A fundamental wish we have at some point in our lives is to have a clean slate after something we have done that is regretful. Some of us have had more than just a bad day we want to forget about but a bad year. As of this writing I am a little over a week from starting as a counselor in a residential treatment program for substance abuse. I will have clients that would like to have a clean slate where they do not have to wallow in shame.
The nature of shame is having a fundamental view of yourself that is completely flawed to the core and lacking hope. If you are infected by shame, why try to improve? You can always page Dr. Daniels, first name Jack, to bring you relief.
To have a clean slate that gets us out of the rut of shame is a matter of a tangible turning point. If someone just gradually phases out of a particular bad and compulsive behavior then they can phase it back in. This turning point can not be entirely intellectual because if I can be talked out of that shameful behavior I can be talked back into it.
A way to have that new reference point that works with the gut and is tangible is through baptism. From the top of your head to the bottom of your feet there is a reckoning of yourself to be dead to sin and alive unto God (Romans 6:11). Peter sees this to be a literal truth with literal application.
1 Peter 3:18-22
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
There are several misunderstandings I used to have as a Protestant that would water down how effective and relevant baptism could be. One, that baptism is a symbol of knowing Jesus but does not have any power to it. There are several reasons that one should not read the Bible and come to that conclusion.
First, just with this passage alone, there are many points that have to be taken literally but supposedly baptism is taken figuratively. The direct baptism reference would have to be a symbolic island surrounded with many verses that must be taken fundamentally or there is no room for orthodoxy (Council of Nicea comes to mind). It would be wise to take either the entire passage literally or not at all. Pull out one thread and whole passage falls apart with Jesus having figuratively suffered, resurrected, and interceding for us now.
Second, the Bible does not show us prefigures of prefigures for figures. It is relatively straight to the point. Removal of dirt from the body is just a symbol. By baptism we connect to Jesus being the literal Savior, Mediator and Lord.
Third, baptism is not a legalistic work. Legalism is a set of do’s and don’t’s that is founded by man and does not connect us to God. Jesus founded it as a way to experience grace that changes us to the core (Matthew 28: 18-21).
Along with the same vein of seeing baptism as a legalistic act is regarding infant baptism. I can respond to this issue as a father. In a few months my wife and I will see our three kids (5,3, and newborn) that we have together be baptized in the Catholic Church (I became a Catholic last year and my wife became a Catholic this past Easter). We are not under the illusion that our kids will have a free ride from sin but a reference point in knowing that they have been marked with an intrinsic point of reference of God’s love and saving grace. When they stray that reference point will be that clean conscience or North Star to remember, be inspired by and find their way home.
Another point is that the clean slate of baptism is a way to plug into God’s plan of salvation for the whole world and even more so through what Jesus did. An example is pointed out by Steven Ray (former Baptist minister turned Catholic). He points out that if Simon Peter shared on the day of Pentecost that this new, superior covenant was for their kids but they had to hold off on baptizing their children until the age of accountability there would be a problem. A Jewish elder would say, “Hold off! You say this covenant through Yeshua (Jesus) is superior but with what we have now our sons can be circumscised into the old covenant at eight days. You do not have a superior covenant”.
So baptism is not only a tangible and holistic but it is also universal and at the hands of His called out community (ekklesia= Church). When taken in context of all that Jesus is, it is not a hurdle to God’s grace but a channel of it. He gives us an offer that we should not refuse.