Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

The Lifeguard (Jul-Aug 1997)

Filed under: — @ 10:57 pm and

by Steve Weathers
July – August, 1997

Growing up on the Florida coast, I had numerous opportunities to witness near-drownings. Sometimes, if a camera crew happened to have been on hand, I watched them on the local evening news. Other times I was an eye-witness as a bystander on the beach.

The scenarios of these near-drownings were quite similar. usually a piercing scream floated in over the roar of the breakers. Next, a lifeguard leaped down from his elevated chair, ran to the water’s edge, and shouted a command: “Grab this life ring!” or “Hold on to this rope!” or, if the person was in deeper water, “Hold on until I reach you!” The floundering swimmer was then pulled to shore by rope or the raw power of the lifeguard. He was loaded onto a medical gurney and placed in the open back of an ambulance, often receiving CPR in the process.

Later, when the near-victim was interviewed by the local TV station, there was one thing you never heard. You never heard him boast of his part in the rescue operation. Nothing like, “Did you notice how deftly I seized the life ring?” Nothing at all like, “Did you see how impressively firm my trip was on the rescue rope?” Nothing remotely like, “Did you see how intelligently compliant I was when the lifeguard told me to lie still so he could pull me?” No, the only thing those near-drowners wanted to talk about was the lifeguard, their savior. And they couldn’t say enough about him.

Imagine visiting a church whose members claim to have been rescued – saved from deadly spiritual peril – yet these Christians are seemingly obsessed with their own part in the rescue operation. At every assembly the human component in the plan of salvation is exalted. That would seem strange, wouldn’t it?

“I studied my Bible and I found the truth!” one says. You’d probably want to whisper under your breath, “The Scriptures are definitely important in the process of salvation, but isn’t it more accurate to say the truth found you?”

Any good teacher designs a lesson so that students feel a sense of personal discovery. It’s only later, sometimes years later, that a graduate looks back and realizes how painstakingly those directional cues had been planted to lead him to his “discovery.” It’s the same with salvation, and the book of Acts is careful to guard against any misunderstanding on this point. Yes, those noble-minded Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day to confirm the truth of Paul’s preaching” (Acts 17:11). But when teachers proclaim and sinners find gospel truth, the writer reminds us, it’s actually because “the Lord’s hand was with them” (Acts 11:21) and because the hearers were “appointed for eternal life” (Acts 13:48). There are no grounds for boasting here. As all near-drowners know, there would have been no life ring to grab if it hadn’t been so expertly thrown within reach

“I examined the philosophical and scientific evidence and I’ve concluded that God exists!” someone else in this imaginary church says. And you’d find yourself answering, “He no doubt appreciates this vote of confidence, but isn’t it true that mere human reason has never fully revealed the character of God?”

Here, too, Acts is instructive. Granted, readers are shown the citizens of Thessalonica listening as Paul “reason(s) with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2). But almost immediately we’re ushered to Athens where the highest achievement of unaided reason is an admission of its own ignorance: an altar to the God who remains unknown apart from divine illumination (Acts 17:23). Self-aggrandizement over one’s intellectual grasp is … well, as laughable as a rescued swimmer’s boast about his firm grip on the lifeline.

“I realized I had not been baptized scripturally, so I went and had it redone – accurately, this time, in every detail,” another Christian in this hypothetical assembly proclaims. And you’d feel compelled to say, “Yes, baptism occupies an important place in God’s redemptive scheme, but has any human act ever been performed flawlessly enough to warrant the salvation of a soul?”

It’s true that “rebaptism” occurs in the book of Acts. But, significantly, it’s the motive, not the method, that’s emphasized (Acts 19:1-7). When one’s baptism – be it ever so accurate in externals – is motivated by trust in some person or power other than the person and power of Jesus, it’s not really baptism. Its effect has been neutralized by misplaced trust, and true Christian baptism is in order. One especially subtle form of misplaced trust is confidence in our own ability to orchestrate the mechanics of a perfect immersion. Self- satisfaction over having gotten all the external details right is as ludicrous as a rescued swimmer’s pride in having compliantly accepted a tow toward shore.

Listening to this imaginary church, you would probably begin to suspect, “These people don’t know drowning!” They must have never known how it feels to sink slowly to the bottom of a pool, to see the sunlit surface above, and to know you’re absolutely powerless to reach it. They must have never known how it feels to sink into the cold, tomblike darkness of a lake bottom and to watch your last air bubbles carry a strangled scream to the top. Apparently these people have never known how it feels to be sucked down by riptide or undertow into the merciless sea and to tumble along in complete disorientation knowing full well I’m going to die.

Because if they knew how drowning feels, you wouldn’t hear any boasting about their part in the rescue operation. People who know drowning from the inside have only one real story and one real song. It’s the story of the lifeguard, the rescuer of souls. It’s a song of praise to the great Savior of all sea victims.Wineskins Magazine

Steve Weathers

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