In my last post, I wrote about becoming a living sacrifice by placing oneself on the altar of sacrifice–the place of spiritual purification. Today’s post is a bit of a continuation of that. Because you don’t have a sacrifice until God sets fire to it.
The Bible contains many verses on the subject of fire. And some of them are pretty tough to swallow:
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:40-42).
* * *
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:5-6).
* * *
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9).
Many ministers teach that the fire spoken of in the Bible is a terrible thing. And I suppose it can seem that way when people begin speaking about eternal judgment. But here are a few things God has shown me about fire in the scriptures:
1. God’s fire falls on acceptable sacrifices.
I’ve noticed something pretty interesting in the Old Testament: whenever God found an animal sacrifice particularly pleasing, He sent fire from heaven to consume it. Now that Jesus has provided the blood sacrifice for our cleansing, God expects a different kind of sacrifice from His followers: the living sacrifice of our whole hearts, humble and contrite, presented to Him in obedience and worship–which is always pleasing to Him (Psalm 51:16-17; Romans 12:1). As before, He will send His fire on this sacrifice. But instead of a natural fire as in days of old, He now sends the fire of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3). This act of igniting our sacrifice is one of purification. The things within us that are not of Him are exposed and burned away, making room for the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
2. Fire judges the nature of all things.
In nature, fire exists as one of the most powerful chemical reactions. You can always tell when something has been touched by fire. Water vaporizes. Grass singes. Plastic melts. Wood becomes ash. Dross burns away from precious metals. You can determine the content and the chemical makeup of a material by the way it reacts to fire.
The same is true spiritually. The fire of the Holy Spirit judges our thoughts and actions. The things that are of inferior materials wither before His holiness. The things that are good become pure and visible. This is the method God uses to determine our eternal reward:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:10-14).
This has given me a new perspective on God’s judgment. It is a test of fire in which all impurities are consumed. Only the ‘gold and silver’ of Christ will be allowed to remain.
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 3:1-5).
In 1 Kings 18, we read about a sacrifice that God totally consumed. Before the Lord set fire to it, the prophet Elijah had 12 jars of water poured over the sacrifice until the water flowed down and filled a trench around the altar. When God’s fire fell, it consumed the bull, the wood, the stones of the altar, the water, and all the surrounding soil. All that was left afterward was a smoking crater in the ground. The message here is, nothing can quench or redirect the fire of God’s judgment.
3. Fire is the very essence of God.
When we invite the fire of God to fall on our living sacrifice, we’re asking to encounter the essence of who He is. Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29 describe God as a “consuming fire.” Some would say, “But doesn’t the Bible also say that God is love?” Yes. I don’t think this is a contradiction. Because often in nature, substances in their absolute purest form tend to burn like fire–burn the skin, burn the eyes, or exist in a terribly volatile form. That is what God’s love is like compared to our own. Think about the strongest crush you ever had. Or the emotions you experienced when you became a parent for the first time. Now multiply the magnitude of those feelings by the biggest number you can imagine. That’s a poor analogy to what God feels for us, His children. His love is so strong, it burns.
As I stated in my last post, this process of purification can be quite painful to our flesh. But in that process, we are refined–undergoing a transformation into new creatures by God’s design. In that process, we obtain new qualities that are like precious jewels in God’s sight. So when we face the final judgment at the end of time, we’ll have something of value to present to our Heavenly Father–a gift that testifies to our faithfulness. In that moment, the pain we endured in purification will be worth it. Because the truth is, all of mankind will face the fire in the end, and many will be found wanting. You can burn now or later. The question is, how much straw do you plan on hauling before His judgment seat?
The 12 “jars” of water that were poured over the sacrifice were actually very large containers equivalent to a 55 gal drum. They were in a desperate time and the water they had was the most presious comodity they possessed making the sacrifice even more sacrificial. We need to be willing to give to God our most precious possession as our offering unto Him. When we give sacrificially that is when we will receive abundantly!!
The is no such thing as love without sacrifice. The more “pure” [i.e. unconditional] love becomes the greater the demand for sacrifice.
In a perfect world, i.e the Kingdom of God, we would all be competing to be of greater service to others rather than to be served by others. No one would be exploited. This less-than-perfect world of selfish interests and disordered desires requires much discernment in our willingness to sacrifice if we are not to become enablers of sin rather than empowers in the collective human struggle against sin.
Since Christ is the only acceptable sacrifice, our sacrifices must be a participation in his Sacrifice, not a sacrifice solely of our own desiring and choosing.
Jesus commanded us to love others AS ourselves–not LESS than ourselves, but not MORE than ourselves, either. Over-giving is as pathological as selfishness.
I am presently prayerfully considering the option of becoming involved in a prison ministry beginning this Fall that will be sponsored by the Church that I attend.
Anyone who has done animal rescues knows how risky reaching out to those suffering from fear and pain can be. People are not incarcerated to protect them from society, but to protect society from them. They are not safe people.
Before I commit to any high risk ministry, I want to be relatively certain that the leadership and others involved have considered the risk and have included protective strategies in their planning. Messiah/martyr complexes are only too common among both religious and secular people attracted to humanitarian missions and the tragedies that often ensue gives credence to the folk saying that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
“To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not”.–Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
All very good thoughts. Thanks!
That refiner’s fire can be a hot bugger, can’t it? I’m thankful that Abba desires to reward us for giving us the ability to participate in what He’s doing! It’s kind of like when I used to set my kids up and let them *help* so I could tell them what a great job they did and give them a treat! Our Father is wonderful that way!
Oh, I hope my bag of hay is not gigantic. That would be embarrassing. 🙂
I’m praying my hay bag ends up being pretty small, too. 🙂