Lately I have been feeling a lot like Naaman. After he was cured of leprosy, Naaman asked a favor of the prophet.
Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules’ burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD. In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing. (2 Kings 5:17-18)
For the past few weeks I have been in rehearsals and performance of the opera Norma. The way our director staged it, a couple of us came out as Druid priests carrying a dead eagle (puppet). We then proceeded to pour (fake) blood from its sliced neck to offer to our god. It is highly unlikely that anybody thought, “There is Tim O’Hearn sacrificing an eagle’s blood to the Celtic god Irminsul.” More likely they thought, “That chorus member is performing a pretty good stage trick. They have a pretty good props manager.” Nevertheless, I still felt the reservation that “when I pretend to sacrifice an eagle, pardon thy servant in this thing.”
A lot of people are like Naaman, though, in that they present God with reservations about their daily life. “You took away my sins, but when my friends go out to get drunk pardon me if I participate in their riotous behavior. I will just be the designated driver.” We understand that sometimes salvation involves a life-change, but we don’t want it to be complete.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. In my example above, if you take out the participation in riotous behavior, it might even be an understandable reservation. Modeling a change in behavior, and even looking out for the safety of friends, might be a small step toward being an influence for change in their lives.
Some people think becoming a Christian involves giving up everything they did before. They have heard the lie that Christianity is just a bunch of rules that start with “Thou shalt not.” While becoming a Christian is life-changing, it is not necessarily life-discarding.
Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. … Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned. (1 Cor 7:20-22, 27-28)
Much of what a person did before becoming a Christian may not require changing; may not require Naaman’s reservation, even. We are freed from sin, and should not sin. Otherwise, life may continue in much the same way.
Where putting reservation before God is wrong is when we know the reservations to be sin. Naaman was asking forgiveness for going through the actions of his job. He would have been wrong to have said, “I will sacrifice to God, but forgive me if I go on my own to sacrifice to Rimmon as well.”
One area where such reservations may need to be made is addictive behavior. Not arguing whether smoking is a sin or not, it is an unhealthy habit. One may decide that being a Christian requires one to quit smoking. It is not easy, or likely, for a person to do so overnight. In this one might make the reservation, “I will obey God, but until I can completely quit smoking, pardon thy servant in this thing.”
Naaman asked to be pardoned in that one thing. As long as it is not outright sinful or causing another to sin, there may be instances when we can also ask to be pardoned in one thing. Just don’t make it “one, and one, and one.”