The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “asterisk” in this way: “The character (*) thought of as being appended to something (such as an athletic accomplishment included in a record book) typically in order to indicate that there is a limiting fact or consideration which makes that thing less important or impressive than it would otherwise be.”
The most famous example of this definition occurred at the end of the 1961 baseball season. During that eventful year New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris chased the elusive single season home run record which was set in 1927 by the great Babe Ruth. Ruth’s record was 60 home runs and on the final day of the 1961 season Roger Maris hit home run number 61 to break this record. Ford Frick, the commissioner of baseball at the time, decided that Maris’ record should be noted with an asterisk because Ruth had hit 60 home runs in 154 games (the length of the season in 1927) and Maris hit 61 in 162 games (the length of the season in 1961). The asterisk was later removed but for many years Maris’ record was not as highly regarded as it should have been.
During the infamous steroid era in Major League Baseball Maris’ record was obliterated by Mark McGwire, who hit 70 home runs in 1998. McGwire’s record was then broken by Barry Bonds in 2001, when he hit 73 home runs in a season. Many baseball purists believe that McGwire’s and Bonds’ records should be “asterisked” because of the PEDs we now know they were taking at the time. The bottom line is that this record is forever tainted because of the “limiting fact or consideration which makes that thing less important or impressive than it would otherwise be.”
When we consider the definition of an asterisk in a spiritual context one biblical character immediately comes to mind. Surprisingly, he was not one of God’s people, but a leader of one of Israel’s mortal enemies. In 2 Kgs. 5 the scripture records the story of Naaman, who was living an asterisk life. In 2 Kgs. 5:1 the scripture says, “Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper.”
Naaman was a great man in every human method of measurement. He held a high position in the army of Aram (Syria), and was a trusted lieutenant to his king. He was a victorious commander and personally valiant in battle. He was greatly esteemed in his nation because of his prowess as a warrior. Naaman had everything going his way. He was head and shoulders above everyone else in the service of the king of Syria. But all of these accomplishments came with an asterisk. Naaman was a leper.
Leprosy was a highly communicable and dread disease. In the Law of Moses a leper was quarantined from the rest of society. He or she had to live apart from the community and do everything possible to never come into physical contact with any other person. The Syrians were not subject to the Law of Moses, but reason suggests that they also imposed restrictions upon lepers in their nation. Thus, as great a man as Naaman was, he was severely limited in Syrian culture. In addition to this, leprosy was a potentially fatal disease. Under these conditions, Naaman’s accomplishments as a soldier were less important than they might otherwise have been.
Fortunately for Naaman, he discovered a way to remove the asterisk from his life. In 2 Kgs. 5:3-14 the scripture relates how a slave girl from Israel who served in Naaman’s household told her master about the prophet in Israel who could cleanse him of his disease. To his credit, Naaman believed the girl and with his king’s approval came to the prophet Elisha for cleansing. After initially balking at the prophet’s command to “go and wash in the Jordan seven times” (v. 10), Naaman was persuaded by his servants to obey the prophet’s command. When Naaman dipped seven times in the Jordan as the prophet commanded, he was immediately cleansed of this terrible disease.
After his cleansing, Naaman returned to the prophet of God and vowed to only serve the God of Israel from that time forward (2 Kgs. 5:17-19). With his health restored, Naaman returned to Syria to serve his king. Although the scriptures tell us no more about his life, we may safely conclude that Naaman lived the rest of his days without any limiting fact or consideration that made his accomplishments less important in the view of his nation. In other words, Naaman no longer lived an asterisk life.
The lesson for each of us today is that we, like Naaman, are living asterisk lives so long as we are outside of Christ. No matter what our accomplishments may be, no matter how good we may be, or the good we may have done, our sins are the “limiting fact or consideration which makes that thing less important or impressive than it would otherwise be”. So long as we are still in our sins, nothing else about our life matters. However, if we turn to the Lord in obedience to the gospel, then we can permanently remove the asterisk from our lives. Like Naaman, if we wash, we will be clean. In Acts 22:16, as Paul related the facts concerning his conversion to Christ, he told the Jews what the preacher Ananias commanded him to do after he had encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus. Ananias said, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
Don’t continue to live an asterisk life. Obey the gospel, wash and be clean.