Friday, 12 June 2015

Exegeting the Fire of Yahweh: Part 2

In part one of this exegesis of the fire of God, we explored how God’s fire burns against that which is unholy, and how the lack of fear of the lord resulted in the death of Nadab and Abihu. The lesson for us then, as worshippers of God, is that we shouldn't reject what He has provided and declared Holy by replacing it with what we think would be better. And we concluded that the fire of God is his zeal for holiness. This time in part 2, I want to focus on the other side of God’s fire, namely, a sign of his approval.

There are a number of biblical example of this. One is with Elijah when he ‘battled’ the priests of Baal. As Elijah explained, Lord ignited the true and holy sacrifice of which he approves (1Kg 18:24, 38-39) to prove that he alone is God. Perhaps, and this is just conjecture, but perhaps this is also how Cain and Abel knew who’s sacrifice was accepted.

Another example is found in Exodus. After the Passover Lamb was sacrificed in Egypt, they later experienced and saw the fire of God on the mountain, revealing that the substitutionary sacrifice that brought redemption (Num 8:17) was approved. This was repeated and fulfilled in the Gospels with Jesus as the Passover Lamb was a substitutionary redemptive sacrifice, and the fire that fell upon the believers on Pentecost (Acts 2:3), a feast that commemorates the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, was a revelation that Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted.

As described in part one, fire not only brings destruction, but can also bring comfort and warmth as it provides protection from the cold. And there’s a bit on an art/science to building a fire. Because it needs enough oxygen you cannot smother it, it needs the right kind of fuel, and it needs enough heat to keep burning. I remember once trying to light a fire in very cold weather, but because I couldn’t generate enough heat, it never quite took off. This is a great picture of what we need to get the fire of God burning in our lives. We need the Holy Spirit, or ruach which literally means wind or breath (Strongs #7307), moving in our lives. And we can’t smother or quench the Spirit (1Thess 5:19) by “refusing to follow His leading” and “act out in a sinful manner, whether it is in thought only or in both thought and deed” (GotQuestions). Therefore, we need the right fuel of pursuing Holiness which when combined with the heat of a passion for the things of God can result in the fire of God burning in our lives.

There’s two things to remember here. One is grace. We’re not going to do this perfectly. In fact there will be many times when we will quench the Spirit’s work in our lives. I know my faults and failures. I know what still resides in my flesh. And I am so thankful for the grace of God made available through the blood of Christ. I am thankful that when we do sin and fail to pursue holiness, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9). This grace and mercy, along with a love for Jesus (Jn 14:15), should be our motivation for obedience and holy living. Not to be saved, but because we are saved. Not to be loved, but because we are loved. So this is not a salvation issue, this is a sanctification issue. So when we smother the fire with our flesh, we can start again as God helps us and provides for us everything we need to rebuild it. As we see in the case of Elijah, even if it’s drowned in water, there is nothing God can’t ignite. And once we’ve placed those logs of obedience upon the altar of praise, it’s time to lay your sin upon there and sacrifice it as a burnt offering until there’s nothing left.

The second, is that the fire refers to God’s manifest presence, not His omnipresence. And so when we quench the Spirit, God’s not going to remove it like he did from Saul in response to his disobedience (1Sam 15-16). The Spirit in the New Covenant is both permanent and transformative. The question is, is the spirits work in you and through you a glowing coal or a raging fire? To what degree are you walking in or resisting Him. As Paul wrote, (Phil 2:12-13) “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Here, Paul “is not saying that we contribute to or add to our salvation but we work it out” through obedience (Wellman). And as we looked at in part 1, this fear and trembling is an attitude of humility. Thus, it is in partnership with God that we ‘work out’ (bring to the surface) our righteous status before God as the fruit and evidence of our salvation.

Matt Chandler, in a Sermon he preached back in 2012 (I encourage you to listen to the message here in its entirety), spoke about experiencing the manifest presence of God. In it, he used the analogy of positioning ourselves “under the faucet.” We cannot ‘make’ the manifest presence show up in our lives.  We cannot invoke Him like witchcraft through incantations, a particular drum rhythm, or our good deeds. In the same way, getting under the faucet “doesn't turn the faucet on. It just puts us under it so if God, in his mercy, would turn it on, we'll get drenched.” Nonetheless, “Although we cannot control the manifest presence of God, what we learn from Scripture is that there are things that attract the manifest presence of God, and there are things that repel the manifest presence of God.” The first thing he mentions, is personal holiness. As it says in Psalm 41:12: "But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your [manifest] presence forever." Again, this is not about perfection, but pursuit. At the heart of holiness is a willing recognition that God’s commands are a truthful revelation and articulation of His goodness. It is being in agreement with Ps 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul…
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes…
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

And then because we agree with this, we then begin pursuing to live it out.

The Bible says that the body of the believer is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19), because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Elsewhere, our body is described at a tent (2Cor 5:2). And what’s interesting, as Michael Lake likes to highlight, is that the Tabernacle as God’s original intention was ‘covered in skin and mobile’. And just as ‘the word became flesh and dwelled (tabernacled) among us’ (Jn 1:14), we too become a tabernacle for the Lord. And as the bible explains, once the tent was consecrated by the blood of bulls and goats, God’s presence filled the tent and above it was a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (Num 9:16). And that tent was to remain Holy and no unclean thing was to even come near it. But, how much more consecrated have we been made by the blood of Jesus, blood far superior to that of bulls and goats (Heb 10:4). How much more does the glory that filled the temple in such a way “that the priests could not stand to minister” (2Chr 5:14) fill us. Thus, how much more care should we take to keep ourselves Holy? And just as God’s fire above the Tabernacle was a testimony to his approval of the sanctifying sacrifice, so too can God’s zeal for Holiness within us as approval of the sacrifice made by Jesus for us. Therefore, our conviction and disgust of our sin is evidence of our growing in agreement with God’s holiness, as his zeal becomes our own. As Paul described: “If [in my sin] I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am agreeing that the Torah is good” (Rom 7:16). And it is in that we can find comfort knowing that Christ’s blood was effective for us. And for someone like me who feels the least qualified to talk about holiness, this is Good News!


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