Drowning to Live

By Scott Keith


Most of my teenage and adult life, I have been a certified lifeguard; though my certifications have now expired. I was first certified in 1987 when I was 15 years old, and last certified in 2007 at the age of 38. I think I could probably write an entire blog on how much more difficult it was to get lifeguard certified in 1987 than it was the last time around in 2007. (I’m sure it is even easier now!) But, that is not the point of this blog, just an interesting side note relating to the actuality that the techniques used in the 1980s were more hands on, direct, and difficult than those taught now. But, I also believe that the older techniques were more effective than the newer, less direct methods.

That first certification process was intense. We lowly initiates were often called upon to show up to class fully clothed (jeans, sweatshirt, socks, shoes, and even a hat!). The instructor would then tell us to pick a partner and swim laps. The hitch was that we swam our laps dragging one another in the cross chest carry stroke; back and forth across the pool, all while wearing our full cadre of clothing, carrying the “victim” who was similarly dressed. It was intense.

One of the more interesting pieces of instruction was when the instructor taught us how to save an active drowning victim in the deep end. The difficulty is that those who are actively drowning and struggling tend to try to use anyone who approaches them as a platform upon which they foist themselves. The result can be that the person attempting to save the victim is pushed under and nearly drowned. Rather than saving a victim, rescuers frequently become secondary victims themselves.


Our instructor taught us that the only way to prevent this from occurring was to dive down below the struggling victim, grab them by the feet, and with one stout tug pull them under water. The victim will instantly believe that they have drowned and stop struggling. Once they have ceased their thrashing, the rescuer then grabs their arm, moves them into the cross chest carry position, and brings them to the surface and swims them to safety.

Long story short, the victim has to be nearly drowned to be saved. As long as they keep on struggling, the rescuer can do little to assist them. The catch is that struggling is the natural and appropriate, if not totally unhelpful, reaction. They literally cannot help but do otherwise. Thus, they go on trying to save themselves by uselessly thrashing to and fro in a vain attempt to make it to safety. The more they try to work out their aquatic salvation, the more they are in danger of death by drowning.

The only answer is for someone whose work is not in vain, whose strokes are not useless, to come in, pull them under––drown them, if you will––and bring them to safety. In their terror, the victim never sees that their work is of no use and that the rescuer must first try to kill them to make them alive.


This past week, I was discussing Romans 6:1-4 with my students at the university. “What then should we say? Should we continue in sin so that grace may increase? Not at all! How can we, who have died to sin, still keep living in it? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we were buried with him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so also we walk in the newness of life.” (Romans 6-14) I explained to them that our sin is so deep, that we need to be dead to be made alive. Our struggling is our sinful attempt to try to save ourselves, which will never result in anything more than our undoing.

But, this is exactly what makes baptism such a wonderful gift. Death by drowning is not a pleasant thought. Yet, all Christians who have been baptized into Christ, have been drowned. They have drowned in the waters of their holy baptism. But we don’t post lifeguards around the baptismal font warning passersby about the risk of drowning. Rather, we warn them that they will meet Christ there. We warn those that are to be baptized that He promises to meet the sinners there to drown them and make them alive. For unlike drowning in a pool, drowning in baptism promises rescue, renewal, rebirth, and regeneration.


Our struggling is for naught, but His promises are sure. He will pull us under in the waters of baptism, and he will make us alive again. His goal is not to bring a death that lasts forever, but rather a life that is never ending. We stand in the sure hope of the promises of our baptism, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)

If you are baptized, in your baptism you died. For you were baptized into Christ’s death. You died with him and were buried with him. That’s how thoroughly and surely baptism drowned you. But just as the lifeguard does not leave the victim under the water, Christ does not leave us buried with Him. Rather, He raises us in His resurrection, making all that is His ours. And if you are not baptized, maybe you need to consider drowning to live!