Dwight asks, "There are people who use 1 Peter 3:21 to claim that water baptism saves you. Do you think that it's more likely Peter was referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit rather than to water baptism?"
Here’s the verse you are referring to:
"Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21
I’ve met a lot of people who want to draw a circle around the words "baptism now saves you" and make the grave error that salvation is faith in Christ plus baptism.
They fail to take into account the whole verse. Here’s how I understand this verse.
First, the verse opens with the phrase "Corresponding to that.” It’s a reference to the floodwater and the ark. The words "corresponding to that" come from the Greek word antitupos which gives us the word antitype. It’s an earthly expression of a heavenly reality. It’s an analogy of spiritual truth.
In other words, Peter isn’t saying that the act of baptism saves you, but that baptism is a picture of what saves you. It is an analogy of—an antitype pointing to—what saves you.
The waters of baptism do not save you. The act of being baptized doesn’t save you anymore than Noah floating on that water in an ark saved him.
What saved Noah and his family, ultimately, was their trust and faith in the saving work of God.
The water represented judgment and death, but to them it lifted up that ark and kept them safe so that they didn’t drown.
So, corresponding to that, when someone steps into the water of baptism, they are also surrounded by that which represents judgment. That water represents death and the grave. But you, the believer, are in the ark. That is, you are in Christ. There’s the analogy. Baptism ultimately points to the resurrection of Christ.
And because you have trusted by faith in Him, you also will not drown in the coming, final judgment of God.
Secondly, notice how the verse is constructed. There is a parenthetical comment.
He writes, "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you” and then notice the dash. Go down and read after the next dash. He says "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
So if you read it without the parenthetical statement, it reads "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you . . . through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Baptism is a powerful statement of your faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is the defining statement of the believer.
When Noah got into that ark, it was the defining moment of his faith.
Baptism is your outward pledge—Peter writes here—a declaration on your part that your conscience is clean by the saving blood of Christ and you are trusting in God’s plan alone. It’s an incredibly wonderful and significant statement of your faith.
The act of baptism doesn’t save you; it points to the One who saved you. And you get the chance to make the public statement that you have trusted in the Ark: the Lord Jesus.