The Answer of a Good Conscience

The Answer of a Good Conscience

(1Peter 3:18-22)

By Paul R. Blake

            Jesus suffered for doing good. He was put to death for the remission of the sins of men so that they might be brought to God. Peter wrote that Christ was put to death in the flesh; he had to die after the manner of men. He rose from the dead; he was made alive again in the spirit. In like manner, those who share in the sufferings of Christ by doing good may suffer death for it, but they will also enjoy the resurrection to blessedness with the Lord. (Heb. 10:5, 2:9, 5:8-9)

            1Peter 3:18-22 is a difficult text, but one should not be intimidated by it. It must be remembered that any exegesis of a passage of scripture may not be out of its own context, nor may it be in conflict or out of harmony with any other passage of scripture. In addition, by allowing the text to speak for itself and examining each statement carefully, one can often find that the solution to a difficult Bible saying was not so hard after all. Consider each phrase step by step:

            "By which also" has as its antecedent the spirit of 3:18, that is, his preaching was by means of or through the agency of Spirit. He was not "in" spirit form when he preached, but instead, it was "by" means of the Spirit that he preached. Peter already used the Spirit of Christ to describe the inspiration of the prophets of old. "Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (1:11). It was by this means that Christ preached in ancient days, that is, by His spirit.

            When did He preach by means of the Spirit of Christ? Peter states that it was while the ark was being prepared. Who was the preacher or prophet through whom the Spirit of Christ operated at that time? Peter says that Noah was the preacher of righteousness then (2Peter 2:5). To whom did Noah preach? To persons bound by sin, souls that were imprisoned and enslaved by their own wickedness (Gen. 6:5). Strong’s lexicon offers rational soul or mental disposition as one of the definitions of pneuma or spirit (4151); such a translation better fits the context and harmony of this scripture than spirit.

            Obviously this passage is not teaching that Jesus preached to disembodied spirits in Hades. What would be the point? Spirits of men awaiting judgment cannot profit from the preaching of the word, for it is not possible for them to come to repentance and obey the gospel in that realm. Nor would Jesus be preaching to them when they are helpless to respond. That would merely be a form of gloating, which is certainly out of character for the Lord. The context requires that those who were preached to were capable of doing something about what they heard. One can therefore conclude that Jesus, by means of the Spirit of Christ (inspiration) in Noah, taught those who were bound by sin prior to the flood. This explanation is certainly in keeping with the context of the passage which compares the saving power of water in Noah's day to that of baptism in the Christian dispensation.

            "The like figure" speaks of the metaphor of salvation by water for Noah. He was the beneficiary of God's grace (Gen. 6:8), he believed God's word (Heb. 11:7), and he obeyed God's instructions (Gen. 6:22). As a result, Noah and his family were saved when the flood bore them up in the ark while the rest of the world was overwhelmed in the water.

            Baptism saves in a similar way. God took the initiative in salvation when by grace He sent Jesus as an offering for sin (Rom. 5:18-21). Furthermore, He communicated His plan for salvation to sinful people by means of the preaching the gospel (Rom. 1:16, 1Cor. 1:21). Humankind responds to the Divine initiative by means of faith (Heb. 11:6) and obedience (Rom. 6:17-18). Baptism is the obedient answer of a conscience that has been convicted of sin, convinced that God is and that Jesus died for the sins of others, has repented and repudiated his life of sin, has confessed his conviction in Christ, and has been immersed for the remission of his sins. Baptism is the response a good, tender conscience makes to God's offer of salvation. As Noah and his family were saved by water when they obeyed, and the rest of the world died by water when they disregarded Noah's preaching, so will people be saved today by water when they obey, and the rest of the world lost when they reject the preaching of salvation by baptism in water.

            The resurrection of Jesus Christ validates salvation by baptism in water. Penitent sinners become partakers in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord when they are baptized (Rom. 6:3-6). Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to rule with God. Likewise will believers who enjoyed spiritual resurrection when they rose from the watery grave of baptism also be resurrected from physical death and dwell with God in heaven (1Cor. 15:19-20; 1Thes. 4:14-17).

Test Your King Knowledge

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