“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 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: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)
Perhaps, no passage of Scripture is more misunderstood and misinterpreted by those teaching the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration than 1 Peter 3:18-22. This passage is often proffered as a proof text by those preaching the necessity of baptism for salvation, despite the fact that the passage itself forbids such usage.
It has been rightly observed that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. The Bible never contradicts in one place what it clearly teaches in another. The existence of any contradictions is to be found in our wrong interpretations, never on the pages of Holy Writ.
From the Pauline epistles’ explicit teaching that salvation is by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) to Jesus’ promise of paradise to the unbaptized thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), the Bible clearly refutes the erroneous doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Why, then, would something be taught in a singular passage that is denied throughout the rest of Scripture? Obviously, it neither is nor would be.
A careful reading of this passage will prove that Peter doesn’t tie salvation to the rite of baptism, but to what baptism represents. Notice, after writing “baptism doth also save us,” Peter adds the clarifying statement, “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” Peter is most careful, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to explain that it is not the ceremonial cleansing of baptism that saves us, but what baptism represents; namely, the cleansing of our conscience by Christ.
It is neither the “figure” of baptism nor the “answer” (pledge) that it represents that saves us. Instead, it is the actuality in our lives of that symbolized and the truthfulness in our hearts of that pledged. The rite of baptism, being but a symbol and pledge, cannot produce a good conscience toward God. On the other hand, if what is symbolically typified by baptism is experientially true of us, then, and only then, should we publicly pledge our good conscience toward God by being baptized.
Water baptism is the newborn saint’s pledge of a good conscience toward God. It is the evidence new converts offer to prove they’ve entered into a right relationship with the resurrected Christ.