The following post was written by Encounter Partner, Dr. Steve Dill. Dr. Dill is a practicing veterinarian and a passionate follower of Christ.  

One of the great things about studying animals in college was that I got to learn some really interesting facts about our furry friends. For instance, one of my professors revealed a little-known fact about cheetahs. The cheetah has legs designed to run, but it also has an enhanced feature the other big cats don’t. The cheetah’s spine is “springier” than the other cats. Its joints, muscles, and ligaments cause the backbone to act like a coiled-spring. It compresses when the front legs hit the ground and it releases that energy when the back legs push off. The professor estimated that this extra “spring-action push” adds five to ten miles per hour to the cat’s speed. Before we could soak in that extra bit of knowledge, the professor quickly added that this phenomenon raised a scientific question: “Could a cheetah with no legs spring along at five to ten miles per hour by using its back alone?” The mind-boggling imagery of legless cheetahs springing along the African savanna chasing zebras left us students dazed.

Another amazing fact about animals is that we mammals possess something called, the Mammalian Diving Reflex. When submerged in water, our bodies instantly undergo some physical and physiological changes that allow us to survive a little longer without air. Of course whales, dolphins, and seals have a much greater diving reflex; they are designed to stay under water for very long periods of time. However, we humans have a diving reflex as well. When submerged, especially in cold water, our heart rate slows, our peripheral capillaries constrict so the blood flow can be shifted to the vital organs. The heart itself even changes in its metabolic need for oxygen; it pumps more blood using less oxygen. Studies have shown that people underwater can hold their breath longer than when sitting in the open air.  What is interesting about the mammalian diving reflex in humans is that the face is the part of the body that triggers this response. Putting your feet in the water, or your hands, or merely getting wet, doesn’t work. Another fact about the human Mammalian Diving Reflex is that the first thing a person does when surfacing, is to gasp and take in a deep breath of fresh air. That is logical, but it is not a “logic-driven” function. It is a reflex you do automatically without thinking, unless you intentionally suppress it.

What does this have to do with Encounter Church? If you attended our recent baptismal celebration, then you witnessed the Mammalian Diving Reflex in action. Both people baptized yesterday came up out of the water and immediately took in a breath of fresh air. They weren’t gigantic, desperate breaths of air. After all, Michael and Kerris held them underwater for less than two seconds. Nevertheless, if you were paying attention, you could hear the unmistakable sound of that first inhalation. They did what God designed us all to do after being completely submerged in water. We gasp for life-giving air.

What’s the connection between baptism and the Mammalian Diving Reflex? The Greek word in the New Testament for “Spirit” is “pneuma.” It also happens to be the same word for “breath,” “air,” and “wind.” What is the first thing a person needs when he comes up out of the water after being completely submerged? He needs air. What’s the first thing a new Christian needs when he comes up out of spiritual death? He needs the Holy Spirit. God has designed our bodies so that they need air. God has designed our souls so that they need the Holy Spirit. That makes baptism by immersion a beautiful symbol of what we Christians do when we enter the Christian life. We automatically and instinctively seek the Holy Spirit to fill us. That symbolism is lost in the practice of baptism by sprinkling. There is no Mammalian Sprinkling Reflex. So while you don’t earn salvation by being immersed, and you won’t lose your salvation if you were sprinkled, baptism by immersion provides the perfect imagery. We were completely submerged in death; we were completely buried in our sins; yet we instinctively gasped for air upon coming up out of death and into life. It’s what God has designed us to do.

So, if you have put your trust in our Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation, but you haven’t been baptized, then I strongly encourage you to contact Michael. You need to experience the beautiful symbolism of baptism by immersion. You need to show the world that you have experienced the beautiful reality of salvation by faith.

Next week, Michael is going to give a sermon on how some Christians live lives like legless cheetahs. They frantically spring along through life, never benefitting from the full potential they would enjoy if they would only use their God-given gifts and abilities… but I think I’ll skip that sermon!

Your brother in Christ,

Steve Dill