The Key to the Fire of God
Robert Wurtz II
hen we truly understand what God has done in Christ we are awed. To think that God could have given up on this sin-sick world and yet had a plan of redemption from the beginning. It was a mystery that had been hid from before the world began. (Romans 16:25) Can we comprehend such things? Do we long to understand them that we might love God rightly so as to fully give ourselves to Him? Paul brings us to this great question in Romans 12:1.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)
Romans 12:1 is the altar-call if you will of the book of Romans. Both passages remind us of what the old Bible teachers used to say; ‘when you see a therefore (wherefore) you need to stop and see what it is there for.’ The ‘therefore’ in Romans 12:1 turns our attention to 11 chapters of salvation theology (soteriology). Paul has described the great work of salvation bringing sinners back into relationship with Himself by faith and setting them free from sin. This is line upon line and precept upon precept. He calls us to bring all of what he has said to that point before our minds for consideration. He then says, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice.
An Imaginary Line
When I read the book of Romans there is an imaginary line splitting Romans 11:36 and Romans 12:1. I draw this line because I believe Paul draws this line. For eleven chapters he gives us the closest thing we have to a systematic theology. He probes the mysteries of the Gospel and sets before us soteriology. He transitions with a simple phrase, I beseech you therefore. It is a term that means ‘consequently.’ Therefore (Gk. oun) is an inferential participle that gathers up all the great argument of chapters 1-11 and places it before us. We have to reckon with it. What say you? It staggers the mind to consider the manifold wisdom of God. Now Paul turns to exhortation (parakalō), “I beseech you.”
I Beseech You
Our Greek word for beseech is Παρακαλῶ (parakalō) and it means to call alongside. Para is ‘side’ and kalo is ‘call’. It carries the idea of urging someone earnestly to do something. It could be translated ‘to beg.’ To give a sense of the strength of the word we have some examples of its use throughout the New Testament. Urgent appeals (parakalō) to Christ for healing are made in Matthew 8:5; 14:36; Mark 1:40; 5:23; 8:22. Paul “pleads with” (parakalō) God for the removal of his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:8. Demons “beg” (parakalō) Christ to send them into a herd of swine in Matthew 8:31ff. In Acts 2:40 and 2 Corinthians 5:20, people are “urged” (parakalō) to be reconciled to God.
Therefore by the Mercies of God
Paul has effectively came alongside us to beg, urge, beseech us by the mercies of God. That is to say, all that Paul described from chapter 1-11 was a clinic on God’s great mercy. Consider where we would be without grace. We would have no hope and would of all men be most miserable. Eternity without propitiation would be to face the wrath of God without mixture never-endingly. Consider the smoke of a sinners torment ascending up before God forever and ever. That’s what we deserved. This is not something we should accept and then wipe our mouths as if we have done no evil. The sheer magnitude of our crimes, heightened by the light that we have sinned in, aggravated by a life of resisting the Holy Spirit, would paralyze one with fear if they had any sense at all. Yet God has chosen to cast our sins behind His back- never to be remembered against us again. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice…
The Language of Priesthood
Words and concepts in the Bible have powerful histories. When a word is used in the New Testament we often can benefit by going back and understanding how that word was used in the Old Testament, beginning with its first use. To understand Romans 12:1 we need to recognize that Paul is using the language of priesthood when he speaks of offering our bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable unto God. Solomon was the great king that built God a house (temple) where the priestly service could be performed in Judaea. Israel had sinned and lost the Ark of the Covenant in battle. It had been retrieved and brought back into the area by David the king. This event so excited David, that he danced before the Lord with all of his might. He wanted to build a house for the Lord, but God told him he could not because he was a man of blood. The project came to Solomon, David’s son by Bathsheeba. He built it on the mount of the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite- where the angel had stayed his hand in slaying thousands after David numbered Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1-18) This is instructive. God could have wiped Israel off the face of the earth and been justified in doing it; but God showed kindness and grace to Israel. David remembered the mercy of God as He could have slew everyone down to the last man, but stopped at Araunah’s threshing floor. David responded by buying the property with his own money. Araunah tried to give it for free to David. King David said, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings without cost.(1 Chrononicles 21:1ff) This event will be etched into Israel’s consciousness as a people so that when they think of this mount they will remember what took place. Here are two initial pictures; one of the mercy of God and the other a right response of a grateful heart; a burnt offering that ‘costs’ the full price. It can also be viewed as a picture of God’s separation (threshing) of wheat from chaff. When we consider this event we have to ask ourselves, what will I do with God’s mercy? How will I respond to grace? We have David as a pattern. All of these questions are here. This is the place where Solomon built the Temple. We will need to keep that in mind as we think of Romans 12:1.
A Picture of a ‘Right’ Response to God
It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:13)
You will notice that their first response to God was to give thanks for His mercy in returning to the people with His authority and presence. They didn’t deserve God. They deserved abandonment. In another place it is stated that they spoke as one as the Ark of the Covenant came in. They sang and shouted with lifted up voices in such a way that God saw fit to fill the house with His glory. This was the initial step. The people utterly recognized God’s mercy and desire for reconciliation and they responded to Him in tremendous excitement and thanksgiving. The LORD, then being well pleased, FILLED the house with His glory. So great was the glory of God that the priests were not able to stand to minister. God believed the people as they praised and offered thanksgiving and He responded by filling the house with His glory.
Holy and Acceptable
…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,
Here we have ‘holy, acceptable…’ This, again, is the language of priesthood. Understand that we cannot offer our bodies as an offering for sin. God the Father in offering His Son Jesus Christ has already paid that price. Our holy offering is an act of worship and service. You will know that we are called to be temples of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is holy and we must be holy. We have here in a figure our bodies being both the temple and the sacrifice. The High Priest would examine the sacrifice for blemishes, etc. Moreover, the Old Testament is replete with examples of how not to treat the holy temple of God and the artifacts within it. We should ask, were these things written for Israel’s sake alone or where they not all together a figurative lesson for us, that would have the habitation of God by the Spirit? All those things were merely a figure of the truth. What can we learn about Belshazzar’s treatment of the holy vessels? How did God react to the way he defiled the artifacts of the Temple? The whole story is exemplary. It reveals God’s estimation of abusing our bodies in sordid sin. We are called to be holy.
Solomon built and dedicated the Temple to God. It had one primary purpose in Israel; to be a place where the people could encounter God and offer up sacrifices to Him (temple cultus). Here the Old Covenant was serviced to keep that agreement in play when it had been broken. When Solomon originally dedicated it there were over 120,000 burnt sacrifices inspected for purity and acceptability and then offered. Solomon understood that until the altar was full of a holy and acceptable sacrifice the Fire of God would not fall and the dedication would be incomplete. After all, Moses already told of how empty it would be to exist as God’s people without God being present. To some it may have seemed very reckless to bring a river of blood upon such a beautiful place; but to Solomon it was only reasonable to make such an offering to God in light of the mercy He had shown the people. When the altar was full and Solomon prayed- the Fire of God fell. This dedication was a ‘picture’ of New Testament life. Jesus came to send Fire on the earth and He would do so by baptizing His people with the Holy Ghost and with Fire. Men and women’s bodies would become temples of the Holy Spirit. We will need to revisit this crucial facet of the Christian life in our next chapter.
A Living Burnt Offering
Romans 12:1 is the beginning of all evangelistic efforts. Paul having explained the reality of what God has done in bringing salvation and reconciliation to man, says, “I beseech you therefore by the mercies of God…” Thinking of all that God has done; ‘therefore’ present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable unto God which is your logical (the consequence of his well reasoned arguments) worship. This presenting of ourselves to our Great High Priest for inspection and acceptance that He might baptize us in the Fire of the Spirit is our reasonable worship. It’s the only response that makes sense in light of all that God has done. It is what God wants first and foremost. Without this process little else matters. It all begins here with a recognition of what God has done in Christ, and our responding reasonably to what we realize. Our lives are to be a perpetual living burnt offering for Him. It is the only thing that makes sense.
The Fire of God
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. (Matthew 3:11)
It is unfortunate that many today in the churches of God believe that we can lower the standard and get by on some lesser thing than the Fire of God. In fact, this is no new situation; for Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49) The context reveals that this Fire was going to cause great division in the earth; between those that want the Fire and those that do not (Luke 12:50-52). This is of the greatest importance. To speak of Christianity without speaking of Fire is like speaking of swimming without water. Nevertheless, the Fire of God continues to be a most unpopular subject. Speak on grace and a multitude will amen. Speak on hell and peradventure some in the crowd will amen. Speak on the fire of God and the voices fall almost silent. Why? Because when the Fire comes, it will burn up everything in a person that is not of God and I dare say many wish to retain yet a measure of themselves even making excuses for their lack of godliness. Many are caught up in sin and compromise, but refuse to come to God for help. As the old timers have said, the answer to our spiritual problems is almost always the Fire of God. A person on fire for God is not having trouble loving their neighbor or going to the sin dens. God’s holy love burns all of that out until we are consumed with Him. The question we have to ask in these things is the question of Jesus, “Wilt thou be made whole?” If so, you will need the Fire of God.
Burning for God
We are told in Hebrews 12:29 that God is a consuming Fire. He created creatures that are burning fires such as the Seraphim. We as human beings are consuming fires. This is why we burn at 98.6 degrees. Where does this energy come from? It originates with the burning fire of the Sun. Plants turn this light, nutrients and water into carbohydrates. We eat the carbohydrates. There is a furnace characteristic in man where the carbohydrates are burned in us as a source of energy. The energy you are using to read this text originated with the Sun. But there is also a spiritual side of man that serves as the driving force behind all that he/she does. Adam Clarke comments on Matthew 3:11; “This was the province of the Spirit of God, and of it alone; therefore he is represented here under the similitude of fire, because he was to illuminate and invigorate (to give strength or energy) to the soul, penetrate every part, and assimilate the whole to the image of the God of glory.”
Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God (Revelation 1:5, 6)
The believers at Ephesus were baptized in the Holy Spirit and with Fire. This event made them into the Temple of the Living God as an assembly and as individuals (1 Corinthians 3:16). On that day the believers were made priests unto God. This is a staggering truth. It was God’s design from the beginning. He had been working to this end all along. This is the jest of the message of Stephen in Acts 7:1ff. God don’t desire to dwell in temples made with hands; He desires to live in man. It is impossible to understand the Bible unless you realize this great truth. God wants to live in you. He wants to be who He is; a consuming Fire insideof you and me.
The burning bush and the burning man
When God got ready to reveal Himself to Moses He revealed Himself as an unconsuming fire; And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. (Exodus 3:2) He then revealed Himself as a consuming fire as in the case of Nadab, Abihu, Korah, Dathan and Abiram. For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God. (Deut 4:24.) God is a God of Fire. The picture of Fire as a symbol of the flesh-consuming presence of God is replete through the Old Testament.
Fire on the altar
All of the services that were to be performed in the Wilderness Tabernacle and later the Temple were to be done with the FIRE of God. It was impossible to light the lampstand, burn incense, or offer burnt offerings unto the Lord without the Fire that God kindled and was continually kept. Without the Fire of God the Wilderness Tabernacle was an empty tent. The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out. (Leviticus 6:13) “Fire was to be kept constantly burning upon the altar without going out, not in order that the heavenly fire, which proceeded from Jehovah when Aaron and his sons first entered upon the service of the altar after their consecration, and consumed the burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, might never be extinguished (see at Lev. 9:24); but that the burnt-offering might never go out, because this was the divinely appointed symbol and visible sign of the uninterrupted worship of Jehovah, which the covenant nation could never suspend either day or night, without being unfaithful to its calling.” (Keil & D.)
Indeed the priests were not allowed to let the heavenly Fire go out; this was common sense. But this is not specifically in view here. They could do nothing without the Fire of God. If that fire went out they could not strike a match, rub sticks together, or any other thing. God’s Fire was His sacred Fire. Leviticus 6:13 deals with the continual burnt offering of flesh unto God like unto Romans 12:1, 2. We are to be continually on Fire for God burning as a sweet smelling savor, as a consequence of our placing ourselves wholly, holy, and continually on the altar as a living sacrifice. “God will not dwell with people that will not burn upon the altar. He wants to live will the altar is.” (G.W. North) What use to God is a man or a woman that will not burn for Him?
The God that answers by Fire
When Eli and his sons were derelict in the service of God they lost the Ark to the enemy. That Ark represented the throne or authority of God. The Fire obviously went out. David desired to build God a House, but to do so would require the Fire of God to fall from heaven to provide the priesthood with that essential element. They could not use a striker or a lighter. Nadab and Abihu learned the hard way that you don’t presumptuously offer God anything; especially false or common fire. Their death was God’s estimate of the behavior. It is shocking to me how today some move in such a cavalier attitude (dismissive attitude) towards something so serious. Without the Fire of God all that we do stinks and is useless to God.
You are dead without Fire
When our breath goes out, our body immediately starts to go cold. If the Fire of God goes out we become lukewarm and worth but to be vomited out of the mouth of Christ. Why? No burning. No Fire. If there is no Fire there is sin in our lives. God don’t answer your sacrifice with Fire. Why? because it is not holy and acceptable to Him. Solomon understood the altar. He brought so much flesh they needed an alternate location to house it all. It was an extreme sacrifice. Solomon knew the altar had to be FULL. It had to be holy and acceptable. When he prayed the Fire of God came down and reinstated the priesthood providing them with the means of doing their service again, FIRE.
Obviously by the time of Jesus this Fire had gone out and the Ark was gone again. The priests must have tossed the blood on the floor behind the veil in Herod’s Temple and performed the services with common fire. God was not there. God was in Christ. For He said, destroy this Temple (speaking of His own body) and I will raise it again in 3 days. He called the place the Father’s house and His house (Matthew 21:13, John 2:16), but at last He revealed to them that it was ‘their house’ that had been left unto them desolate. (Luke 13:35) Why? No Fire. No Ark. No way to do the service of God and no desire to have Him. When the Fire came in Christ; they didn’t want it or Him. They had no desire to burn for God or to be temples of the Living God. They wanted to keep God under control in the temples made with hands. This is a constant temptation for anyone that has known the Lord; but God desires to live IN man and not in a building. Again, we will take this up in the next chapter.
Keeping the charge
And they burn unto the LORD every morning and every evening burnt sacrifices and sweet incense: the shewbread also [set they in order] upon the pure table; and the candlestick of gold with the lamps thereof, to burn every evening: for we keep the charge of the LORD our God; but ye have forsaken him. (2 Chronicles 13:11)
It is unfortunate that many today in the churches of God believe that we can lower the standard and get by on some lesser thing than the Fire of God. How can priests unto God do the service of God with no Fire? Jesus told Ephesus, Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5 ESV) What good is a lampstand if there is no fire? What good is a church that is not burning for God? The question becomes, ‘what do you and I burn for?’ What do we love in such a way that we are burning for it? Maybe it is a person? Everyone is burning for something or someone. In the churches of God we must be burning for Christ. Yet substitutes are put in place that spread death and wreak of unconsumed flesh. Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49) We are responsible to keep the Fire stoked in our lives as surely as were the Levites. We are to keep presenting ourselves to God holy and acceptable. What is acceptable? Simply put- And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. (Acts 5:32) Do you have a desire to obey God? Do you want God to rule and reign in you? Have you filled the altar? Those that have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and Fire- is the Fire still burning? Are you keeping the charge as did Abijah and his priests? This was the basis on which Abijah knew he would win the battle. “If you keep the charge of God, that is to say, if you will burn for God you will be the devil’s master.” (GWN)
The Curse of Firelessness
The greatest judgment that ever came to Israel was that the Fire of God went out. God withdrew His presence and they were eventually evicted from the land. When the lamp of the Lord goes out there is no way to keep the flesh in subjection- because the only way to walk upright in this fallen world is to keep on burning. The Seraphim burn, so must we. God is a consuming Fire- so are we. Are we content to allow this world to go on lamenting void of men and women of Fire- having never seen a true believer in the book of Acts sense? If the Fire be burning in us- we have confidence towards God. He must come. We must make ready. We must invite Him in an attitude of desire to obey. We have to present ourselves holy and acceptable. It is our reasonable service. If we sing to God with no Fire; it cannot be rightly said to be worship in Spirit. The incense does not rise to God unless there is Fire. Not the fire of hype and instrumentality. Not something worked up, but a Fire sent down from God. We must make ready. He has come to send Fire on the earth. Will we be the one? Will He be able to send us?