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I was eleven the day I almost drowned. A “harmless” prank at a summer-camp swimming pool nearly ruined my day—and my life!

I was away from home for the first time at Camp Cedar Falls, in Southern California’s San Bernardino mountains. A swim in the camp pool with my friends seemed like the perfect way to terrorize the girls and cool off at the same time. There was only one small problem. I couldn’t swim. Not to worry. I was secure in the water as long as my feet could touch the bottom of the pool.

The sun was warm, the girls were squealing, and the water felt great as the boys from cabin Fox kept things interesting in the pool. About the time we were running out of energy, my best friend suggested that I try a dive on the other side of the rope. Now, I knew that the rope was the dividing line between the shallow and deep ends of the pool, but my friend insisted that I could still touch the bottom just on the other side of the rope.

My resistance weakened under a barrage of coaxing that included dares and all the pride-wounding pressures eleven-year-old boys can level at each other. Eventually convincing myself that I’d still be able to touch the bottom, I took the plunge on the other side of the rope—the side that, up until then, I had always avoided.

The dive was fine. I began to surface and stretched my feet downward in search of the pool floor. It wasn’t there! Instant panic washed over me. I struggled to get my head above the water so I could cry out to my friend who was standing only a few feet away on the side of the pool, but I couldn’t. What was worse, I could see him laughing at my antics, apparently unaware of the danger I was in.

Again, I fought against the water with all my might. Frolicking swimmers were all around me, but no one was paying any attention; they had no idea I was drowning. Just as my strength was beginning to fade, my friend’s expression suddenly became dead serious. It dawned on him that I really was in trouble. He immediately jumped in and was at my side in seconds. In my desperation, I seized him around the neck and nearly took us both down, but he managed to get us safely to the side.

My friend pulled me to safety that day, but he wasn’t alone. God was in that pool too. It was Him whom I thanked over and over again that night as I breathed ragged prayers of gratitude for saving my life. Have you been saved? No, I’m not talking about being saved from drowning. I’m talking about being saved from sin. Have you wondered how to move from a mere intellectual belief in Jesus Christ to a saving relationship with Him in which you experience forgiveness for the mistakes of your past and you receive the gift of eternal life? I’d like to share with you five steps you can take today that will bring salvation within your reach.

1 Recognize your need of help

The Bible describes the human condition like this: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. . . . For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10–12, 23).

The sin problem is universal. No one is exempt. Every man, woman, boy, and girl is infected with the sin virus—a virus that is 100 percent lethal. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The first step toward salvation from this desperate situation is to recognize that you are a sinner and that it is impossible for you, in your own strength, to resist the power of evil or to save yourself from its fatal results.

2 Understand that God loves you and wants to save you

Many people have grown up with the idea that God is some sort of cosmic cop waiting to catch them in sin so He can condemn them to the horrors of hell. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is “compassionate and gracious . . . , slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6, 7).

God does not want to punish us. Instead, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16, 17).

It’s true that God hates sin. Why wouldn’t He? Sin is a killer. It separates us from Him, cutting us off from the source of life. He hates sin, but He loves sinners—you and me. Because He is also a God of justice, He must punish sin. It is here that the glory of the salvation plan becomes clear.

3 Look to Jesus

Just as I needed a savior that day in the swimming pool, we humans needed Someone to save us from drowning in sin. That Savior came in the person of the God-Man Jesus Christ. Jesus came to reveal the love of the Father and to be our Sin Bearer. He bore the punishment for our sins upon the cross. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. . . . He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4, 5). In her book The Desire of Ages, Ellen White put it this way:

Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His.

4 Believe

As you look at Jesus dying on the cross and realize that He suffered that agony so you could be saved, you begin to understand the ugliness of sin and want to be forgiven, cleansed, and set free. You confess your wretchedness to God, and you repent. In other words, you turn away from those things that separate you from Him. As you do this, you accept God’s promise to “forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

You cannot atone for your past sins; you cannot change your heart and make yourself holy. But God promises to do all this for you through Christ. You believe that promise. You confess your sins and give yourself to God. You choose to serve Him. Just as surely as you do this, God will fulfill His word to you. You believe the promise—believe that you are forgiven and cleansed—and God supplies the fact. You are made whole, just as Christ gave the paralytic power to walk when the man believed that he was healed. It is so if you believe it.

The criterion for salvation hasn’t changed. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

5 Receive the gift of eternal life

If I hadn’t accepted my friend’s help when he jumped in to save me, I would have drowned. Similarly, each of us must accept Christ as our Savior, or His gracious act on the cross will not benefit us. Potentially life-saving medicine does no good while it’s in the bottle. The sick person must receive the pills into his or her body in order to be cured.

Trust Christ alone to save you. Neither good works nor being religious can save you. “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Christ and Christ alone can atone for your sins and make you clean before God. Go to Him in prayer right now, and tell Him that you are ready to receive His perfect life in place of your sinful one. Confess your sins and claim the promise that “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life” (John 1:12; 1 John 5:11, 12).

I still thank God for saving me. I thank Him for saving me from drowning that day in the pool, and I thank Him for saving my soul.

Why not let Him save you too?

Five Steps to Salvation

by Randy Maxwell
From the November 2015 Signs