How God Changes Lives – Understanding Means of Grace
What do the Pope, the Dalai Lama and Donald Whitney have in common? They all promote freestyle spirituality where feeling close to God replaces drawing near to God on His terms. Religious experimentation replaces practices ordained by God and sincerity replaces revealed truth. We will begin with a narrative from the Old Testament and proceed to revealed truth in the New Testament to show that we must come to God in faith on His terms. We cannot trust our spiritual well-being to experimentation.
Naaman the Syrian Leper
2Kings 5 contains an interesting narrative, where God healed a Syrian pagan of his leprosy. How God worked in this case shows a pattern that is clearly revealed in the New Testament. The Naaman narrative helps us understand how important it is that we know what God has commanded, that we believe His promises, and that we come to Him on His terms. This pattern is largely rejected in the contemporary church in favor of “spiritual disciplines” that were never commanded by God and were dreamt up by spiritual experimentation. We will see why this constitutes rebellion against God’s ordained means.
Naaman is introduced in 2Kings 1:1:
Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper.
Naaman’s problem was something that could not be solved by any ordinary means. But in God’s providence, Naaman’s wife had a servant girl who was a Hebrew, having been captured by the Syrians. The Lord used this girl in a remarkable way:
And she said to her mistress, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.” (2Kings 5:3)
The prophet she referenced was Elisha, a true prophet of God who spoke for God. So Naaman’s master, the king of Syria (Aram), generously sent Naaman with lavish gifts for the king of Israel and asked that Naaman be cured of leprosy. The king of Israel reacted negatively, tearing his clothes in lament, thinking that the king of Syria was plotting to destroy him when he was unable to cure Naaman (2Kings 5:5-7). Elisha heard about this and sent word to the king to send Naaman to Elisha to show that he was the prophet of the true God and could cure the leper (2Kings 5:8). So Naaman came to the house of Elisha.
The Command of God
What happens next is important for our understanding of means of grace. In the case of Naaman, the word for God from Elisha was specific to Naaman, yet it still shows us a pattern that is found in the New Testament. First, there was a command from God that came with a promise from God:
And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you and you shall be clean.” (2Kings 5:10)
I will show that this is how God works for His people under the New Covenant as well. God’s means must include a command from God from a true spokesperson of God and have a promise attached to it. When God commands us to do something and promises to meet us in that, we can be utterly sure that God will keep His infallible promise.
In Naaman’s case, he was offended by what God commanded through the prophet:
But Naaman was furious and went away and said, “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper.’ Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. (2Kings 5:11, 12)
Naaman was willing to keep his leprosy rather than obey the terms laid out by God. In his mind, the words of the prophet were absurd and demeaning.
This reveals a fatal flaw in the thinking of many people. We recently witnessed the Pope coming to America. The spectacle was utterly alarming. Masses of people would do anything to get close to the Pope. They deem him a holy man who can help them spiritually if they can only get a glimpse, or better yet, touch him. Naaman was offended that Elisha did not even come out to meet him. Instead, Elisha offered what the Pope in our day does not have to offer: the true command of God with a promise. The Pope does not preach the gospel. Instead he offers himself as some supposed holy man. Others are just as excited about the Dalai Lama who also was in the country. They want a (supposedly) holy man rather than the true Word of God.