The Nature of Grace

“Elisha Refusing the Gifts of Naaman” by Ferdinand Bol

2 Kings 5:19-27

19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, thought, “My master has let that Aramean Naaman off too lightly by not accepting from him what he offered. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something out of him.” 21 So Gehazi went after Naaman. When Naaman saw someone running after him, he jumped down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is everything all right?” 22 He replied, “Yes, but my master has sent me to say, ‘Two members of a company of prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim; please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 Naaman said, “Please accept two talents.” He urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and gave them to two of his servants, who carried them in front of Gehazi. 24 When he came to the citadel, he took the bags from them, and stored them inside; he dismissed the men, and they left.

25 He went in and stood before his master; and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” He answered, “Your servant has not gone anywhere at all.” 26 But he said to him, “Did I not go with you in spirit when someone left his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants forever.” So he left his presence leprous, as white as snow.

It is no secret that I find great inspiration and wisdom from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His life and witness is a powerful example of following Jesus no matter the cost. In his well-known book Discipleship, Bonhoeffer begins by identifying cheap grace as the “mortal enemy of the church” and that the struggle in the church is for costly grace. For Bonhoeffer, cheap grace is the result of ignoring or abusing gift of God in Christ Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. It denies God’s living word and the incarnation. It is selfish and impersonal at the same time. It requires nothing except a weak wink and nod at its general truth and is not a lived faith. Cheap grace is only sought for the benefit of appearance and/or personal gain.

Costly grace, on the other hand, is grace that cannot ignore Jesus. It is grace that requires us to hear his command and obey. It is the grace that encourages us to count the cost and follow Him. It is the grace that makes no sense to an upside-down world of gratuitous living and indulgence. Costly grace reminds the Christian that the freedom we live in was not achieved by some throw-away event; it was achieved by the horrific death of the Eternal Son of God. Costly grace is the grace that unites the Savior with the sinner so that the sinner may live because the Savior dies. It cannot ever forget nor take for granted the cost of such an amazing grace.

For Bonhoeffer, it was cheap grace vs. costly grace. For Luther, it was a theology of glory vs. theology of the cross. In 2 Kings, it’s Elisha vs. Gehazi. Elisha has gone to great lengths to make clear that the one who heals is the Living God, not Elisha. He is not the authority or the power. He is only a messenger and vessel. His refusal to greet the great Naaman with an elaborate welcoming ceremony leading to a powerful service of healing testifies to his humility and submission to the LORD. Instead, Elisha speaks the words that God gave him and Elisha steps aside and God does the healing. This humility and submission is further witnessed when we see Elisha refuse the gifts from an appreciative Naaman. Why would Elisha accept gifts for something he didn’t have the power to do? Any response of Naaman should be directed in the form of worship of the Living God, not Elisha. We see this witness impact Naaman when he requests two mounds of dirt so he can worship the God who healed him. 

Gehazi is not like Elisha. While Elisha points attention away from himself, Gehazi sees an opportunity for personal enrichment and perhaps even a bit of disdain with Naaman seeing that he is a Gentile. Gehazi stops at nothing to find a way to benefit from this miracle of God. He follows Naaman out of the city and tells Naaman a lie—that Elisha has requested some money and clothing for two prophets who have returned from Ephraim. This lie is especially sinister because Gehazi is not only attempting to benefit himself, he is manipulating Naaman, who no doubt is excited to return home healed from leprosy. In the goodness of Naaman’s heart, he is genuinely concerned with pleasing not only Elisha, caring for two returning prophets, but the LORD who had healed him. Naaman approves the request of Gehazi and gives him what he requests. Phase 1 of “Operation Get Rich Quick” has been completed.

Now for phase 2—to hide these new possessions without Elisha finding out. He brings them back to his house, stealthily hides them, and then returns to the service of Elisha. However, we know that Elisha is not easily deceived. It is hard to believe that Gehazi, who had seen first-hand how God works through Elisha in mighty ways healing uncurable disease, would think he could pull a fast one on God and Elisha. Elisha knows the answer to his question before he asks it of Gehazi. In many ways, this echoes the question God asked Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Where are you?” God knew the answer. He knew they had fallen into sin. The question was asked to see how they would respond—with repentance or pride. As Adam and Eve chose pride, so does Gehazi. Elisha’s question to Gehazi, “Where have you been?” is an opportunity for confession and repentance for Gehazi, but he chose to protect his deceitful selfishness and lies to Elisha. He thinks his lie, “I went nowhere.” was sufficient. But because God knew different, so did Elisha. The falling of Gehazi is made complete in the lie and then the punishment for sin was delivered—Gehazi is now a leper along with his descendants. 

Cheap grace consumes us because it does not require us to confess or repent. It doesn’t take seriously the offenses of sins. Cheap grace is a perversion of grace, plain and simple. As we think about our lives and our faith, do we ever act like Gehazi? I would say we do when we try to reap all the good things of God with the sole purpose of becoming rich or comfortable. Cheap grace doesn’t consider God’s grace as sufficient. It becomes a “plus-and” situation where we can find ourselves not trusting God as we pray. Cheap grace treats prayer as a habit we must do, but then after we pray, we think, “Now what are we REALLY going to do?”

May we never forget the riches of God’s grace and promise. He has promised to provide for his children because he is a good Father. May we not fall into the trap of Gehazi and allow selfish ambition and hopes to supplant the promise of God. Trust God. Obey God. Know he is for you and he provides your every need. Amen.

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