God’s protection

King David revealed some of his most intimate moments with the LORD in the psalms that he wrote which were both songs and prayers. Psalm 61 in particular contained a heartfelt plea for God’s protection and blessing on David’s life. David wrote:

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy. (Psalm 61:1-3)

The Hebrew word that David used that is translated hear in Psalm 61:1, shamahʿ (shaw-mahˊ) means to hear intelligently and conveys the idea of discernment or a comprehension of the spiritual meaning of a message. David said that he called to God from the end of the earth, suggesting that there was a long distance between them or perhaps that they were spiritually separated from each other. The Hebrew word that is translated end, qatseh (kaw-tsehˊ) means an extremity (H7097) and is derived from the word qatsah (kaw-tsawˊ) which means “to cut off; (figurative) to destroy” (H7096). David may have thought that the end of the earth was a place where God wasn’t present with him or at least that God’s presence couldn’t be felt by him and so David needed to call out to the LORD to make him aware of his situation.

David described his heart as being faint. In the Hebrew context, the heart was not an organ that pumped blood through one’s body, but referred to “some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart was considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820). When David said that his heart was faint, he meant that it was disconnected from the spiritual source of its strength. David may have been experiencing spiritual warfare and was seeking God’s protection from his spiritual enemy, the devil.

David’s statement, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2) was likely connected to the Israelites’ experience in the desert when Moses brought water out of a rock for them (Exodus 17:6).  The Apostle Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians that this rock spiritually represented Christ. Paul said:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

David indicated that the rock was higher than he was. The Hebrew word ruwm (room) means to be high in the context of being exalted or to be brought to a position of honor (H7311). The Hebrew word that is translated lead in Psalm 61:2, nachah (naw-khawˊ) means “to lead, to guide, usually in the right direction or on the proper path…This term is also used metaphorically to represent spiritual guidance in righteousness (Psalm 5:8[9]; 27:11; 139:24)” (H5148).

David’s petition went beyond physical protection and dealt with an eternal state of well-being that he knew only God could provide. David said:

For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Prolong the life of the king;
    may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
    appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! (Psalm 61:5-7)

A vow is a voluntary promise that is made to God which cannot be annulled (H5088). Numbers 30:2 states, “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” To a certain extent, a vow is the equivalent of a covenant except that it is initiated by a human being instead of by God. A vow is like a legal contract in that it cannot be broken without some penalty. David said that God had heard his vows. In other words, David’s vows had been executed and were considered to be in effect. As a result, David had been “given the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psalm 61:5).

The heritage that David was referring to was most likely connected to the birth of Israel’s Messiah. David seemed to be talking about an eternal kingdom that he would be the leader of. David asked the LORD to “prolong the life of the king” and David wanted his life to “endure to all generations” (Psalm 61:6). His request that “he be enthroned forever before God” suggests that David was talking about an eternal kingdom that does not yet exist.

Jesus was referred to as “the Son of David” on numerous occasions (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9) and Matthew’s genealogical record of Jesus birth showed that he was a direct descendant of King David (Matthew 1:1). Surprisingly, Jesus never talked about his royal heritage and he seemed reluctant to take on the role of a king. Jesus’ title of “King of kings and Lord of lords” is only mentioned in the book of Revelation in connection with his second coming (Revelation 19:11-16) and it marks an important shift in the power structure on earth. After Jesus returns to earth, there will be a world war that will end in the destruction of Satan’s armies and “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan” will be bound in a bottomless pit for one thousand years (Revelation 19:19-20:2). During that thousand years, there will be a kingdom on earth that will be ruled by Jesus and his followers (Revelation 20:4), but it doesn’t seem to be associated with the nation of Israel. Therefore, it seems likely that David’s petition to be enthroned forever before God had something to do with the New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven after the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-21:2).

David concluded his prayer to God with this statement:

So will I ever sing praises to your name,
    as I perform my vows day after day. (Psalm 61:8)

David connected never ending worship of God with the daily performance of his vows. This seems to suggest that vows had an eternal significance in the Hebrew culture and that David saw his worship of God continuing after his death.

A religious group called the Sadducees expected Jesus to clarify the eternal nature of marriage vows when they asked him a hypothetical question about a woman that had married seven brothers, but had no children from any of them. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. (Matthew 22:23-33)

Jesus made it clear in his response to the Sadducees that it is not our relationship to others that matters after the resurrection, but our relationship to God. Jesus’ comment that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, pointed out that the resurrection of the dead does not result in everyone receiving eternal life. The reason why the crowd was astonished when Jesus said this was because they believed that all of Abraham’s physical descendants would receive an eternal inheritance from God. The fact of the matter was that the Jews would be judged along with everyone else and some would experience a second and final death after the resurrection (Revelation 20:11-15).

Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples before he sent them out to preach the gospel contained an admonition that focused their attention on the kind of personal protection that was necessary for their work and who it was that could provide it. Jesus said:

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:26-33)

The Greek word that is translated acknowledges in Matthew 10:32, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) means “to ascent, i.e. covenant” and “to speak the same with another, e.g. to say the same things” (G3670). Jesus said that everyone that acknowledges him here on earth will be acknowledged by his Father who is in heaven and whoever denies him will likewise be denied by his Father. Therefore, there is a type of covenant that is initiated by us while we are still alive that involves God and that covenant will have an eternal effect.

David’s final statement in Psalm 61, “So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day” (vs. 8), seems to suggest that the performance of David’s vow was a continuous action that transcended time, meaning that David’s covenant with God began at a specific point in time while David was still alive and then continued throughout eternity. The Hebrew word that David used that is translated perform in Psalm 61:8 is shalam (shaw-lamˊ). Shalam means “to be safe, to be completed. The primary meaning is to be safe or uninjured in mind or body (Job 8:6; 9:4). This word is normally used when God is keeping his people safe. In its simple form, this verb also means to be completed or to be finished” (H7999). Given this context, it seems unusual that David would say that he would perform his vows, but one aspect of the meaning of Shalam is that of reciprocity. David may have actually been saying that he would reciprocate God’s vow to him on a continual basis until it reached a point of completion;  perhaps when David received eternal life or was resurrected from the dead.

God’s personal protection of David’s mind and body was linked to two of God’s characteristics that were also associated with Jesus’ ministry. David said of himself, “May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him” (Psalm 61:7). The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) is one of the most important terms in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. “In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only a fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Chesed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617).

The characteristic of faithfulness crosses over the boundary between human and divine capability. The Hebrew word that is translated faithfulness in Psalm 61:7, ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth) which means stability (H571) is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). Aman means to trust or believe and also signifies the element of being “trustworthy.” “Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting and believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what he said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with His promises” (H539).

The connection between God’s personal protection and our belief in him was often the focus of Jesus’ attention in the miracles that he performed. On one occasion, Jesus asked two blind men that wanted to be healed, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” After they answered, “Yes, Lord,” Matthew tells us, “Then he touched their eyes, saying. ‘According to your faith be it done to you’” (Matthew 9:28-29). The Greek word that is translated according, kata (kat-ahˊ) expresses the relation in which one thing stands toward another and speaks of a standard of comparison or something that is conformable to something else (G2596). From that perspective, Jesus was saying that his ability to heal the blind men was dependent on their faith. In other words, the blind men’s faith was dictating what Jesus could or couldn’t do for them.

Numbers 5:5-8 deals with the issue of breaking faith with the LORD. It states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. But if the man has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him.

According to this passage, breaking faith with the LORD occurs when a person commits any sin against God or another person. When this happens, the sin has to be atoned for so that the relationship can be restored.

The Hebrew word that is translated restitution in Numbers 5:7-8, shuwb (shoob) means to return or go back. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725). Numbers 5:6-7 indicates that when a person breaks faith with the Lord, “and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong.” The requirement of making full restitution was likely intended to signify a complete change of heart, something similar to being born again in that the sinner was expected to demonstrate a different type of behavior than what that person had previously displayed.

Aaron and his sons were instructed to say a blessing to the people of Israel that reflected the ideal state that God wanted his people to experience as a result of having a relationship with him. Moses told Aaron, “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:23-26).

The Hebrew word that is translated peace in Numbers 6:26, shalom (shaw-lomeˊ) means safe and “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war” (H7965). Peace is a key characteristic of the New Covenant that Jesus established shortly before he died on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus linked the peace that he was giving his disciples to the condition of their hearts. He told them not to be troubled or afraid because he knew their hearts were prone to that type of condition and the only way that it could be prevented was by having a harmonized relationship with God (G1515).

Godly behavior

Jesus summarized the entire Mosaic Law into two simple commandments that focused everyone’s attention on loving God and other people. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-39). When God first spoke the Ten Commandments from the top of Mount Sinai, he intended that the children of Israel would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), but the Apostle Peter’s first letter indicated that never happened and that believers in Jesus Christ have become the treasured possession that God sought for himself (1 Peter 2:9). The details contained within the Mosaic Law were meant to provide specific examples of how to deal with the various conflicts that would inevitably arise from living in a close-knit community. Most of the laws dealt with conflicts between family members and neighbors that were interacting on a regular basis. They are still applicable today because the principles behind the laws are eternal and can prevent believers from harming the people they love.

At first glance, the laws about slaves might seem irrelevant, but Jesus’ messages about the kingdom of heaven clearly portrayed believers as servants (Matthew 10:24) and he often talked about doing God’s will in the context of a slave that was being obedient to his master (Matthew 18:22-35, 22:2-14, 25:14-30). The laws about slaves introduced an important principle that carries over into God’s plan of salvation, the redemption of souls. Exodus 21:7-11 states, “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.” This law partially explains why God hasn’t forsaken the people of Israel even though they haven’t met his expectations with regard to becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

The nation of Israel was originally intended to be the bride of Christ, but the church has replaced it and now has the responsibility of making disciples of all the nations and teaching them all that Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 28:18-20). The concept of redemption had to do with the liberation of human beings from slavery, but it can also be applied to sinful behavior and addictions to harmful substances. The Hebrew word that is translated redeemed in Exodus 21:8, padah (paw-daw’) means to release. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (H6299). Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant portrayed God’s forgiveness of sins as something that should be reciprocated. After a servant that owed his master ten thousand talents was released from his debt, he went out and demanded payment from his fellow servant who was unable to pay him the small amount he owed. The parable states, “So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:29-35).

In addition to introducing the concept of redemption, the Mosaic Law also taught the Israelites about the principle of restitution. Although the laws that dealt with restitution may have seemed like common sense, it was necessary for them to be spelled out because of the natural human tendency to justify our own behavior, while at the same time condemning the actions of others. Exodus 21:33-34 states, “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his” and “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution” (Exodus 22:5-6). The Hebrew word that is translated full restitution, shalam (shaw-lam’) means “to be safe (in mind, body, or estate)…Shalam means to finish, complete, repay, reward. The Hebrew root denotes perfection in the sense that a condition or action is complete…Perfection and completeness is primarily attributed to God. He is deficient in nothing; His attributes are not marred by any shortcomings; His power is not limited by weakness” (H7999). Therefore, when a person makes full restitution, he is exhibiting godly behavior.

Peter’s first letter indicated that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross, “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Essentially, what that meant was that we have been released from sin’s power to control our behavior and can live a godly life if we choose to. The Greek word that is translated die in the phrase “die to sin,” apogenomenos (ap-og-en-om’-en-os) means to be absent (G581) and seems to suggest that our sinful human nature has been removed, but Peter indicated that we might die to sin. In other words, dying to sin involves volition and is not guaranteed through Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. As hard as we may try to do things that please God, righteousness is not something that we can attain through our own efforts, it is something that is imputed to us, or credited to our account, because we have identified ourselves with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through water baptism. As far as God is concerned, anyone that accepts Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior has fulfilled all the requirements of the Mosaic Law and will be rewarded with eternal life. What is left then is for us to reflect the character of Jesus through conscious choices that align us with God’s will.

Peter specifically addressed the conduct of husbands and wives and gave instructions to all believers that were intended to be a model for godly behavior. After stating that believers are to be subject to every human institution, Peter went on to say, “Likewise wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:1-4). The Greek word hupotasso (hoop-ot-as’-so) which is translated be subject “was originally a Greek military term meaning to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader. In non-military use, it was a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden” (G5293). Peter encouraged wives to be subject to their husbands so that if they weren’t believers they would be won over to the Lord without their wives having to say anything to them about being a follower of Christ. This was important in the time period in which Peter gave this instruction because Christians were being persecuted for their faith and wives were expected to conform to their husbands’ belief system.

Peter’s mention of a woman’s external adorning in contrast with her internal beauty was likely intended to point out that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was meant to transform our character and make us look different to the outside world. The Greek word kosmos (kos’-mos), which is translated adorning, is often used in connection with worldly people and sometimes is associated with a system of government that is opposed to Christ. The Apostle Paul used the word kosmos in his letter to the Ephesians to describe the former way of life that believers are expected to leave behind when they choose to follow Christ. Paul stated, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3, emphasis added). Peter indicated that wives should let their adorning be “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). In that sense, adorning had to do with a woman’s attractiveness and Peter wanted women to know that the hidden person of the heart could be much more compelling to a man than the way she dressed herself.

The hidden person of the heart is connected with the mortal human nature that affects our behavior. When we think of ourselves exhibiting godly behavior, we have to realize that our mortal human nature is a hindrance to us becoming like Christ. Peter encouraged wives to display “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). Imperishable beauty implies immortality and suggests that Peter was referring to the Holy Spirit when he talked about the hidden person of the heart. It could be that Peter meant for wives to rely on the Holy Spirit to make them godly women, but his comment about a gentle and quiet spirit being very precious to God seems to suggest that there is a volitional element involved in all godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated very precious, poluteles (pol-oo-tel-ace’) was used in Mark’s gospel to describe the ointment that Mary used to anoint Jesus (Mark 14:3). It seems likely that Peter was referring to a gentle and quiet spirit as being a type of spiritual sacrifice that pleases God and wanted women to know that godly behavior is more important to the Lord than any other type of sacrifice that a believer can make.

After he addressed the conduct of their wives, Peter told husbands, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Peter made it clear that husbands should treat their wives as equals and should not expect their prayers to be answered if they were treating them with disrespect. Peter told men to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” An understanding way is one that is based on a comprehension of God’s word. Typically, men received instruction in the holy scriptures and then, passed the information along to their wives, but they were not required to and weren’t held accountable for their wives’ spiritual training. The Apostle Paul seemed to have a more liberal viewpoint than Peter about women’s involvement in the church and even identified Phebe as being a teacher of God’s word at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). When Peter described wives as being the weaker vessel, he may have meant that they were at a disadvantage when it came to getting an education and didn’t typically have access to the Old Testament scriptures which were important for understanding the bigger picture of God’s plan of salvation.

In his general comment to all believers, Peter stated, “all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). The qualities Peter identified were focused on the collective suffering of believers that was due to the persecution of the church. The Greek word that is translated sympathy, sumpathes (soom-path-ace’) is derived from the word sumpascho (soom-pas’-kho) which means “to experience pain jointly or of the same kind (specifically persecution; to sympathize)” (G4841). Peter continued, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). To bless someone means that you speak well of them. Peter indicated that believers are called to bless others which may have meant that believers were expected to intercede on behalf of unbelievers in order for them to receive salvation. Since Peter was referring to Christians blessing those who do evil to them, it seems likely that he was talking about the Roman officials that were persecuting the church, but Peter may have been thinking about the internal conflict that was taking place within the Jewish community.

Peter’s first letter was most likely written in the AD 60s not long before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish nation ceased to exist. Peter addressed his letter to the Jewish exiles in “the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) north of the Taursus Mountains (Introduction to the first letter of Peter, p. 1418). This particular group of Jews had already left the land of Israel and were living among foreigners which made them particularly vulnerable to outside pressure to conform to the Roman government’s way of doing things. Peter asked, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17).

Having a good conscience is something that happens when we exhibit godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated conscience in 1 Peter 3:16 is suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) which means “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness…Suneidesis literally means ‘a knowing,’ a co-knowledge with one’s self, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives. The word is stressing that we receive input from our surroundings [temptations, decision-making events, etc.] and we are driven to make a decision. We compare what we know with our conscience [con – ‘with’, science ‘knowledge’], our knowledge base about this input. If we follow our conscience we act according to what we know to be true about the situation and the consequences/blessings of our decision. We can violate our conscience by overriding that knowledge” (G4893). That’s why Paul said that we need “to put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Peter explained that water baptism does not wash our sins away like when we take a bath to clean ourselves, but makes it possible for us to put on the righteousness of Christ. Using the ark that saved Noah and his family from the flood as an example, Peter said, “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 the angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22). Essentially, what Peter was saying was that when we get baptized we are expressing a desire to be cleansed from our sins and it is because of that act that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, resulting in a good or you might say clear conscience. The reason why Peter said that we are saved through baptism is because it protects us from being condemned by our own consciences when we stand before God in the final judgment and are asked to give an account of our actions during our lifetimes on earth (Matthew 25:31-46). When John the Baptist questioned Jesus’ desire to be baptized by him, Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).