I was a lifeguard in my youth. I served at Camp Barakel as a lifeguard, a head lifeguard, and I even worked at the Y as a paid lifeguard when I was newly married and trying to work as much as possible to make ends meet. And one lesson that I learned as a lifeguard is a helpful metaphor spiritually. People who are trying to save themselves are dangerous.
We were taught in lifeguard training to never extend a hand to a person who is drowning. Further a lifeguard should always keep a safe distance while rescuing a panicked victim. If you get to close, a drowning person will climb on your head if they get a chance. They will drown you while trying to save themself.
And that is where the spiritual metaphor leaps over into the church. I am convinced that people who are trying to save themselves are dangerous. Those who are spiritually minded and are seeking to please God by their own piety are those who are trying to save themselves. And when a person is trying to save themselves, they will drown everyone else around them into order to stay above the water line.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. It is a message of free grace, given by God to anyone who would humble themselves and ask for His forgiveness. Anyone who knows they are in desperate need of rescuing, anyone who knows they cannot save themselves, anyone who knows they are going under without God’s intervention, is a person who is refreshing in a church community. They will trust, they will be ready to admit when they are wrong, they will not demand their own way.
But the one who is trying to save themself? They will always seek to promote themselves. They will elevate their position. They will seek in subtle ways to make themselves look better than everyone else. And in the end, they will likely prove to be divisive.
I believe that the health of a church is significantly impacted by the number of people who have misunderstood the gospel. If we are trying to save ourselves, we will be dangerous to those around us. It is only as we come to rest in our need for the LIFEGUARD to come and rescue us that we will be able to live together in unity and genuine compassion for one another. The gospel changes us from desperate people who are dangerous and drowning.