Understanding the Fire of God
Robert Wurtz II
I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:49-53)
Jesus gives us the strategic reason for why He came to earth to walk among men, live and then die for our sins; it was in order that He might send fire on the earth. This fire is God’s ultimate solution for man’s need at this juncture in His dealings in the earth. If He is going to send fire He has to send it into and through man. Keep that clear. In other words, we are not qualified to be sent until Christ can send us consumed with His holy fire. God wants a people that are fire hazards, that is, people that carry the fire of God and it spreads everywhere they go. But this fire could not be sent into and through man until Jesus was baptized with the baptism He experienced upon the Cross of Calvary- where He not only paid our sin debt, but broke the power of Sin by dying to it- so that all that would eventually be baptized into Him by the Spirit of God would share in that death. This reality is essential to our sanctification unto God as the Holy Temple He has called us to be. The ‘dead to Sin ones’ are readied to receive the fire of God. God will not dwell in a rebellious person.
The Dangerous Presence
We learn from the revelation of God in the Old Testament that God cannot dwell in his unique manifest presence where sin is rampant. When God’s presence is near- judgment is swift. If judgment does not come the presence must depart. Why? Sin and God do not dwell together. That is one of the most elementary truths in all the Bible. Some might say, well, “God is everywhere and at all times.” This is true, but it is a theological proposition. God is omnipresent and immanent. He is here at all times, always has been and always will be. David said he could make his bed in hell and lo thou art there. So God is in the sin dins right now and He is God there; but He is not God there and He is not manifest there in the way that He would like to be. Why? Because if He were He would have to utterly consume those sinning in His presence. This is a sobering reality that we must recapture in this adulterous generation. God is Holy and He will not dwell among a people that are stiff-necked, rebellious and always resisting the authority of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 7) This is why God refused to go over with Moses and the people in Exodus 33. Here we read, for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiff-necked people: lest I consume thee in the way. (Exodus 33:3b) God has not changed. He is not less holy than He used to be. If He is going to go up in the midst of a man or a woman, then He is not going to change His own holiness and standards in order to do it, He is going to change the dwelling place so that it is compatible with His fiery presence. They change is always on our end. No need waiting around for God to change.
The Refiners Fire
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years. And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts. For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (Malachi 3:2-6)
God is showing the people what has to take place before He can ‘come’. The priests had to be purified by God so that they could offer Him an offering in righteousness. If God would have came near, bypassing His own protocol for how He related Himself to sinners, the people would have simply been consumed. God is a consuming fire. As it is written, Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29) Our Greek words here for reverence and godly fear are meta eulabeias kai deous. The word deos is the apprehension of danger as in a forest. “When the voice and tread of a wild beast are distinctly heard close at hand the deos becomes phobos” (Vincent). That is to say, we need to beware that God is a consuming fire and not to be trifled with- lest we act flippantly or rebelliously towards Him. When John the Revelator saw Jesus he fell at His feet as dead (Revelation 1). This is not gentle Jesus meek and mild; it is an awesome reverence for the Judge of all of the earth. If the priests don’t fear God- and they are supposed to be near to His presence, why should the people fear the Lord? This is why Peter tells us plainly, but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear. (1Peter 3:15) If we will sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts then when the tough questions and persecutions come we will fear God and not man. Selah. This is not possible until we have been washed, sanctified and made ready for the fire of God.
The Laver Experience
So much of Paul’s writings employ the language of priesthood. This is only right because God has called His people to be a kingdom of priests. When the Corinthians were in carnality, Paul had to remind them of what God had done for them at the first. Concerning the sexually immoral he stated, And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11) God has to break that rebellion and cleanse us from all sin before He can dwell in man with His manifest presence. This is why Paul when writing to Titus uses the familiar language of priesthood when he describes regeneration, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. (Titus 3:5) This is the laver of regeneration, a picture of the brazen laver where the priests would wash themselves before entering the presence of God. It is only after we have truly been washed- inspected and certified as clean by our Great High Priest that God can safely send the fire into you and I. Does the mean we have to perfect? No. The fire will burn out what God wants burned out. What must be dealt with is the rebellious nature of man that has always been the obstacle to God truly being among His people. Since Jesus has already accomplished what He came to do on the cross we are all able to know this great laver experience, this washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit that he has shed on us abundantly.
Baptized in the Holy Spirit and Fire
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. 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. Why? Because when the Fire comes, it will burn up everything in man that is not of God. Some people want to hang on to the world and the sin that dominates their life, so they shun the fire. People understand that burning for God means being consumed for Him. This fire is not a mere feeling that comes and goes, but is the manifest presence of a holy and loving God. Jesus came to send this fire on the earth. This is a fire that produces the fruit of the Spirit in masse. Stephen is a great example. He loved to help out serving the widows, but yet when he was being stoned to death we find him begging God to forgive the people. Why? Because he was walking in Romans 5:5. The love of God had been poured out into him. He was burning for God and no amount of persecution could put it out. He was contagious. He was a fire hazard. The only thing the rebellious leaders could do was stomp him out and put dirt on top of him. Was it just for Jesus and Stephen? No! A holy love will come in to all that will receive Him that enables the person to love like Jesus loves. This is the great standard. When a person is truly burning for God they will carry themselves like Jesus in all situations. The question we have to ask in these things is, “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 are at 98.6 degrees. Where does this energy come from? It originates with the Sun. Plants turn light, nutrients and water into 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 came 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.
The language of priesthood
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 book of Acts believers 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 doesn’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 inside of 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. Our passage 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 continually as a sweet smelling savor, as a consequence of our placing ourselves 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. N) 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. They did not burn for God except in a dead outward sense. The sons Hophni and Phinehas burned with lust and gluttony. They didn’t burn for God. Therefore they had no real authority to carry God’s authority. This is utterly essential to understand. The ark was to be carried on the shoulders of the priests, but those priests were expected to BURN for God. What an awesome revelation. Their sin was to try to use God’s authority without burning for Him from the heart. They went though the motions as double minded men. They burned for God in religious exercise, but for sin in their hearts. Again, the Ark represented the throne or authority of God. The Fire obviously went out after they carried it into battle and lost the Ark. Later on 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. No fire- no service. They could not strike a match or rub sticks together. They could not warm up the altar for God. 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 doesn’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.
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 it. 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. (See Isaiah 66:1ff) 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.
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? 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 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?
The Only Thing That Makes Sense
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)
I hope you don’t mind me saying that 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, the doctrine of salvation. He transitions with a simple phrase, I beseech you therefore. To some bible students it will be cliche, but when you see the word therefore you need to stop and ask what it is there for. 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…
Language of Priesthood in Romans 12
Solomon was the great king that built God a house. 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) He 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 all 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) 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 is also a picture of God’s separation (threshing) of wheat from chaff. What will you do with God’s mercy? How will you respond to grace? Will you answer the call of Paul or sin that grace may abound? The threshing floor is a place of decision. All of these things are here. This is the place where Solomon built the Temple. Keep that in mind.
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,
This, again, is the language of priesthood. We are called to be Temples of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament is replete with examples of how not to treat the Temple and the artifacts within it. Were these things written for Israel’s sake or where they not all together a figurative lesson for us, that would have the habitation of God by the Spirit? What about Belshazzar? How did God react to the way he defiled the artifacts of the Temple? The whole story is exemplary. It gives us forever God’s estimation of abusing our bodies in sordid sin.
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). Over 120,000 burnt sacrifices were inspected for purity and acceptability and then offered on the day of dedication. 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. 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.
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 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.