So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25 ESV)
Gary Smalley tells the story. He was in Cancun, Mexico, with his wife Norma, and two of their children and their families.
The morning was overcast and Norma and I were reading by the pool listening to the waves crash not far from us. I decided to take a break from reading and jump in the ocean to wake up. The water was as warm as the pool; temperature-wise it was the best ocean water I’d ever been in. However, something very serious happened to me during that swim that I certainly didn’t expect.
As I was walking toward the beach to enjoy a brief swim, I noticed there were some flags that were posted along the beach—some red, some yellow. There weren’t many people on the beach so I couldn’t ask anyone about them. I really didn’t pay any attention to them because the water seemed so inviting and shallow that I didn’t think there would be any problems. I didn’t know those flags were riptide-warning flags.
I eased into the water. The waves were large and coming every 5 seconds. I was frolicking, jumping up and down, but I was bouncing out further and further into the ocean. In a short time, I was up to my chest but still had my feet on the sand. When a big wave would come and cover me I was able to jump up most of the way. But with each wave there was a current that was pulling me further out; I didn’t really notice it, however, because I was walking away from the beach.
Suddenly I realized that the water was up to my chin and recognized that the current was pulling me out. I decided that I was going to start swimming back to shore, but I couldn’t get in. The current was so strong and the waves were coming with such force that I felt caught, and was being dragged out farther and farther. I didn’t think there was a problem at first, because I’m pretty strong, and even though I’m 60, I’m a good swimmer. However, the harder I tried, the more I saw that I was not making any progress. I tried swimming under water, but when I came up for air I was hit by a giant wave and I started to swallow water. I started to panic. I was getting tired and I realized I was in a mess. The waves crashed over me and I was taking in too much water. I had no energy left. I looked to see if anybody was around that I could scream to, but the waves were so loud that a scream wouldn’t have been heard. I waved my arm up in the air to see if somebody could see me, and I noticed in a split second a young lifeguard sitting in a tower that I never before noticed. He saw me and waved back. He then jumped out of the tower, ran to the ocean, swam out to me, and threw me a large red floating device with handles and a big rope.
Then Smalley adds:
Here’s what I learned: When you are struggling with food, love relationships, immoral thoughts, bad habits, any kind of addiction (from shopping to drugs), the current is pulling you out. And you can’t do anything about it in your own efforts. Many of us who have been addicted know the reason we get depressed is because we know it’s hopeless. We’ve tried to change, we’ve tried diets, we’ve tried disciplining ourselves, we’ve tried getting up early and praying, we’ve tried different things, but nothing seems to work. Jesus is actually the one who overcomes the addiction, the one who gives us the power to sustain. You have a lifeguard—Jesus Christ. He throws the floating device, grace, to you.
Paul had tried methods. He had tried almost everything. He answered the question with almost a sigh of relief: Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.