Drowning in Sin
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“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.” Joel 2:32, NIV

Many public beaches and pools have lifeguards who dedicate their time to making sure that swimmers are protected from the hazard of drowning. Constantly aware of what is happening in the water, they are alert to signs of anyone having trouble. Someone gasping for air and waving their arms is sure to spark a rescue attempt. Those who have been rescued through the years are many. However, lifeguarding is not without its danger for the lifeguards. Panicked swimmers often try to cling to anything that might save them, including the lifeguard. They can cling so tightly that the lifeguard can no longer swim. When that happens, both are in danger of drowning. If the rescuer cannot save himself, he cannot save the victim either.

Paradoxically, it is exactly the opposite for the person drowning in sin. His or her only hope is to cling as tightly as possible to Christ. Just as the clinging drowning victim can actually drown the lifeguard, the clinging sinner assured the death of Christ on the cross. Except that death made possible the sinner’s salvation. Fortunately, in this case, the One who died was able to live again. This certainly isn’t true of regular lifeguards, but it is true of Jesus. That ability to give life brought Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:43-44) and is the earnest of our own resurrection.

So what is this sin that causes us to drown and brought about the cross of Christ? The Apostle John tells us that sin is breaking the law. (1 John 3:4) That moves us a little farther along in our understanding, but still leaves us questioning. What law is the sinner breaking? At this point, some might say that maybe it’s stealing or lying or some other of the Ten Commandments Moses brought down from Sinai. (Exodus 20) However, the problem is much deeper than that.

A lawyer who was concerned about what it means to be law abiding came to Jesus and asked Him which law was most important.(Mark 12:28-34) Jesus answered him with Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Perhaps the lawyer expected Jesus to recite one of the precepts of the Decalogue. However, Jesus called these two the greatest of the commandments. By definition then, the Decalogue must be inferior to these two. So what makes these two special? It is simply love. We might therefore say that a failure to love is the very essence of sin. To lose sight of this is to set oneself up for a religion that is about rule keeping without regard to the motivation for observing the rules. It is possible to hold to the Decalogue and observe all its precepts without feeling a single ray of love in one’s heart. But it is impossible for a heart filled with love to fail to observe all that the law requires.

As simple as that might seem, it is impossible for any sinner to achieve. Our selfishness keeps getting in the way. Sometimes we take a perverse delight in pointing this out to one another. But when we do this, we are no better than the one we are rebuking. We only demonstrate our own failure to love. This should be no surprise to the Bible student, because Paul’s Epistle to the Romans tells us that everyone has this problem. (Romans 3:23) Because this problem is universal, it makes the world we live in a very cold place. It is tainted with the smell of death like a global lazar house. The despair this engenders is so overwhelming that many attempt to dull their awareness of their condition with alcohol, drugs, entertainment, and a descending spiral of depravity. They seek anything as a distraction. Ultimately, when they run out of diversions, they come face to face with the reality of the bleakness of their existence.

When they reach this point, far too many choose to end their lives in a meaningless final gesture of futility. However, some, against all expectation, find the will to ask the void if this is really all there is. At that moment, a spark, however faint, inflames their heart with a glimmer of hope. It tells them that in spite of all the effort they have put forth to achieve only death, there is a beautiful hope that still waits for them. (Romans 6:23) If they begin to seek that flame and follow that light, they will come to Jesus. The Holy Spirit, who lights the way, will not fail to lead everyone who willingly follows that light safely home.

The Bible tells us that God’s goodness is what draws us. (Romans 2:4) If you have ever been in a dark room and lit a single match, you know how powerful even such a small light can be in the darkness. It immediately draws our eyes to it. When we experience the light of God’s love in this darkened despairing world, we are immediately drawn to Him. As we feel that love bath the coldness of despair with loving warmth, we feel a desire to be completely enveloped in that warmth and to have it fill us completely.

Perhaps you remember as a child the joy of Christmas and opening a gift to find exactly what you had hoped for. The joy of discovering God’s love is like that only infinitely more joyous. Perhaps this is so because instead of simply being what we want, it is exactly what we need, and it is not only what we need, it is also what everyone else needs. This is why loving God leads to loving our neighbors. Until we have exactly what we need, we have little to give to fill anyone else’s need. We cannot love our neighbor before we love God. If we try, it will only be marred with our imperfect ability to love. It will be tainted with our selfishness. (Isaiah 64:6 & Jeremiah 13:23)

So if we accept a relationship with God, then our loving acts will be perfect? No, as long as we try to love, we will fail. We can only be a conduit for God’s love. We cannot even desire to love much of the time. Someone cuts us off in traffic or cuts in line in front of us at the store and our love flies right out the window. A neighbor’s dog digs up our favorite rose bush, or their teenage son turns the neighborhood into an outdoor rock concert and we find love hard to come by. If we can avoid bad language, we might pat ourselves on the back for being good Christians. However, we still find that our smile is made with gritted teeth.

So if this is the reality, how can love come into play? The Bible tells us that not only do all righteous acts come from God but that even the will to love comes from Him. (Philippians 2:13) We do not desire to love on our own. That desire comes from God when we allow it. It is like this. When we want water to drink in our homes, we do not try to become water. We simply turn the faucet handle until the water flows. Why wasn’t it flowing before? It could not clear the obstruction in the pipe. When we turned the handle, it opened the pipe. In the same way, God’s love cannot flow through us until we clear the obstruction preventing it. How do we do this?

The Apostle Peter put it very simply. He gave us three steps. Two of those steps we can take, and the third God controls. First we must acknowledge that what we have done so far isn’t working and stop doing it. The Bible calls this repentance. Second we are called to be baptized as a public profession of death to our old way of life and rebirth to a new life. Peter says that if we do this then God will do His part and give us the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38) This is what clears the logjam holding back the love. Once God lives in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit, then His love can flow from this presence into our hearts and minds and into the lives of those around us, our “neighbors.”

This is the answer to the cold darkness of this world. No amount of neon lighting can drive that darkness away. This is because the darkness rests in our hearts and minds. Despair can only be driven away by the hope that love places in our hearts. We can believe. We can have faith in God’s love. It is real, tangible and inexhaustible. We only need to make the decision to turn the faucet handle so it can flow.


Scripture marked (NIV) taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.

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Drowning in Sin — 22 Comments

  1. What is contained in today's lesson is very powerful and saturated for our study of salvation. Loving others in this world has proven to be quite tough even for those who profess to be Christians. What makes it a problem is that we do not reflect Christ as we ought to. Again for those who do adhere to the great commandment, they should not boast because it was not them who willed to do that which is good but it was God in them. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life. Therefore let the same over-flowing love at the cross be over-flowing in us. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...

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  2. May God continue to work thru you. Your message is so timely. I have to speak before a group of young people within whom my nephew and friend will be there who has become hopeless. I asked God to give me a word to say to these young people who don't know him and need help. Before I began my ss study I decided to read your blog bc of the title and illustration which drew me. God answered as He always does. Thank you Jesus!!! For the lives that will be saved to Your name Honor and Glory. My eyes are over flowing and my heart is full for the love that the Master has for us all. thank you.

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      • Update. Time did not permit me to fully explain your points to the body of the young members I addressed for my role was the offering appeal. However I managed to inform them of the importance of repentance and a relationship with Christ in order for their offering to have meaning and value in their life. I was able to read your blog w my nephew and his friend. I believe the Holy Spirit had His way with them for she committed to having regular prayer sessions w my nephew for God to give them the desire to know Him more and for wisdom. I will keep the points learned from everyone's comments and incorporate them in my witness plan. Thanks to everyone for their Godly wisdom.

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  3. Super, duper discussion! A lifeguard will try to save someone even if they don't call out and God does the same. He saved everyone before the foundation of the world. Does every person end up in heaven? No, only those who choose to be there. Some people are saved from death but don't appreciate it. Only those who appreciate being saved from death will experience heaven and the new earth. Thanks Terry for a great post!

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  4. Stephen, I really appreciate your emphasis on love being the only solution to sin. After all, the beloved Apostle John wrote, "God is love," thus summarizing His character. And God's Law is a reflection of His character. I like the way Ellen white summarizes it: "In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven." (Desire of Ages, p. 19 The whole chapter is a wonderful read.) This is the one-principle summation of God's Law. And you recognize this when you conclude that "a failure to love is the very essence of sin."

    The two-principle summation is the one to which you referred in Mark 12:28-34. It was a familiar summary of the Law of God for the Jewish people. It is but an expansion of the one great Law of Love, expressed in two principles.

    We rightly see the Ten Commandments divided into two parts - with the first describing in more detail what love to God looks like and the second describing in more detail what love to man looks like. However,without the understanding that the principle of love is the essence of the Ten Commandments, I can see how they might be viewed as "lesser commandments." But in spite of the Pharisees' many legalistic rules, they still must have had some sense of the love foundation of God's Law, as evidenced by the young lawyer's reply. The Decalogue is an expression of God's great eternal Law of Love expressed in a way to be understood by fallen humanity. Before Adam and Even sinned, they didn't need these details, but we don't have to look too far today to see that the Ten Commandments are very much needed as a moral compass in our times.

    The Ten Commandment law can be understood in positive terms if we don't separate them from God's first words in Ex. 20:2, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." God first redeems and frees us from slavery, then He tells us what the principles of His Kingdom look like in practice. As His people, we will not have any other gods before Him, we will not make idols for ourselves, we will not take His name in vain, and we will delight to spend time with Him on His Sabbath day. This relationship with our Redeemer will spill out into our relationship with our "neighbors," and we will honor our parents, we will not murder, commit adultery or steal. Neither will we testify falsely against our neighbor or covet anything He possesses, because we are complete in Him. There's a reason God first introduced Himself as Redeemer and Savior before pronouncing His Law. When we leave God's introduction off His Law, we distort it into a method of saving ourselves, when, in actuality, only an already redeemed person can keep His Law in any sense.

    Even the wording of Mark 12:29 supports this understanding of the Ten being an expansion of the One and Two. In the KJV, Jesus said, "The first of all the commandments .." The word translated "first" is "proteros" from which we get the word "prototype." Now a prototype car is only "greater" than the cars created after the pattern insofar as there would be no other cars like it, if it hadn't first been constructed. So all other commandments proceed from the "great" or "first" commandment - supreme love to God, because only as we open our hearts to Him in loving obedience can He change us into loving people.

    Thank you stimulating us to think about God's character of love reflected in His law of love.

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    • Perhaps, Inge, the Decalogue has no meaning for the person who is able to love through the power of God indwelling. Perhaps such a person would never look to the law to determine what is right but rather be guided by the love of God. Such a person might fulfill all that the law requires and more without ever seeking to. Instead the love of God within might "will" and "do" according to God's "good pleasure" (KJV) or "good purpose" (NIV) which can be only love. Philippians 2:13

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      • Stephen, my point was that, rightly understood, love is what the Decalogue is all about. It defines the love that comes from God.

        So many things in this world are done out of "love" that are incompatible with God's law and thus not genuine love. You have probably seen it yourself: People commit adultery out of "love," and they break every other commandment out of "love." In fact I personally know at least one person with a generally loving and charming personality who claimed that God told her to commit adultery--all out of love, of course. A quick look into the mirror of God's law could have told her that it wasn't love. But I expect she was at the point in her life where the "law of love" was good enough, and she didn't need the Decalogue any more.

        In fact, the major portion of the Christian world sees "no meaning" in the Decalogue. They find it no longer relevant, because they now live according to the "law of love," and, of course, that makes the Sabbath irrelevant.

        Yet the Sabbath is part of God's law of love. It sets aside necessary time to nurture our love relationship with Him, and to be infused with His Spirit that enables us to live out that law of love in our lives. And more than that, it helps us acknowledge that God is God - because it is an otherwise "arbitrary" commandment carving out a particular space in time just because God said so. By heeding this commandment, we demonstrate our faith that only He is the One who can sanctify us.

        If we believe that the law of love supersedes the Decalogue, we are left to define "love" according to our own impulses, and it becomes denigrated to a mere human emotion, varying with time and circumstances.

        The heart is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked," (Jer 17:9), and that makes self-deception the order of the day for humanity. How are we to judge whether our "loving" impulses are really from God or from our own selfish hearts? How are we to judge that we are really "guided by the love of God"? The Bible has the answer.

        David, a man after God's own heart, sang,

        Oh how I love your law!
        It is my meditation all the day.
        98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
        for it is ever with me. (Ps 119:97-98 ESV
        The whole 119th Psalm focuses on the beauty of God's Law,
        which is an expression of His character.)

        Of course, I understand that there's more to the "Law" than the Decalogue. The way I understand it, there's the One Law of self-renouncing love that is "the law of life for earth and heaven." It is the eternal law of which all others are but a faint expression. Then there are the Two great Laws of love to God and love to one's neighbour, which are a two-fold expression of the same One Law. And there is the Decalogue, which is a ten-fold expression of the same One Law. Then there are also the many laws or expressions of God's will scattered throughout the Bible - in both the Old Testament and the New - which, being an expression of God's will - are also a part of God's law, which is an expression of His character.

        I believe that, because of the deceitfulness of the human heart, we are never, in this life, safe to regard any expression of God's law as having "no meaning."

        The One, the Ten and the many expressions of "God's law" are all meant to help us "walk about in freedom" (Ps 119:45 NIV) within the boundaries of His will.

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      • I am confused by this comment. I learned that the first four commandments summarize our duty to God and the last six our duty to our fellowmen. The two great commandments I have learnt are a summary of the first four and the last six respectively. If God's love indwells me, I am going to need guidelines on how to love God and how to love my fellowmen. I see Inge's comment dispels my confusion.

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  5. The cross stands as reminder of the salvage from the great controversy that God did to save me from this world. Thank you Jesus for the salvation!! happy Sabbath long yupla olgeta (Happy Sabbath to you all) from Hohola SDA church Port Moresby PNG.

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  6. I am often reminded with this understanding of our loving Saviour, when we are drowning in sin and the situations of life, remember our Lifeguard walks on water. May we always unite to Him for the victory we need that He alone can give. Thank you Jesus. Thank you all for sharing.

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    • Jay, I appreciate your whole comment, but I particularly like your memorable statement:

      When we are drowning in sin and the situations of life, remember our Lifeguard walks on water."

      Indeed!

      Thank you. :)

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    • You ask a good question, Sagi. Could it be that we are like adopted children? It is not a joyful time when a child must leave its birth family. When a child is adopted, they are very uncertain about their place in their new home. They feel insecure in their relationship with the new family. It is a stressful time with both child and family struggling with the changes in their lives. As the child tries to understand its place, it is faced with new rules and ways of doing things. Sometimes misunderstandings occur and communication breaks down. This may all be normal but challenging. However, as the family continues to pour love into the life of the newly adopted child, over time the child will come to find peace and even joy in the family relationship. Perhaps even when we do not feel joy and wish we did, God, like a loving parent, pursues us continuously with His love, and He does this knowing our hearts will respond to that love and feel joy once again.

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  7. Practical and realistic approach in explaining salvation. This is how we ought to present God's gift of salvation to those who are lost and those who profess to be Christians and may have a hard time understanding God's love. It took me a while to understand and experience his love as I hadn't experienced love in my life..

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  8. I read all the comments and Jay's comment about our lifeguard walks on water really hit home with me. We have nothing to fear in this life as our lifeguard truly does walk on water. Remember our Lord is our strength no matter what happens.

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  9. Of late there appears to be a case of re-baptisms taking place. Does anyone have a biblical stance for this?

    You see you may not LIKE to hear this but SIN is SIN - whether seen or unseen. We seem to be always dealing with the seen but what about the unseen?

    So in this context using the analogies given, the lifeguard's job does not change. We are the ones choosing to go out in uncharted waters and are about to drown. That's when we seem to desperately search for those lifesaving hands.

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    • You ask a good question. Perhaps the concept of rebaptism arises out of a belief that baptism is for entry into a church organization. If a person is disfellowshipped and there is no way to re-enter fellowship then they would need to remain disfellowshipped for life which is not biblical. (Galatians 6:1) You may have a valid concern if it is regarding baptism being equal to entry into church fellowship, but if you have no issues with that concept, then perhaps you can see that it is biblical in light of Galatians.

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  10. One of the things that identify very quickly a person’s poor spiritual condition is something that is rarely seen with our eyes. A person may for years be able to hide what is really going on in their life. You may only get a glimpse of the condition only rarely when they momentarily lose the ability to hide their real problem.

    Too often, people go through their Christian walk fooling themselves into believing that nothing is wrong with their Heart. They become well trained at controlling their actions well, but their heart on the other hand is something that struggles constantly.

    So often in the church, we wrestle with people’s bad spirits, ill tempers, and pride. We assume that these symptoms are themselves the problem that the person is having. We say, “You need to get ahold of that temper of yours.” What we fail to realize, is the temper is only a symptom of a much bigger and more dangerous problem.

    Huge church problems can arise when key church leaders and church members alike have heart issues that are not healed. Masking the symptom usually causes us to believe that the person has made a change, but soon enough, that symptom re-surfaces or a new symptom appears, which is only a result of the same problem as the original symptom,thus slowly drown to sink more and more unto sin...

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    • Josiah, what you bring up here seems to me to be something that we tend to overlook. Can a person be so deceived that he/she won't even know how far from Christ they are? It would seem to me that 2 Thess 2:9-12 says that can certainly happen. Perhaps Rom 12:3 and 1 Cor 10:12 are warnings concerning things like this.

      I think that was the state Paul was in before his Damascus road experience. It also seems to be true whenever a person thinks they are correct when in fact they are not. Certainly times of persecution manifests behavior that supports these ideas (Jn 16:2).

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