Doubly Clean

“There is also an antitype which now saves us -? baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
Baptisms are always a great pleasure to watch. The simple beauty of the ceremony, the eternal significance of one’s obedient faith, and the joy inevitably displayed by both the baptized and the witnesses make them truly special occasions. This is especially true when one crosses culture and sees slight variations in the way baptisms are performed and in the reactions of other people. The essential mode, purpose, and prerequisites of baptism do not and must not vary, but culture and physical circumstances can and do affect the “expediencies” involved in the act.
For instance, in the high mountains of Nepal, water is scarce and deep water almost unavailable. Most baptisms are performed in small creeks running out of the mountain sides. A fairly level spot is chosen, rocks and dirt are used to make a dam, and a small temporary pool perhaps 1 to 1 ? feet deep is formed. Two men work together to baptize, with the candidate sitting down in the pool with his or her feet held under the water by one of the men while the other lowers the upper body into the water, being careful that all is immersed.
In Bangladesh, however, there are many deeper rivers, creeks, and ponds. Most baptisms are conducted with the candidate standing about chest deep in still or slowly moving water. The preacher will place his hand on the candidate’s head and gently press. The candidate then bends at the knees and lowers him/her self into the water.
One thing that frequently accompanies baptisms in both these countries is a thorough bath in the same water immediately after the baptism is completed. Someone in the group (on most occasions one will baptize several people at the same time) will bring a bar of soap, and there will be towels available. Each person will take advantage of the fact that they are already wet and water is available and become physically clean at the same time that their sins have been washed away. This may reflect the scarcity of opportunity for good “all-over” bathing in these countries, and, at least in Nepal, the discomfort and difficulty of bathing in the cold mountain climate. If one is already cold and wet, he may as well receive full benefit from it.
Peter notes that one might easily misunderstand the purpose and effect of baptism. It is not about bathing, or washing one’s body. It is a spiritual act that fulfills one’s faith in obedient response to the death and resurrection of Christ. There is no magic in the water. Baptism is not a work that earns one any merit or credit. It is completely symbolic, representing Jesus’ own death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-7). The power is not in the water, but in God’s grace, accessed by the believer’s obedient faith.
This is not to deny or lessen the significance of the cleansing power of baptism, however. Saul of Tarsus was commanded, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). This same man, now the Apostle Paul, later teaches, “… according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Again, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corintians 6:11).
There is powerful and deep cleansing in the act of baptism. Jesus’ blood scrubs our souls and spirits, removing all trace of guilt and sin. God creates within us a new person “in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). No mere physical bathing with soap can touch the inner filth that condemns us to eternal damnation without Christ. But using the simple element of water to represent Jesus’ cross and grave in faithful obedience to God makes us completely and thoroughly clean. Thanks to him for his kindness and grace.

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