HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
1 Peter 3:18-22
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 8, 2013
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
-- 1 Peter 3:18-22, ESV
My golf game is improving but I keep losing golf balls. Only now, I don’t loose them in the trees and in the water, but in the fairway. I’m going to get my eyes checked this Wednesday. It will be cheaper than buying boxes of golf balls. I’m just tired of losing them when they are hidden in plain sight.
Reading the Bible is a little like playing golf. It is not necessarily easy. There is a lot to think about. And if you are not careful, while reading a particular passage, you can walk right past some wonderful truths that are hidden in plain sight.
The Hidden Key of the Gospel
The gospel is fairly easy to see if you are a Christian, or even if you are not, providing you have heard enough gospel sermons or presentations. God became a man, God’s Son, by incarnation. God’s Son sacrificed His life for sinners, by crucifixion. God’s Son and His followers have eternal life, by resurrection. Incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, this is the gospel you can see. And, you can see it very plainly in this text from the pen of Simon Peter.
“Christ suffered ... for sins ... being put to death ... but made alive.” In the context of preparing Christians for witness and service, Simon Peter reminds us that the gospel is the basis of eternal life and responsible church membership.
In the context of suffering for Christ, he reminds us that our Lord experienced the ultimate suffering. In a context where some Christians were being imprisoned and executed for their faith, he reminds us that those who have believed the gospel, like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, will live forever.
But there is a hidden key in this gospel paragraph that is often overlooked in gospel preaching. It is the doctrine of double imputation, explained here in the phrase “the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Jesus is perfectly righteous, right with God the Father, sinless and spotless. Humans are unrighteous, alienated from God, sinful and rebellious. But by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a double transaction takes place.
The first is obvious. Our “sins” and “unrighteousness” are nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ, placed on His back, paid for by His sacrificial death. The second transaction is less talked about. It is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account. This is essentially what it means to be justified by faith and this is an essential key to the gospel, one often hidden in plain sight.
You not only have to be forgiven to be saved (accept Christ’s sacrifice for your sins), you have to be made perfect before a holy and perfect God. The gospel gives you both. The great transaction of the cross is a double blessing. Christ’s blood cleanses you from all sin (past, present, and future) and Christ’s righteousness makes you acceptable to God (instant in justification, constant in sanctification, and complete in glorification). What grace! What a blessing! What a privilege! And one that can either be abused or appreciated.
The Hidden Preaching of Jesus
One of the ways you can appreciate the double imputation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to share it with others as a witness. Please don’t use the words, double imputation, but do put words to your testimony of salvation and impress upon others their need to be saved by grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But witnessing is a hard row to hoe. It always has been and it seems more difficult today in a culture far removed from God, respect for God’s church, and reverence for God’s word. Well, no one today has it tougher than Noah in his day.
The second movement in this passage is a difficult text on which even the best biblical scholars are divided. Some say that between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday Jesus went to “prison” and preached to the people who were there, some of whom were living on earth in the days of Noah. I have a great deal of respect for some of the people who put forth this position, but I respectfully disagree. I cannot find a reason for Jesus to do such a thing. Furthermore, I see ways the church has been sidetracked by such a position (the addendum to The Apostles’ Creed, the doctrine of Purgatory, etc.). And finally, it does not seem to be the best rendering of the biblical passage.
Jesus preached “in the spirit ... in the days of Noah.” This simply means that the Holy Spirit, God of very God just like God the Father and God the Son, was the power within Noah that enabled him to preach the gospel to the people of his day. The fact that no one believed except for Noah’s own family is not the fault of Noah the preacher, but the people who listened and disobeyed the gospel. God calls us to be faithful, not necessarily successful.
My point is that if the spirit of Jesus can enable a farmer and boat builder to witness to the most hardened people in history, He can enable and empower you to witness to your family and friends. For when we tell or preach the gospel, it truly is Jesus in us and through us doing the preaching. And perhaps, you and I are never more like Jesus that when we are preaching, teaching, and living His word in front of other people who need Him in their lives.
The Hidden Meaning of Baptism
If by chance someone sees you living the gospel or hears you share the gospel, and they want to accept the gospel, and they ask you what to do, what are you going to tell them? Tell them what the New Testament tells them. Follow Jesus by repenting, believing, and being baptized.
Following Jesus is plain enough. Repentance is often overlooked by plain by definition. Believing is easy, probably too easy in our day and age. But what about baptism, and how can Peter say it now saves you?
Some say it literally does. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration states that a person is saved when they are baptized, when water makes contact with the skin, that the great double imputation of the gospel occurs when a person is dipped, dunked, or drained with water. This has been the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church for over a millennium, the Church of Christ for over a century, and various other groups of Christian churches. While I can honestly see how this text and others (like Acts 2:38) seem to teach this, I also see how such an interpretation contradicts the great doctrines of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, not works (see Ephesians 2:8-10).
Look closer at the text. Simon Peter makes it plain that it is not the act of baptism itself that saves, not water against flesh, not the external “removal of dirt from the body.” But rather it is the “appeal to God,” the desire for “a good conscience,” the need for forgiveness and eternal life, the calling on the name of the Lord in repentance and faith, that applies the salvation of the Lord to a human soul. When a person is baptized in this spirit of confession, they are also confessing their intent to live the rest of their lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, being “subjected to Him” like all of creation should be.
One does not need to be baptized to be saved. But, a saved person needs to be baptized. And, the next time you see a person baptized, look at all that is hidden in plain sight. The perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is deposited in their life. Not only that, but Jesus Himself, through the person of the Holy Spirit, has come to live inside of them. Now they are living, not only with Jesus, but in His kingdom, under His lordship, and the promised eternal life has truly just begun.
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org