Peter mentioned in 1Peter 3:19-20 that the Spirit of Christ preached to the world before the Flood through Noah, the servant of God. He then went on to say that believers in Christ are saved by baptism through the resurrection of Christ, and this is a like figure of how Noah and his family were saved. Many Christians today interpret this to mean that water baptism saves us in some way, usually saying that just as the flood in Noah’s day saved those on the ark from the evil people of the world then being judged by God, so water baptism, which is our public testimony that we stand in Christ, saves us from the evil of our society. The problem with this interpretation is that it is unscriptural and illogical.
I’ll quote the verses here:
19By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: (1 Peter 3:19-21 – KJV).
While it may be conceivably true that the flood waters of Noah’s day separated them from the evil people who were at that time judged by God, the same waters were unable to keep these same people from committing evil on the other side of the Flood. Moreover, although water baptism may be a public testimony to unbelievers that the one baptized sides with Christ and not with the world, it is unable to keep him from joining the world again to commit the same evil he was known for doing before water baptism. This whole perspective, at least as far as I’m concerned, makes no sense in the light of Peter’s argument. Rather, I believe it is the ark that is in view, not water baptism.
The flood waters were the judgment of God upon a wicked world, and Peter makes a point earlier that God intends to judge the Jews for not believing the Gospel (1Peter 1:7, 13; 2:12; cf. Luke 19:41-44; Matthew 26:63-64). Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2Peter 2:5), but his words went unheeded (1Peter 3:20). Yet, he and his family were saved through the water by means of the ark. In like manner believers are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3). He is our Ark of the Covenant (Revelation 11:19). If we are baptized into Christ, i.e. into his death (Romans 6:3), then death, which is the judgment of God upon an unbelieving world, does not affect us, because we are in him who is raised from the dead (1Peter 3:21).
In both cases it is the method of salvation that is important—the ark in Noah’s day saved him and his house. The Ark of the Covenant (Jesus) saves all of his house through the judgment of God, which is death (cf. Romans 6:23) by means of his own (Jesus’) resurrection (1Peter 3:21, Hebrews 5:7).
If I am in Christ then I am saved not only from the penalty of sin (death—the judgment of God), but I am also being saved from the power of sin, which rules the lives of the disobedient in the world. This, of course, does not mean that I cannot ever sin, but John concludes that I can no longer live in or practice sinful behavior (1John 3:9). The believer may fall, but sin’s power no longer holds or imprisons him. We are in the Ark and saved from the judgment of God, looking forward to our resurrection, at which time we’ll be saved from the very presence of sin, in that we’ll be given a new body, which cannot be tempted to sin in the same manner folks are tempted today (cf. 2Corinthians 5:1-4; 1John 3:1-2).