I remember the illustration well. It was painted with vivid imagery and many flocked to the front of the auditorium that day. The word picture went like this:
Imagine yourself stranded at sea. There is no boat in sight; no piece of driftwood to hold you up. Just you and the water. Sure, you’ve had some swim lessons, but you’re no fool – you know that in this vast ocean there is only so long you can tread water. The minutes start to tick by, one by one, and with each second you know that your strength is a little bit less than it was before. Then you notice that your kicking legs are starting to feel heavy. You tilt your head back as you realize that you’re starting to sink deeper. Now your ears are almost fully submerged. You know the end is close, and then suddenly you take on that first bit of water. You cough it up and your heart begins to race. You come to the sudden realization that there is no hope for you. Your head dips again and you prepare yourself to swallow, when suddenly, out of nowhere, you see the rope being thrown your way. With your last ounce of strength, you grab it, and you are pulled to safety.
That is what it means to be saved. Jesus, when you couldn’t save yourself, tosses you a line at the cross. Just reach up and grab it and He will pull you to safety.
I get it. And it’s not that an illustration can’t be used of God to show people the grace Jesus offers at the cross. There’s really only one problem:
We get way too much credit.
This is how the Bible describes all of humanity in Ephesians chapter 2:1-3:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also.”
It’s a pretty dire situation. Notice the specific word the Bible used to describe the human condition: Dead. If that word doesn’t speak to the severity and desperation of our situation, then surely nothing does. In fact, this word moves our situation well past desperate and into the territory of hopeless.
This isn’t a picture of someone drowning, taking on water. Instead, the picture here is of a corpse, dead and bloated, floating face down in the sea. No strength. No power. No hope.
That’s what it means to be saved.
And that’s the promise of the gospel. Ephesians 2 continues with two of the most amazing words in all of Scripture: “But God . . .” We were dead, but God . . .We had no hope, but God . . . We could not rescue ourselves, but God . . .
The gospel doesn’t claim to help the weak; it claims to make the dead live again. It is only when we begin to see the true nature of the utter despair of humanity that we begin to see Jesus not as the key to a better life. Not as a sage only teaching about love. Not as a miracle worker only concerned with the alleviation of human suffering.
Jesus is our Rescuer. And, according to the Bible, He rescues from sin and death. In the ultimate “But God” moment, Jesus jumps into the sea of sin and death and hauls our lifeless bodies to the shore. Then, He leans low, and breathes new life into us.
And what was dead lives. Glory to God.