But I Can’t Swim: Man’s Total Inability and God’s Relentless Grace

3m sprungbrett / 3m diving board - spring board

The following is an illustration and brief lesson I’ve taught to children in various settings and occasions. I am posting it here for two reasons. First, I hope it will serve as an encouragement in the gospel for those of you still depending on your own moral effort for your standing with God. Second, I hope this short article will serve as an example for children’s pastors and volunteers who teach children the gospel, as well as parents who teach their children the gospel in the home.


Imagine you are at a swimming pool this summer. Your mom has told you to stay near the shallow end of the pool, but you really want to jump in the deep end of the pool. When your mom is reading her book, you get out of the shallow end and tip-toe down the side of the pool toward the deep end. You glance over your shoulder to make sure your mom isn’t looking, so you can do an awesome cannonball in the deep end. But as you turn around, you slip and fall in the deep end.

You try to swim to the top, but you can’t. You can’t see. It is dark. You are alone. And you are afraid. You just spin around waving your arms and kicking your legs trying to get back to the surface of the water. But on your own, you can’t make it. The next thing you know, you feel someone wrap their arms around you. They pull you as they swim hard. Before you can think you are above the water taking a deep breathe. When you are able to open your eyes, you see that your mom is holding you. When you were nearly dead, your mom saved you. You did nothing. She did everything.

The same is true of our salvation from sin and spiritual death. We have seen this week that without Christ we are dead in sin and doomed under God’s wrath. Since we are dead, we can’t do anything about our condition. But then we saw the good news of the gospel; that God stepped in to make us alive by sending Jesus to die for our sins. Salvation is a gift that is only God’s to give. We are drowning in the pool of our sin. In Jesus, God jumps in to save us.

This salvation is all of grace. Grace is a word that means God gives us what we do not deserve (v. 8). Salvation is a gift, not a reward. We are not given eternal life because we deserve it. We are not allowed into the joyful presence of God because we are awesome people. We are saved from the penalty of sin because of God’s grace. We are saved by grace to live with God forever. All we must do is receive it as a gift. This is what we call “faith.” Faith is receiving God’s grace in Jesus. Faith and grace are gifts from God.

Many people think if they just obey God enough, they will earn salvation. Even though they are drowning, they think if they just swim harder (go to church more, pray more, give more, serve more) they will come to the top of the water and save themselves. But just like a boy or girl drowning in the deep end, we all need a Savior. We can’t earn God’s salvation and forgiveness. It must be given to us. Because of God’s grace and love, he gives us this gift in sending Jesus to stand in our place as our sacrifice.

If your mom saved you from drowning, you would hug and kiss her. When God saves us in Christ, our only response must be worship and rejoice in him. Our salvation is not a result of our works, so let’s never brag about ourselves, but only about him!


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

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