The word describing baptism in 1 Peter 3: 21 is most often translated pledge, response, or answer, but actually the translation should be plea, request, or appeal.
Still, when we appeal to God for a clear conscience through baptism, we also pledge to keep our conscience clear (Acts 24: 14-16; Romans 12: 1, 2).
Under the old law, Jews were annually reminded of their guilt by animal sacrifices, but under the perfect law that gives liberty, the blood of Jesus cleanses our conscience when our hearts have been sprinkled and our bodies have been washed with pure water (James 1: 25; Hebrews 9: 9, 10, 14, 22; 10: 1-4, 19-22). We first come in contact with the blood of Christ during baptism because it’s through baptism that we acquire a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3: 21). This isn’t a matter of bathing to remove external dirt; baptism leads to internal cleansing in the new order of things – the new law. We submit to baptism to be cleansed rather than because we’ve been cleansed.
The Bible occasionally describes the purification we receive in baptism as something we would do ourselves leading some to view it as a work we do to attain salvation (Acts 22: 16; 1 Peter 1: 22-25).
It’s never categorized as a work one does to receive salvation. Other Bible passages make it clear that Jesus does the work of purification in baptism using one of his already-baptized disciples (Hebrews 1: 3; Titus 2: 11-14; 3: 3-7; Ephesians 5: 25-27; John 4: 1, 2; Colossians 2: 10-12; Matthew 28: 18-20).
This cleansing through baptism doesn’t take much effort on our part, but it does require our initiative to submit to God. Jesus has only promised to purify those who submit to his cleansing technique (Acts 2: 38, 39).
Once initially cleansed through baptism, Jesus’ blood continues to purify us as we continue to live in fellowship with him and one another (1 John 1: 5-9; John 13: 6-10; Isaiah 1: 15-20).
God knows that as long as we live in this sinful world, we’ll give in to temptations. One cannot touch an unclean thing and not become unclean himself (Isaiah 24: 5, 6; 2 Corinthians 6: 16-7: 1; 1 Corinthians 15: 33; 5: 9, 10). Giving in to temptation, which is sinning, leads to guilt for Christians. Guilt can lead to fear causing one to flee from God (Genesis 3: 8-11).
God wants us to realize his love by going to him for forgiveness and the reinstating of our clear conscience rather than feel the guilt of our sins and the fear of certain retribution (1 John 4: 9, 10, 16-18; Psalm 103: 8-18).
Forgiveness and conscience-clearing through prayer is God’s promise to repentant Christians – those who’ve put on Christ (Galatians 3: 26-4: 7; Romans 8: 12-16, 26, 27). This is how we keep our relationship with him right, continuing to have fellowship with him and one another.
Being forgiven – reacquiring a clear conscience – is how we maintain fellowship within ourselves as well, having inner peace. When we sin, we’re convicted, not only by the Holy Spirit, our own conscience also accuses us, instilling guilt (John 16: 8; Romans 2: 15).
When we ask God to forgive us, he immediately forgets that we’ve sinned (Hebrews 10: 17, 18; Isaiah 43: 25). We don’t have that capability, though, and must work at letting ourselves off the hook, but it can be done.
God wants us to repent and seek forgiveness as soon as we realize our sin, but he’s given us communion (the Lord’s Supper) as a weekly reminder of his love and an opportunity to reconcile ourselves to himself, to other members of the body of Christ and to ourselves through conscience-clearing (Acts 20: 7; 1 Corinthians 11: 17-32).
Although the apostle Paul was ever mindful of his past and present sin, he knew he was forgiven and had a clear conscience, even after having persecuted the body of Christ (Romans 7: 14-25; 1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Acts 9: 4, 5; 23: 1; 1 Corinthians 4: 4).
Our pledge to keep our conscience clear is based on continued appeals to God for a clear conscience, never forgetting that, if God can forgive us and forget our sin, we should do the same for ourselves (2 Peter 1: 9).
Have you appealed to God for a clear conscience through baptism? Are you keeping your conscience clear by putting your misdeeds to death by the Spirit as you repent and seek forgiveness?
Try it and see how much better you’ll feel about yourself (Psalm 32: 1-11).
Leonard Lauriault is a member of the church of Christ