Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. “Baptism… now saves you…” (1 Pet. 3:21, ESV). Baptism saves you. That is St. Peter’s astonishing declaration today in our epistle reading.
Baptism saves me?
But how? I thought that I am saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Well, yes, of course you are. As Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered, once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous…” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus took our place upon the cross and died for our sins—for the sins of the whole world. And whoever believes in his name will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (John 3:15-17).
But if all that is needed for salvation is faith, then why do I need to be baptized?
For two reasons: (1) Christ commands it; and (2) Jesus attaches wonderful promises to Baptism. The command comes in that passage of Scripture we have come to know as the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20). We baptize because Jesus tells us to baptize.
We also baptize because of the wonderful blessings God gives us in Baptism: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is what we call a “means of grace.” Christ died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, but in order to receive the benefit of that forgiveness, it must be delivered to us. The means of grace—the Word and Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion—are God’s delivery system by which he gives us grace.
Have you ever heard about the Japanese soldiers that got left behind at the end of World War II? There were little islands and tiny atolls all over the Pacific where small groups of Japanese soldiers were stationed. But when the war ended in 1945, nobody told them. They didn’t receive word. So they remained at their post for years—decades—after the war ended until a fisherman or tourist sailed near. Then they opened fire from the edge of the jungle, shooting away with their machine gun emplacement. That really scared the tourists! They had to go and rouse some of the old generals from the Imperial Army to personally visit these soldiers and relieve them of duty. One of the most famous cases was that of Hiroo Onoda, who didn’t surrender until 1974! The War ended in 1945, but not for Onoda and others like them. Until they heard the news that hostilities were over, the war was still on for them.
Similarly, even though Jesus died for the sins of the whole world and declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30), people need to receive the benefit of that grace. Through the preaching and teaching of the Word, and through the washing of water and the Word in Baptism, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in our hearts so that we can believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved. “Faith comes by hearing…” (Rom. 10:17). And that is why “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word” (SC, 1st Part of Baptism).
Yet you may ask—as do our Baptist and non-denominational friends—“How can water do such great things?” (SC, 3rd Part of Baptism). In other words, how can plain, old water save somebody from sin, death, and the power of the devil?
The answer is very simple: once the Word of God is combined with the water, it’s no longer ordinary water. Instead, it becomes “a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit” (SC). That’s what St. Paul writes in his letter to Titus:
“[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7).
Did you hear all that baptismal language? “Washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us…” Washing and pouring are water talk. Paul is talking about Baptism.
The Bible is very clear that Baptism is not a good work we do, but an act of grace that he does for us. In Colossians 2, the apostle compares Baptism to the covenant of circumcision (which, by the way, was carried out on infants). There he calls Baptism “a circumcision made without hands” (Col. 2:11). If Baptism isn’t done by human hands, then who does the baptizing? God! Jesus! The Holy Spirit! Who else? Yes, when someone is baptized, the pastor or their parents or grandparents pour water over their head or dunk them underneath the surface of the water, but God is the one doing the actual baptizing.
Baptism is God’s work—not ours. That is why Peter writes, “Baptism… 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” (1 Pet. 3:21). Baptism is not a physical washing, but a spiritual one. In Baptism, God pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts, giving us faith in Christ, and forgiving our sins for Jesus’ sake. He gives us a good conscience because we come to know that we are his children by faith and not because of any good works we did or evil deeds we avoided. We are saved simply and solely by God’s grace. Baptism is a gift!
And through Baptism we are connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Romans 6, Paul describes Baptism as a participation with Jesus in his death and resurrection. It is a spiritual drowning:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).
Through Baptism, we die and rise again with Christ. And it becomes a deposit or guarantee that on the Last Day, when Christ raises our bodies from the dead, we will live with him forever.
So don’t let anybody tell you that Baptism is unimportant. And it’s so much more than just a symbol or an act of obedience. Baptism isn’t merely a ceremony or rite of passage. Baptism is not just a public declaration that you have decided to follow Jesus. Rather, Baptism is God’s public declaration that you are his child now, adopted into the family of faith, born again through water and the Spirit (John 3:3-5).
In Mark 16, Jesus tells us, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. But whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). It’s important to mention that you won’t go to hell simply because you’re not baptized. This verse tells us that it’s unbelief that’s damning—not whether or not you are baptized. The thief on the cross didn’t have a chance to get baptized. But he repented and believed in Christ. Jesus told him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The thief was saved because he believed the Word Jesus spoke. The Word of God is a means of grace. Baptism is another. The Lord’s Supper is yet another. God loves you so much that he has given the means of grace as a way to deliver his forgiveness to you: straight from the cross into your heart. The Word and Sacraments are Christ’s lifeline and vital connection to you. And that is why we, with Peter, can confidently say, “Baptism… now saves you…” (1 Pet. 3:22).
That is wonderful Good News! Thank you, Jesus!
By the way, how many times should I be baptized?
Only once. The Bible says that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Eph. 4:5-6). The phrase “one baptism” means that there is only one proper way to be baptized: in the name of the Triune God. That is why we use Jesus’ baptismal formula from the Great Commission: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” That is all that is required: the Triune name and the application of water. That is what makes a Baptism.
So if you have been baptized already in another Christian Church—be it Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, or anything other denomination—you do not need to be re-baptized when you become a Lutheran. We recognize any Christian Baptism as a legitimate Baptism, if it was carried out in the name of the Triune God. The only “baptisms” that we do not recognize are those carried out by cults like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they either do not invoke the Triune name of God, or even if they say the same words as us, they do not believe in the Trinity and so understand the words to mean something else entirely. Only in those cases would you be “re-baptized” in the Christian Church. Yet, in fact, it would actually be your first Baptism.
There is only one Baptism: the baptism commanded by Jesus and given to us as a means of grace. Baptism is a wonderful thing. If you have not been baptized or are uncertain if you have been baptized, then please talk to me after the worship service. Maybe you are ready to receive the wonderful promises of God. For, as the Bible says, “Baptism… now saves you…” (1 Pet. 3:22). In the name of the Father and of T the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version.