God's sovereignty and man's responsibility
Lausanne Free Church "believing all things written"

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God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility


Reading: 2 Kings 5: 1 to 19

If we are to avoid falling into doctrinal error we must hold two great truths in balance:

1) God is sovereign. The Bible clearly teaches that God is in control of all things. Nothing happens that God has not planned and purposed.

2) Mankind is responsible. The Bible clearly teaches we are responsible for our actions and therefore accountable. We can never say “God made me do that, I had no choice. I am a robot”.

Think of the worst crime ever committed by a man: The arrest, trial and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. What does the Bible tell us about that event?

Acts 2: 22-23 - God’s sovereignty: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know — Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.”

Acts 2: 36 - Man’s responsibility: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

If we just emphasise God’s sovereignty and speak nothing of man’s responsibility then we will become what is called a hyper-Calvinist. We could conclude for instance, that there is no point in trying to persuade people to be saved. No point in preaching to the lost, unless they shows signs they are awakened. We could also fall into the trap of taking our salvation for granted and thinking “I am on of the elect and therefore it does not matter if I sin as my salvation is certain”. We could also become fatalistic about life. What will happen will happen. God is in control and we are just machines.

If we just emphasise man’s responsibility then we will finish up as what is called an Arminian. We would believe that it is completely in the will of a person to respond to the gospel; that God has made the gospel offer and now waits on the sidelines to see if anyone will respond. We might also believe that it is possible to be saved one minute and lost the next.We may also conclude that God is not in control of what happens in the world and that man is master of his life.But the Bible clearly teaches both God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. This is illustrated for us in the story of Naaman.

This is the story of a pagan military commander who becomes a leper. In his search for a cure he is not only cleansed but finds and believes in the one true God. This is a great example of the sovereign grace of God but also of man's responsibility to act. We shall see that it illustrates God's sovereignty in four ways and also man's responsibility in four ways.

First we see God's sovereignty in Naaman’s military success. Was it just down to his skill as a general? No - look at 2 Kings 5:1. The LORD had given victory! What is interesting is that at that time Naaman did not believe in the true God. He would never have thanked Jehovah for the victories. Yet God allowed them to happen. Why? It was to fulfil his purposes. What purposes? It was to punish Israel for their sin. God had warned the children of Israel that if they sinned and followed false gods that he would send disaster to them, including military defeat. God uses every situation to fulfil his plans. God even uses the wicked to fulfil his plans. Look at what Proverbs 21:1. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD. Like rivers of water He turns it wherever He wishes.” Never think that anything happens that takes God by surprise. Rather realise that God has planned beforehand everything. We may not understand, we may never understand, but God does. In days like today when so few political leaders are Christians, we need to remember God is on his throne. They will not be allowed to do anything beyond what God permits. Christian, take comfort from Isaiah 40: 15 “Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket”.

Second we see God’s sovereignty in Naaman’s leprosy. How terrible he must have felt when he discovered his illness. And what an illness! It is described in Leviticus 14. It started with whitish spots which soon spread over the skin. Then raw flesh would appear. It led to disfigurement, being disabled and eventually to certain death. There was no known cure. It was infectious so anyone who caught leprosy was immediately shunned by everyone – including the victim's family.

People with leprosy were usually banished to a leper colony. They had to cry “unclean, unclean” whenever someone approached them. Did Naaman blame God? Maybe he did. Many do today. But think for a moment. If Naaman had not had leprosy he would never have met Elisha, never been cleansed and never have found the true God! If you went to heaven and asked Naaman now if he minded being a leper what would he say to you? "No, a thousands times no! It was the means of bringing me to know the true God." In England we have adverts produced by the government about the dangers of drinking and driving, or smoking, or the importance of wearing a seatbelt. Gradually they have had to become more graphic, more shocking. Why is this? Because we ignore the more gentle, previous messages! They are aiming to shocking us into changing our behaviour.

God uses the same method. If we won’t listen to God whispering to us through our consciences, or speaking to us through preaching God may, in love, decide to shout at us via tragedy and illness. Tragedy can be God’s megaphone to wake the world from sleepwalking to hell. We do not and never should rejoice in illness, unemployment or other such troubles coming to a person. We would not wish leprosy on Naaman or anyone else. But such clouds can have a silver lining. They can make people realise that there are more important things in life than the next fondue or visit to the ski slopes. I can remember a man at work who was not a believer who had terminal cancer. I went to see him in hospital. He was troubled about his life. The thought of death brought him face to face with reality. I was able to share the gospel with him. When I went to see him again, he was different, radiant. I believe he found peace with God before he died.

Third we see God’s sovereignty in the slavery of the Jewish girl. Think of this young woman. She was a God-fearer, yet God allowed her to be taken captive. How must she have felt when she was carried away from her family? Maybe she questioned God just as many others have done “Why me?” The Bible tells us that life will not be easy for believers. There is no promise of health, wealth and happiness in this life. We will get ill, and one day we will die. We may lose our jobs. We may lose loved ones. But God has a purpose in everything that happens. The Bible tells us that for the believer not only is there a meaning and purpose in every event, but also that all things work out for good – remember Romans 8-28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

For this young girl we see that there was at least one purpose. It was a great purpose - the saving of one soul from eternal hell. That young girl thinks it was all worth it now because she sees Naaman in heave. Is not almost any hardship worth it if it means that one soul is saved from their sins? So when tragedy strikes you remember God is sovereign! God in control! God has a plan and purpose! Psalm 115:3 says this: “Our God is in heaven and he does whatever he pleases”. To quote Mordecai addressing Esther “Who knows whether you have come into the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Fourth we see God’s sovereignty in choosing that Naaman should be healed.Why Naaman we may ask? Was he more deserving than all the other leprous men and women alive at that time? No. Look at Luke 4: 16 to 27. Here the Lord Jesus goes to Nazareth, his home town, to preach. The people can find no fault with his sermon. They find no inconsistencies in his past life. Yet because he was a man who had lived amongst them for 30 years they would not receive his doctrine. They said in a sneering voice: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Jesus answers them by pointing out to the proud unbelieving Jews that God’s grace pops up in unexpected places! God is under no obligation to work miracles in Nazareth. Were there not many Jews with leprosy in Elisha's day? But God chose to heal Naaman - a Gentile solider who had attacked Israel on many occasions!

God is sovereign in salvation. Paul teaches us this in Romans: 9: 14 to 15. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” It is God who calls, God who chooses. We need to remember this. Beware of thinking or saying “Well that person deserves to be saved, because they are so nice ”, or “If only that person was saved, think of the effect it would have”. Be prepared to be surprised at whom God calls! And remember it could be anyone: your best friend or your worst enemy. This also gives us encouragement; encouragement to pray for anyone, whoever the Lord puts on your heart or puts in your way. Pray for that Muslim work colleague; that atheist friend; that neighbour who has no time for God. Pray for your father, your son, your cousin. Which unsaved people are you praying for?

We now turn to look at how this story shows man's responsibility to act. The amazing fact about this account is the number of links in the chain that lead to Naaman being cleansed. Humanly speaking, if anyone person has not played his part, then the chain would have been broken! The young girl talks to her mistress, who talks to her husband Naaman, who talks to the King of Syria who sends a letter to the King of Israel. Elisha then hears about it and sends a message to the King, who tells Naaman to go a see Elisha, who sends out his servant, who then tells Naaman what to do, who then turns away, who is then persuaded by his servants to go to the Jordan, where he washes and is healed!

Ten links in the chain! Let us concentrate on four people: First we see this with the young girl and her bold witness. Here she was, a slave. She was far from home. She heard about her master’s plight. What would she do? Say nothing? She was surely tempted to - a slave girl speaking up about another God? But the young girl seized the moment. She plucked up courage to say a word in season. 2 Kings 5:3 “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.”

This is a wonderfully strong testimony. These are the only words we have recorded that she said, but they are grand. We as believers have a responsibility to speak out and witness in a pagan, often hostile world. But my friends, who knows what good we may do? Who knows what link we may be in the chain that leads to a soul being saved? Let us seize the moment that God gives us to witness, to give a leaflet, to speak. Do we want the blood of our neighbours, friends, and relatives on our hands? We have a responsibility. From today, never let it be said of us we did not seize the moment. Here is something practical you can do. When work colleagues ask about your weekend on Monday tell them about the sermon. When you see the lady at the till in the supermarket comments on the sunny weather why not say “Isn’t God good to us?” When the workman asks to come to your house on Sunday, graciously say no, but explain the importance of a day of rest and ask him “Why are there 7 days in a week?”

Second we see man's responsibility in Elisha's humble service. Elisha heard about Naaman coming to the King of Israel. He heard about the letter. The king was beside himself. But Elisha sends a message to the king (2 Kings 5: 8). Notice that Elisha had to take the initiative and sticks his neck out. He says “Naaman shall know that there is a prophet in Israel”. Elisha was sure of his ground. He was a prophet who had a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. But still he had to take the initiative. He had been given great gifts by God, but now he had to use them. None of us are prophets, of course. None of us can be so certain about what God may do tomorrow. But we all have been given abilities by the Lord. It is our duty and privilege to use them for the Lord. In Elisha's case he was the only person who could send such a message. Friends; is there a service for the Lord that only you can do? Are you faithfully carrying it out? Is your conscience troubling you about some work for the Lord that you have been putting off doing? Then do it this week!

We also see Elisha was humble in his service. Look how he dealt with Naaman (2 Kings 5: 9-10). Elisha could have had his head turned by the arrival of such an important person. He could have rushed out and taken a prominent position. But he didn’t. We have a great treasure in earthen vessels don’t we? To us has been given the privilege of making known the gospel! We must be careful that we never so put ourselves in the limelight that the glory of the work of Christ gets overshadowed or even hidden. Moses fell into this trap. In Numbers 20 you can read how he struck the rock and said “Must we bring water out of the rock?” How sad when we see meetings in which the speaker is given too much pre-eminence!

How sad when we see evangelists boasting in the number saved by their ministry! It is our responsibility to make the gospel known, but then to get out of the way and to make ourselves scarce! In our witness and in our work for the Lord our motto should be that of John the Baptist “He must increase, I must decrease”. We want the Lord magnified don’t we? So let us fulfil our responsibility. Let us make Christ known. Let us accept that we have a responsibility. Let us be lights in a dark world, but then let us leave the increase to God. God is sovereign in salvation. Let us let God have the glory whenever a sinner is saved. Let is shun the limelight, but love the Light: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Third we see man's responsibility in Naaman’s servants’ persistence. At a human level the pivotal point in the story is when Naaman turns away in a rage. 2 Kings 5: 11-12: But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘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 heal the leprosy." Are not the Abanah and the 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. Was he going to miss out on being cleansed? Then his servants intervened (v. 13) “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” What wise words! We have no idea whether they were believers, but what they said was such a good argument. It is not good enough for us to just present the gospel to others. We are called to seek to persuade them. God’s own words are often ones of persuasion: Isaiah speaks of “come now let us reason together." In Acts 18:13 Paul is accused of persuading men to worship God contrary to the law and in Acts 18:28 we read that Apollos vigorously refuted the Jews publicly. In 2 Tim 4: 2 Paul instructs the young pastor to “Convince, rebuke, exhort”. What an encouragement to us to persist and plead with the unsaved. If these servants can do it to their master surely we can to our fellow men. What arguments should we use? Look at those used by the Lord and by Paul. Listen to gospel sermons; read a gospel leaflet.

Fourth and finally we see man's responsibility in Naaman obedience. Naaman had leprosy. It was a terrible disease. It would affect and destroy his whole life. Eventually it would be the death of him. Naaman could have done nothing. He could have just accepted his fate, joined a leper colony, sunk into a depression and died. But he took action. In particular we see in this account that he was humble enough to listen to the advice of others and go to great lengths to be healed. He listened to a slave girl. He asked his king for a letter. He journeyed to the king of Israel's palace. He travelled to Elisha's house.

He eventually so humbled himself as to dip 7 times in the murky river Jordan. Down he goes in the river, up he comes, no change. Down he goes into the river, up he comes, no change...and so 6 times he does it. Then after the 7th time the miracle occurs. His skin is pure and clean like a baby's! His whole life is now changed.… forever. He goes back to the prophet as a little child in heart as well as skin. He says: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel”. He has become a believer.

Naaman's cleansing from leprosy is a picture to us of how we can be cleansed of our sin. Salvation is not bought. Salvation involves us being humbled. Salvation involves us being cleansed from our sins by God. Salvation involves a miracle. Sin is like a disease. We all have caught it – in fact we were born with a sinful nature. It shows itself often is small seemingly innocuous ways – a little fib, here, a little stealing there, a little bit of pride. But it soon spreads and rears its ugly head. It disfigures our actions, our relationships our whole life. Worst of all, our creator and judge hates sin. God loathes it. Because He is pure and perfect He can have nothing to do with anyone who has sinned – in fact The Lord must judge and punish all sin.

In Psalm 7:11 we read these words: “God is a just judge and God is angry with the wicked every day.” Sin leads to judgment which leads to death, as night follows day. Naaman's leprosy, if not dealt with, would lead to death. Our sin, if it is not dealt with, will lead to eternal death. Now it is true that only God can save you from your sins. But you have a responsibility. A responsibility to seek and find the cure that God offers. A responsibility to respond to the great offer that God makes in Jesus. Just as Naaman searched and searched for cleansing of his leprosy so must we search and search for cleansing for our sin.

God's way of making you clean from sin is just as simple as God's cure for Naaman's leprosy, but it is just as humbling. We are not called to go down to Lake Geneva and dip in the water 7 times in order to be cleansed. But we are called to go and be washed spiritually in the blood of the Lord Jesus, which was shed for us. The Bible tells us “The blood of Christ cleanses us from all our sins”. You have to forget your pride, repent of your sin and trust in the Lord Jesus. You have to believe that on the cross Jesus was being punished for the sins of others. The blood that poured from his wounds was for the punishment of your sins.

God promises: “Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow” God offers to lay your sins on his Son. How amazing! I finish with some words from the lips of Jesus. He says: “Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. Is that not amazing? The perfect and pure God man Jesus Christ says today “Come to me”. The only condition is this: You must be heavy laden; heavy laden with your sin. He says these words to atheists, idolaters, fornicators, murderers, liars, adulterers and homosexuals. He says these words to us; to all mankind. Jesus invites you, invites all humans alive on earth to come to him. Come to him for forgiveness. Come to him for a new heart. Come to him for eternal life.

Jesus is the man of love: His arms are extended to welcome you lost sinner. He is willing to forgive you all your sins, however many and however awful they are. God is sovereign in salvation. He has done all that is necessary to save his people, but you must respond if you are you to be saved. You must respond like Naaman, obediently and humbly. You must bow the knee to King Jesus and be washed in his blood. Do I sense that you are turning away like Naaman did to begin with? Are you thinking that it is too simple, too plain and old fashioned? Are you thinking that you will consider it another day? Oh my friend. Come to Jesus today! Do not delay! Tomorrow may never come! Do not despise the simple old, old story of Jesus and his love. You feel your sins. You know you deserve God's judgment. Come to Christ and be cleansed.

Thank you for reading this message. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

Quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright Thomas Nelson Inc.

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