J.D. Greear on What’s the Big Deal About Baptism?

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C.

DURHAM, N.C. (BP) — I am a Baptist pastor. The church I lead may be known for a lot of things (and should be known for a lot of things), but one of the most critical elements of our theology centers on that often controversial word — Baptist. We make a big deal out of baptism.

Making a big deal out of baptism tends to draw some objections. I’ve heard a lot of them, most of which boil down to one basic question: What’s the big deal about baptism, anyway?

Here are four truths that shape the way we view baptism:

1. Baptism publicly declares your repentance.

There are many people in the South who get baptized but never repent. Maybe someone convinced you that you could accept Jesus as Savior without surrendering to Him as Lord — like He was a salad bar, where you can take the parts you want and leave the ones you don’t. But all throughout Scripture, we see that to be baptized is to repent. Baptism symbolizes us walking out of the wilderness of our sin and into the new life of faith and obedience.

If your life did not radically change when you got baptized, then it was not a baptism of repentance. You just got wet in front of a bunch of people.

2. Baptism is by immersion.

There are two reasons why we submerge people.

First, that’s how they did it in the Bible. Take John the Baptist, for instance. He wasn’t standing on the shore of the Jordan River with a cup, sprinkling water on people’s heads; he brought them into the river. He was dunking people.

The Greek word for “baptism” literally meant to plunge, soak or dip. The English translators didn’t know exactly how to translate that word (or perhaps they were afraid to take a stand), so they just transliterated it. The Greek Baptizo simply became “baptize.”

“Baptism” wasn’t actually a religious word at all. Sometimes they used it for people who drowned or ships that went down at sea. We even have a recipe for pickles recorded by a Greek physician named Nicander. He says, literally, “bapto (as in, dip quickly) the cucumber in water, and then baptizo (as in, immerse and let it soak) in vinegar.” And then he said, “Your pickle will be filled with the Spirit and speak in tongues.” (OK, I made that last part up.)

Second, we submerge people because of what it symbolizes. When you bury people, you don’t sprinkle dirt on them. You put them into the ground. In baptism, we are being buried with Jesus “by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

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Source: Baptist Press

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