I was having a discussion with my mother several years ago. I think I was about 52 years old. I was attending the Lutheran seminary at that time and some of the professors were really big on baptism, telling us we ought to be celebrating our baptismal birthday rather than our physical birthday. They had theological reasons for that. So I decided to ask my mother if she had a record of the date I was baptized.
She said, “I think it was in May or June.”
I said, “WHAT?! What do you mean May or June? I was born in July and you waited ten months to baptize me?”
She said, “Well, your uncle couldn’t get there until then to be your godfather.” I started sweating. My own parents had left me vulnerable to the fires of hell for ten whole months. How could they do that to me?
Some of you are probably wondering, what’s wrong with that? And today I can tell you that nothing is wrong with that. But back then I was still living under the literal interpretation I had been taught that unless you are baptized you can’t be saved. In the Gospel of Mark it says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (16:16).”
At that time, “damned” meant to burn for a billion years in hell. And this is what many people who read the Bible continue to think will happen today if you’re not baptized. Today I look up the definition in Greek for the word and recognize it doesn’t mean “burn for a billion years.” That’s some negative imaginations going wild. It actually means “to be judged worthy of punishment, or by one’s good example to render another’s wickedness the more evident and censure able.
Baptism is supposed to help us live an abundant life today. The word baptizō means to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk), to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe, to overwhelm
This word should not be confused with baptô (911). The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 BCE. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be ‘dipped’ (baptô) into boiling water and then ‘baptized’ (baptizô) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptizing the vegetable, produces a permanent change.
Have you ever eaten pickled okra? It’s out of this world better than the way it started. Of course if you immerse okra in something less than sweet, it will come out tasting like whatever you soak it in.
Martin Luther suggested we should remember our baptisms every day. That would follow the actual meaning of baptism than simply being dipped or sprinkled with water one time in your life. Baptism is a continual, life-long immersion until you are pickled through and through — permanently changed.
So…what are we to be baptized in? John the Baptist said “I can only immerse you with in water and cleanse your outer actions, but the one who comes after him will immerse you in a holy spirit…and that will change everything about you.”
We have the choice of what kind of spirit to be immersed in – a holy spirit, which is a spirit that is worthy of honor and praise and reverence. You can gather with people who are trying to improve their lives, who are trying to become the best they can possibly be. You can gather with people who believe God is and has been good all the time.
Or you can choose to surround yourself with negative spirits, people who are always complaining and pointing out the faults of others and condemning others. You can gather with people who think God will burn all the bad guys at the end of time. You can choose to watch television shows or read books that uplift and educate and teach you how to be a better person, a valuable contributor to peace and joy in the world. Or you can immerse yourself in shows and books that promote violence, anger, and justifiable retribution. You will become the pickle, or the kind of person, in which you continually immerse yourself.
Basically, it’s your choice. You can become a dill pickle or a sweet pickle, possessing a negative spirit or a holy spirit. If you follow the teachings of Jesus, you will be surrounding yourself with spirits that are holy, worthy of praise and honor. You will be a delight to all people who like positive, uplifting people. You will impact each other in positive ways.
If you continually place yourself in environments where there is judgment, condemnation, and separation, that’s the kind of spirit that will permeate you. And you will attract only those people who like judgment, condemnation, and separation. You’ll probably end up judging, condemning, and separating from each other after time since that will become your nature, too.
So what’s your preference? Will you become a sweet or dill person? Go and be baptized.