(2 Kings 5:15-19)
“And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, ‘Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.’ And he urged him to take it, but he refused. So Naaman said, ‘Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the Lord. Yet in this thing may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord please pardon your servant in this thing.’ Then he said to him, ‘Go in peace.’ So he departed from him a short distance.”
General Naaman Had to Cast Aside His Own Fleshly Thoughts
Today, I would like to explain to you what we must all know to live out our faith. It’s written here in today’s Scripture reading that General Naaman was healed from his leprosy by Elisha, a servant of God. Naaman was the commander of the army of the king of Syria, and although he was a greatly honored man who made huge contributions to his kingdom, he was also a leper. At that time his leprosy was getting so bad that he was struggling to lead a normal married life or take care of the affairs of the kingdom. In his house during that time was a young girl from Israel working in his household as a slave brought in by captivity, and this Hebrew girl told Naaman’s wife that if only her master could go and see a prophet in Israel, he would be healed from his leprosy for sure. Upon hearing this good news, he went to Israel as a last-ditch effort, and as was the custom, he took the Syrian king’s personal letter to the king of Israel. The king of Israel then sent Naaman to God’s servant Elisha.
On his way to see Elisha Naaman went through great deal of anxiety and expectations, thinking, “If this man really is an able servant of God he will immediately lay his hands on my body, pray over it and heal me. He will also treat me with great respect and hospitability.” However, contrary to his thoughts, Elisha just gave instructions through his messenger, saying to Naaman, “Go and wash in the Jordan River seven times.” General Naaman was taken aback at this approach and became extremely offended upon hearing this by this messenger. Furious with anger and disappointment, Naaman muttered to himself, “This Elisha didn’t even bother to come in person to receive the Commander of the Army of a Great Power! He disregarded me and my important position and just sent out his messenger to tell me that I should go to the Jordan River and wash myself seven times in it. Does he think I came all this way to just to wash myself in a river in Israel because there is no river in Syria? What absolute rubbish in this! The Abanah and the Pharpar in Syria are a hundred times better than this dirty Jordan River. The Jordan River only flows like a real river when there is a flood, otherwise it’s just a little meandering creek! How dare he tell me to wash my body in these muddy waters of the Jordan! Does he think I have no other river? I can’t stand the idea of washing myself in such a filthy river! How rude and disrespectful! Let’s go home! We will come back with the Syrian army and wipe out this whole country!”
However, Naaman’s servants who were accompanying him admonished him to rather listen to Elisha, appealing to him, “General Naaman, if the servant of God had told you to do something more difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? It’s not that difficult to wash your body in the Jordan River; since Elisha told you to do something so simple, why not just do it? Since you want to cure your illness, shouldn’t you be willing to do anything Elisha tells you to do, even if it were a lot more difficult than this? So, please do as Elisha said. If it doesn’t work, then we can consider our options and decide whether or not we should come back with our army and invade Israel.” After listening to his servants’ advice, Naaman changed his mind and went to the Jordan River, and dipped himself in the river seven times. Up until the sixth time he dipped his body in the Jordan, he still was covered in leprosy. However, when he dipped his body the seventh time, his leprosy was gone, cured completely!
Because of leprosy, his flesh had been rotting away and weeping sores in his skin had been oozing badly, but he was now completely healed, and his body turned all soft and clean like that of a little child. After being completely healed from leprosy in the Jordan River, General Naaman went back to Elisha and said, “The God of Israel alone is the true God. Please accept these treasures as my gifts of thanks to you.” But Elisha declined, saying, “Absolutely not. I will not receive anything from you.” Despite Naaman’s efforts urging Elisha to accept his gifts he refused to accept any gift from him. So Naaman said to Elisha, “I am about to return to my home. I have a request to make. Please allow me take some earth from here. Once I return to my country, I will not worship any other gods but the Lord God.” Elisha consented to his request. Naaman then said, “Please forgive me for this one troubling thing, you see, my king worships idols in the temple of Rimmon. I have to assist him when he bows before the idols, and so I have no choice but to bow with him.” Elisha then said to him, “Go in peace.” And, we see the Bible saying, “So he departed from him a short distance.”
With this, General Naaman’s spiritual blessings were over. It’s clear that Naaman received God’s grace of healing by listening to and obeying His Word from Elisha, a servant of God. For lepers, there is no grace of God greater than being healed of this terrible debilitating disease. This also refers to the remission of sins that you and I have received. It is symbolic of the fact that we have received the remission of sins, once and for all, by believing in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We must pay attention to these words, “So he departed from him a short distance,” which has the meaning, even though Naaman had not gone a short distance away from Elisha, his life of faith was now over.
This Means That We Must Deny Our Own Thoughts When It Comes to Our Lives of Faith
This one single thing we must all know and understand well when it comes to living out our faith, is to deny our thoughts? Now that we have received the remission of sins by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit, what should we be watching out for and remember the most? It is this one thing, we must deny the thoughts of our flesh and follow the Word of God by faith. Isn’t it true that the thoughts of the flesh arise far more from within us than the will of God? The lustful thoughts of the flesh abound in all of us. Isn’t it also true that you have far more fleshly wisdom and plans than the will of God? Our carnal thoughts continue to spring forth relentlessly and try to make us go against the will of God. But we must defeat such thoughts by resolving in ourselves to follow only the righteousness of God. The thoughts of the flesh are our biggest enemy that can bring ruin to us.
The problem we face daily is that it’s really not so easy to deny our own thoughts. This is because before we received the remission of sins by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit, we had never experienced or denied the thoughts of the flesh, not even once. But once we had received the remission of sins, we must start denying our fleshly thoughts time after time. Only when we begin denying the thoughts of our flesh can we start living out our faith. If anyone walks by their own fleshly thoughts, then such a life of faith is bound to be finished like that of General Naaman. Therefore, whenever we go astray, we must ponder upon and think of the righteousness of God and swiftly turn around.
During our last revival meeting, Mrs. Hong attended this meeting. She is here with us today at our worship service. In the past, Mrs. Hong attended a rather flamboyant church that ran the so-called “open worship service” where the congregation makes all kinds of loud noises and express themselves during these worship services. She told me that she was very happy to come to our church meetings where just the Word of God is preached quietly. She also told me that over the past years she had done whatever she wanted to do in her life of faith, but now she sees things differently where the saints in God’s Church who have received the remission of sins work serve God in an orderly manner.
Jesus is the true God. To be true is to have no falseness whatsoever. The truth always prevails over lies. The truth is separated from what is not right. That is why Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” We ought to believe in this Word Jesus spoke and obey it fully. We can then be released from Satan’s chains which had bound us previously, so never to be chained by the Devil in our lives again. This is because we are now able to follow God and receive His blessings in our lives. It then becomes possible for us to no longer live as the Devil’s slaves ever again. Like this, because the true God is far more powerful than any falsehood, Jesus wants us to trust in the Word of God and follow it by faith.
When it comes to things that have nothing to do with the real truth, we may or may not follow them. But when it comes to the true Word of God, we must believe in it and keep it exactly as it is. The Word of God is the Truth. God’s Word is the true life and the unchanging Truth that guides to the right place. Therefore, the Truth can never be corrupted. So, it’s extremely important for you and me to realize this very important thing, that after we receive the remission of sins, the thing we struggle with the most is the thoughts of our flesh. It’s our own thoughts, our own weaknesses, our pride—our “ego,” that causes the greatest hardship in our lives of faith.
In other words, our most difficult struggle is with no one else but us, our own hearts and beliefs. The Bible says, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Indeed, what we believe in is not our own thoughts, but rather in the Word of God, who is the Truth. Every faith has an object of its belief. Faith is all about believing in this object and obeying it. Now that we have received the remission of sins by believing in the Word of God, what we must be watching out the most for is none other than our own thoughts. The Bible records, “So he departed from him a short distance.” However, the Scripture makes no further record of General Naaman. This implies that he ended up losing the true faith he had for a short while, and as a result, he lost his life as well.
My fellow believers, when we depart from God and the gospel of the water and the Spirit, we don’t go that far away at first. In other words, we don’t reject God and the gospel of the water and the Spirit outright and abandon it completely right away. Rather, when we first depart, we do so little by little. We take one step away from God, turn around and look back, and then repeat the process a few more steps further away. Without even realizing it, we end up so far removed from God eventually that all of a sudden, we have nothing to do with God anymore. The word “sin” is pronounced “ἁμαρτία (hamartia)” in Greek, which means “missing the target.” Put differently, sin is like an arrow that is aimed at a specific target but ends up missing it completely. What then does man’s sin mean? It means missing the will of God.
God has made us His very own people by saving us from our sins and making us sinless. God wants to live amongst us forever in His Kingdom. This is the will of God. In other words, God’s desire is to turn us into His own children we who believe in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And He wants to pour all the blessings of Heaven upon those of us who have become His children. Therefore, all that one has to do to receive these blessings is to obey the will of God, and to believe in the righteous work Jesus accomplished on this earth. Yet despite this, many people think that they don’t have to believe in the righteousness of God. This is clearly a huge mistake. Too many people think, “All that matters is for me to live a morally upright life. It doesn’t matter what I believe. I could believe in Buddhism as long as I maintain my ethics, I will go to Heaven. Why must I believe in the righteousness of Jesus specifically as you say?” However, my fellow believers, to live your life of faith according to your own human thoughts is to miss the will of God completely. That is precisely what the Bible says sin is. It’s our human thoughts that constitute sin before God. To keep insisting on our own thoughts is to commit the greatest sin in God’s sight.
It’s for this reason that the Lord said in the Bible, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). When it comes to leading our lives of faith after being delivered from our sins, denying our own fleshly thoughts becomes absolutely indispensable.
Even today I still have many thoughts of my own that I must deny. So I deny myself repeatedly and time after time. There are many times when my thoughts are not congruent with the Word of God. If I still proceed according to the thoughts of my flesh despite this fact, then I would end up standing against the will of God. So, whenever my thoughts are not consistent with the will of God, I deny them decisively. I do not cling to my own style.
My fellow believers, I believe that you have all received the remission of sins by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. What, then, should you and I be mindful of for the rest of our lives? It is the necessity to deny ourselves before God. The life of faith is all about denying yourself before the Word of God until the day the Lord returns. At last week’s discipleship training camp we were tremendously blessed by the Word of God, but even after this, our thoughts of the flesh still keep on coming. Even at this very moment, we have countless carnal thoughts stirring up in our hearts. You and I have found the grace of God and tasted of it. But if we want to taste even more grace, then we must know how to deny our own thoughts every minute of every day. Some of you might be thinking that you are content enough with the grace that you have already received, but it’s rather difficult to follow the Lord with such a self-complacent attitude. Only when we deny ourselves before God can the grace of God fill our hearts to make it possible for us to follow Him. Only then can we receive all the blessings God is offering us.
The Lesson of Today’s Scripture Reading
Today’s Scripture reading teaches us all, including the servants of God, that we all can follow the Lord until the day He returns—only if we deny ourselves. You and I must deny ourselves. Have you done so yet? Those who do not believe in the righteousness of God have never denied their fleshly thoughts throughout their entire lifetime. There is an old saying in Korea that goes, “An overindulged child will pluck out the grandfather’s beard.” This means, if you pamper and spoil your children too much, they will eventually become so spoiled rotten and narcissistic that they will not respect anyone’s authority. So a good standing family educates their children with strict limits and sets boundaries.
Likewise, if we the believers in the gospel of the water and the Spirit do everything according to the thoughts of our flesh, we will end up defying the will of God. Although we are still God’s children, but unless we control ourselves, we cannot live in a way that is worthy of being God’s children. Abraham begot Ismael and Isaac. However, even though Ismael was Abraham’s son, he was driven out from the family because he was conceived out of disobedience. So God recognized Isaac who was begotten according to His Word, and as the only legitimate lawful heir to Abraham.
We call those who are able to cast aside their thoughts and follow the Lord by believing in the righteousness of God—the people of faith. Therefore, for us to become God’s true workers, we must first deny the thoughts of our flesh. Now that we have received the remission of sins, if we want to follow after the righteousness of God and receive all His blessings in our lives, we must of necessity deny our own thoughts without fail. Only when we deny our thoughts can we live a proper life of faith. The very first thing we must do once we received the remission of sins, which is also the hardest thing to do, is to deny our thoughts. We must deny the thoughts of our flesh without fail if we want to follow the Lord properly. This is the Lord’s command. There is not even a trace of human thought when it comes to the Lord’s command. The right and true faith is all about denying our thoughts before God, and obeying only His righteousness. So, realizing this, let us all deny ourselves every day and live out our faith truthfully.
I will keep my sermon short today so as not to wear you out. At last week’s discipleship training camp I asked Brother Byungki Ahn to serve at the gospel class, but he was reluctant to do this. He seemed to be worn out from the many spiritual battles he had to fight with the new comers. It will probably take another week before he can recover. Brother Jaemoon Ha who gave his testimony of salvation just a while ago, indicated that he could no longer attend God’s Church. It’s all because he could not deny his own thoughts. He needs to turn around as soon as possible, and believe in and obey God’s righteousness before it’s too late. Can anyone who has received the remission of sins come to know the will of God, meet His righteous after living in the Church still receive God’s blessings after leaving? No, of course not! Such people will begin missing their time with the righteous even more. But what would have happened if they denied their thoughts before God? Each and every one who denies their thoughts and follows God will receive abundant blessings from Him.
Those who deny their thoughts will receive God’s blessed grace in abundance, but those who refuse to deny their thoughts cannot receive any of God’s blessings. God has stored heavenly blessings especially for those who seek to live a righteous life. On whom are these blessings bestowed upon? All these blessings are bestowed upon those who deny the thoughts of their flesh and live in obedience to the Lord. All the treasures stored in the Kingdom of Heaven belong to those who deny themselves.
You have received the remission of sins, is that right? Then deny yourself. Why are so many people unable to receive the remission of sins even after hearing the gospel? It’s all because they are full of their own thoughts and do not deny themselves. If they would just deny their own thoughts, then they would receive the remission of sins right away. But it’s absolutely not that easy to deny oneself. So receiving God’s blessings is not so easy either. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to follow Me must deny himself.” Denying ourselves means denying our own will, our own thoughts, our own plans, and so forth.
But all these things are what we value the most and hold the closest to our hearts, so it’s no wonder that we would find it so hard to deny ourselves. Denying oneself is like forsaking one’s life. This is the reason why Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself, forsake even his life, and follow Me.” Simply put, denying oneself is a tremendously difficult thing to do. It means giving up one’s life to follow the Lord. Only such people can follow the Lord. So, while the brothers and sisters whose faith has grown since first receiving the remission of sins can follow the Lord well, those who received the remission of sins just recently find it extremely hard, as many questions and doubts arise when they hear the Word, and their first reactions are to resist.
That’s why the new believers must be nourished and nurtured constantly as soon as they receive the remission and are born again. Those who are spiritual infants must be nursed with the spiritual milk as often as possible. But what will happen to them if they do not attend Church service for over a week? They will inevitably fall back into their own thoughts, and so, forget all about the Word they had heard. They might come to the Church once a week to hear the Word, but when they go back home they will forget all about it for the rest of the week. So, for the new believers, the first year is the most important year. After reaching the age of one, children can start walking. By then they are able to do a range of things they couldn’t do before when they were just born. The can now start eating solid food, they can pick up stuff, they can ask for more food, and they can even throw a tantrum. So when you look at yourself, you need to ask yourself whether you have reached the mature age spiritually.
You ought to know whether or not you need to be nourished constantly as often as possible, and whether or not you need to deny yourself. The results are vastly different for those who live with this knowledge and those who live without it. So I admonish you all to realize this. Once you deny yourself and follow the Lord for a number of years, many wonderful things will start happening to you, and your faith will start growing exponentially. Even though it’s hard to follow the Lord at first, once you do so for just a few years, it will become a lot easier. That’s because if you make a habit of denying yourself, it will turn into your second nature.
Your predecessors of faith sometimes ask you to do different things. When you compare your thoughts with your Church leaders’ thoughts, you will realize that your thoughts fall well short of theirs. You are number one when you are by yourself, but when the Church leaders get involved, you feel like you are the last. This is true for the Church leaders also. They may also think on their own that they are number one, but when they compare themselves to the Word of the Lord, they become the last. So all of us have no choice but to deny ourselves. The wise deny themselves, don’t they? But you may be thinking to yourself here, “Pastor Jong is admonishing me to deny myself, but how can I do so when I feel I am right?” If you think you are so smart and good try reading the Word of God. And try listening to what your brothers and sisters are saying to you. Then examine your thoughts and their advice carefully to see who really is right. Even if it seems to you that your own thoughts are right, you must still deny yourself nonetheless. It’s only because you don’t have the full grasp of spiritual things that you think you are right, when in reality, this is not the case at all. I can’t emphasize enough just how important it is for you to deny yourself. When you are still spiritually immature there aren’t that many reasons for you to deny your thoughts. That’s because when you are still too young in the faith, and your predecessors of faith do not insist that you deny your thoughts. They do this after you reach some level of maturity. And when they do so in time, it’s because they want to give you even more.
Therefore, once we receive the remission of sins, we must constantly deny ourselves in our lives of faith. It’s absolutely important for you to take this lesson to heart, remember it always, and live accordingly. This is not a lesson that is directed at just our saints, but also to our leaders and ministers. When people are good at something, they have a tendency to cling to it. And as their hearts turn arrogant, they think they are number one no matter what anyone else says. So they don’t listen to their leaders.
My fellow believers, we are not number one in God’s sight. That’s why God has given us His Church and His servants. Unbound wisdom and limitless blessings are found in God’s Church. The Bible says that all these blessings in the Church belong to whoever accepts the Word of God by faith and takes His righteousness. As we carry on with our lives of faith, all of us must deny ourselves no matter what. It’s absolutely crucial for you to live out your faith with this knowledge. Repeat after me please: “My life of faith is all about denying myself.” The very first thing we must do once we receive the remission of sins is to start denying ourselves. Until when must we continue be denying our thoughts? We must deny ourselves until the Day the Lord returns.
This is the important lesson taught by today’s Scripture reading. If Naaman denied himself and followed Elisha, then his subsequent walk of faith would have been recorded in the Scriptures. If Naaman had followed God under Elisha’s guidance, the Bible would have recorded him as not just the commander of the army of a nation, but as a precious servant of the Kingdom of God. But instead, General Naaman followed his own thoughts and returned back to his old self. And that was the end of him. Unbelief is not something that arises from a great event. Rather, unbelief comes when one fails to deny himself in small things, this is how people eventually end up leaving God completely. In other words, even though at first you may depart from God and walk according to your own thoughts just a few steps away, in the end you will face insurmountable hardships. With this knowledge let us all submit ourselves to the guidance of the Church even in small things, deny our own thoughts, pray continually, and lead our lives of faith in this correct way.