False Saviors

life guard

From Kelly: 

On Sunday, I saw a savior.

On a lazy weekend afternoon, I decided to sit by the swimming pool to finish reading What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. The book is about the many misconceptions about what the “good news” actually is. Ultimately, the book concludes that a message that centers around anything outside of putting one’s hope of salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross is not the true gospel.

But this post isn’t about the book…this post is about the events that unfolded while I read.

After basking long enough to have sweat beads start to form beneath my sun hat, I peered over my open pages to see a father and his two sons, about ages four and six, enter through the pool gate. My eyes returned to the chapter, but I found them darting back up several minutes later when I heard the clamor of feet breaking the water’s surface over and over. You’ve got it—tons of splashing!

Naturally, you would assume that the source of the noise was the two young boys, but in fact it was their father attempting to practice his freestyle stroke. Over in the shallow end, his boys bobbed in three-foot water: the six-year-old in a life jacket, and the four-year old in an inner-tube with a built-in middle pouch for him to sit in. I made a mental note to ignore the splashing as the father’s projectile water droplets weren’t making it all the way to my lounger (thank goodness!). As I gazed back down at my pages however, that’s when the events began.

The four-year-old’s tube flipped over, and because his legs were in the tube’s seat, he was stuck facedown. The six-year-old yelled, “Papa! Papa!” but “Papa” was too busy focusing on his swimming to hear his child. The teenage lifeguard, while surprisingly not glued to a cell phone, was staring off into space, as if imagining herself on vacation rather than at work. The boy’s cries for help were no match against her imaginative trance.

I peeked up after the second cry to Papa and witnessed deliverance. A woman in a red beaded cover-up had entered the pool area while I had been critiquing Papa’s freestyle and started laying down her towel. Hearing the cries for help and seeing a toddler’s legs flailing just above the water’s surface, she rushed over to the water and jumped in while still clad in that red beaded cover-up. One moment, she was in the water, and the next moment, the toddler was raised from the depths of the shallow end onto the secure, concrete poolside.

At this time, the off-duty lifeguard, who was going to be the relief for the supposedly on-duty one, sprang from the pool’s sign-in to help the boy. The boy had retained consciousness now and was able to stand after a few sputters and coughs. It was at this time that Papa finally noticed that something was amiss, and helped his boy over to their chairs. The off-duty lifeguard then walked over to the on-duty lifeguard and informed her of the situation, which she missed entirely. Picture the mortification that fell over her face as her imagination changed from whatever fantasy to what could have been a reality under her watch.

Certainly no longer relaxed, I departed from my lounger to return home, but not before thanking the woman for saving the young boy (something Papa neglected to do, which astounded me!). As I made my way back to my apartment, I reflected on the salvation I had just witnessed. That four-year-old boy had done everything right, according to pool rules. He stayed in the shallow end. He used a flotation device. He had a parent supervising him. A lifeguard was on duty. Yet, all of these things he relied upon were unable to save him when the threat of drowning approached suddenly that Sunday. His preparation in having the inner-tube did not save him. The people he had relationships with could not provide salvation, as his older brother had good intentions but couldn’t assist, and Papa was oblivious to the need for salvation. And finally, the lifeguard, who lead all at the pool to believe in her for deliverance from any drowning, ultimately failed to save when the time came.

Just as the prep work didn’t save the boy, so too our “prep work” to get to heaven won’t work. Even if we do things “right,” doing good things won’t save us from drowning in our own sinful nature. Our relationships might seem satisfying, but relationships at their best won’t provide the love of God, and at their worst will disappoint—but regardless, they fail to save. And lastly, our plans may seem like they are able to save, but when you need rescue from sins, the lifeguard of our “ten-year-plan” is no more able to save than our works or our relationships. No, your salvation and mine comes from our own version of the lady in the red beaded cover-up: Jesus in the blood-stained linen, who died on the cross to pay the consequences for our sins and save us from the eternal death that we deserve.

As I think about where I find my security, I look back on this past Sunday. Having an “inner-tube” of good works, maintaining great relationships, and formulating some awesome plan are not bad things, but I pray that you and I can find rest in the hands of the one who can (and did!) raise us from the depths of our sin to new life through him.

Kelly is the other “little berdie” — my sister who lives in Washington D.C. She loves Jesus, Duck Donuts and solving math problems. She recently went on a mission trip to El Salvador where she wrote about her experience (here, here and here). 

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