forgiveness, not unto death, but unto salvation, not to remain buried under the water but to be raised to a new life—a new commitment to the plan and purpose of God.

Have you made that decision, that pledge to follow Christ? If not I want to invite you to do that today.

Baptism also unites us as a fellowship, in that we are united with those who have also answered “Yes” to the questions—in much the same way that the Pledge of Allegiance is supposed to unite our nation as fellow Americans. Our baptism is supposed to strengthen the Body of Christ and identify others around us whom we can call upon in difficulty and for encouragement.

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