[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Naaman in the Bible, here’s a brief introduction: He was a Syrian general (an enemy of Israel!) who had leprosy. His Israelite maidservant suggested that the prophet Elisha could heal him, so Naaman went to him.
Elisha wouldn’t even come out to meet him but instead sent a message by his servant, telling Naaman that he needed to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River to be healed. Angered – by Elisha’s not coming to meet him and also that there were rivers that were just as good in his homeland – Naaman left in a huff. One of his servants advised him to do what Elisha had said, reminding him that had Elisha demanded Naaman perform some great act of conquest, Naaman would have done his best to do it, to rid himself of his leprosy, so how much more ought he to do this little thing?
Works based religions
Most religions in the world teach that man must do something to get to God; Christianity is unique in that it teaches that man can do nothing to get to God, so God stooped down to get to man. Even religions which claim to believe the Bible but are outside of orthodox Christianity (e.g., Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses) also believe that man must do things in order to earn salvation.
For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that if you survive Armageddon and/or get resurrected afterwards, that during the Millennium after that, God will still kill you (they believe in annihilation, not hell) if you fail to live up to His standards. Mormons believe that you have to make – and keep! – additional covenants including being “Temple Worthy” in order to merit the highest levels of salvation.
But Naaman’s account teaches a different view entirely. What did Naaman have to do to “earn” God’s favor for him to be healed? Nothing, really. He had to dip in the Jordan River seven times. Some might say, “See! He had to obey God, and that’s all we’re saying that people have to do to earn/merit salvation.” One might make that argument, I suppose but it doesn’t really work and here’s why.
Acting in faith
Let’s consider one of the many miracles of Jesus, the healing of the woman with an issue of blood for 18 years. Let’s imagine that this woman, the day that she went to Jesus, didn’t touch the hem of His garment but was healed anyway. She almost certainly would have considered it a miracle from God but wouldn’t have associated it with Jesus, and might even have just thought she naturally was healed – maybe attributed it to changing her diet, or that something her doctor had done had finally cured her.
Since she was cured the instant she touched the hem of Jesus’s robe, it would be very difficult to attribute her healing to something natural, her doctor, or coincidence (unless one simply refuses to believe in the possibility of miracles or the supernatural in the first place). This is also one of the reasons why God has us pray – to show to us that He hears and answers, but I digress.
Like the woman above, Naaman’s leprosy being completely healed by dipping in the Jordan River, not one time, not two times, not three times, not even the sixth time but only and completely on the seventh time, showed that God, not the river, had healed him.
God is the one who heals
In both cases, it wasn’t the actual action that healed them but God, operating through their faith. That is, immersion (once or many times) in water (the Jordan or any other river) has no more inherent healing properties than do hemlines, so the healing is ultimately from God. He could have healed them without them doing anything (dipping in the river, or touching the hem of Jesus’ robe) but to show that it was God who healed them, He had them prove their faith by their works, as James says. [It is easy to say you have faith but your actions prove your faith.]
As an example, if I say I believe my house will burn down tonight while I sleep but go to bed like normal, do I really believe that I and my family will be burned to death in our beds? If I really believe that my house will catch on fire tonight, will I not act in accordance with that and stay on the alert, to prevent the fire from spreading and killing everyone in my house?]
Most of the religions of the world have it wrong – including many who claim to be based on the Bible. Most religions require great actions from people in order to gain God’s favor, or in order for them to prove themselves worthy of God’s grace but that’s not Biblical grace. Biblical grace is simple – you don’t have to do anything because Christ has already done it all; you just need to believe (which as shown in the above paragraph will produce accompanying actions, so true belief in free grace will not lead to lasciviousness and rampant sin, as some claim).
It’s too simple for some. Like Naaman’s original attitude, some people get mad or can’t believe it’s that simple, so spurn the promise of God and refuse to accept those terms and instead insist on doing great exploits to earn God’s grace (which is self-contradictory, since grace by definition cannot be earned). That’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? As the Bible says, God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. The proud want to do something – even if it’s just a little thing – to add to God’s grace and Christ’s completed work; they want to be able to point to something and say, “I did that!”
As Paul pointed out to the Galatians, if circumcision is necessary to get you into heaven, then ultimately, it is circumcision and not Christ who saves you and that makes the death of Christ “of no effect”. Similarly, if it is your work that saves you (whether it’s being Temple Worthy in Mormonism, being circumcised, keeping the Law of Moses, doing some great exploit like Naaman thought was necessary, or anything else), then you have saved yourself by your actions, which makes the death of Christ “of no effect” to you.
That’s all well and good if your works by themselves can save but if you recognize that the death of Christ is what saves you, then your works do not contribute anything to your salvation. Indeed, it is all of Christ or all of works; any mixture of the two undoes the work of Christ, according to the book of Galatians and makes Christ’s work unnecessary and is indeed a false gospel.
It is all of grace, or all of works. Belief is not a work, though what you believe is manifested by your works. If your works cannot save you, then you must rely totally on Christ. If you don’t rely fully on Christ, then you will be judged on your works. It’s your choice.