One of my greatest joys as a pastor is to lead people into water baptism.
This joy, though, comes with a challenge.
The church I lead has two or three baptism services every year. And each time we celebrate a baptism, I feel a strong desire to faithfully communicate the old truth of baptism in new and compelling ways.
The truth of baptism is incredibly profound, beautiful, meaningful, powerful, and transformative. I always struggle to find illustrations that can capture the full essence of it.
But, as I was preparing to baptise two believers last month, I came across an analogy that came close to communicating baptism well.
The metaphor came from an unlikely source. It was from a Greek poet, physician, and grammarian named Nicander. He was probably also a part-time chef.
Nicander lived roughly 200 years before Christ was born. In all likelihood, he knew nothing about our Saviour or about baptism.
At some point of time in his life, Nicander wrote out a recipe on how to make pickles out of vegetables.
It is in this recipe that I found one of the best illustrations of baptism that I have ever come across.
In his recipe, Nicander wrote that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be dipped into boiling water, and then left immersed forever, in a vinegar solution.
Obviously, he wrote all this in Greek.
The Greek word he used to describe the process of dipping the vegetable in hot water is the word bapto.
And the Greek word he used to describe the process of leaving the vegetable immersed forever in vinegar, is the word baptizo.
Here is what is most interesting. Every single time the word baptism appears in the New Testament, the Greek word used is baptizo, not the word bapto.
To be baptised does not mean to be dipped in Christ and then go on living the same lives we were living earlier. Not at all.
To be baptised means to be left forever immersed in Christ, just as a pickle is left forever immersed in vinegar.
When you taste a pickled vegetable, it tastes more like vinegar than the vegetable itself. This is what the faith that leads us to baptism should do to us.
It should make us taste more of Christ than of ourselves.
I am yet to find another illustration that can explain baptism better than a jar of pickles.
To be clear, it is not that act of baptism itself that brings about our transformation. It is the faith that leads us to baptism that changes us inside out.
After all, baptism is but a later external expression of an earlier internal reality.
Water baptism is a rich and beautiful ordinance or sacrament that our Lord Jesus Christ gave us. Through this, we celebrate our union with him in his life, death, burial and resurrection.
Baptism is not only a beautiful celebration of beginning our life in Christ. It also remind us of the power to live our lives in Christ.
Some time ago, as I was reading through the epistle to the Romans, I saw something profound.
In Romans 6, the apostle Paul is charging believers not to keep on sinning because they have unending grace in Christ (Rom. 6:1).
And then, Paul asks them a seemingly rhetorical question. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?” (Rom. 6:3).
I say this question is rhetorical because Paul is writing about baptism to people who have already been baptised.
So why is Paul preaching baptism to people who have already been baptised?
The answer is simple. Paul is pointing believers who are struggling with sin back to their baptism.
Look back at the beauty of how you began your life in Christ with baptism. This is one place where you can find the power to now live faithfully, Paul seems to be telling them.
In other words, looking back at the beauty of our justification is one way we receive power for our sanctification.
This is why a jar of pickles is such a helpful reminder of the meaning of baptism.
Baptism is not being dipped into Christ just once. It is being immersed forever in Christ, in eternal union with him.