July 22: Consuming Fire

Our God is a Consuming Fire. Nadab and Abihu found that out the hard way. Actually, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to them. If you read the passage just before their sad story (Leviticus 9), you’ll see that “Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the Altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down” (v. 24).

Those last eight words are intriguing. I can imagine shouting and falling on my face if I saw that, but it might be more from terror than joy. However, their response was proper. There is truly joy in fear of our God, the Consuming Fire. (For an enriching study of this subject I recommend The Joy of Fearing God, by Jerry Bridges).

Fire is a symbol of God’s Holy presence. God showed His presence to the fledgling nation, Israel, by His pillar of fire by night. To the Israelites in Exodus 24:17, the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain (see also Exodus 19:18; Deuteronomy 9:3).

But just as fire can warm and comfort and it can burn and destroy, so can the Consuming Fire of God. Isaiah says, “The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with the everlasting burning?” (33:14).

This is the same man who knew the solace of that fire. In Isaiah 6:5, he laments his own uncleanness and that of his people, and receives the comfort of the cleansing that fire brings as the angel touches his lips with a coal of fire to purify him so that he could abide in the presence of God. Therefore, he answers the questions of 33:14 by saying, in effect, that the righteous are those who can stand in the presence of the fire.

Fire for the wicked means wrath and punishment. Fire for the righteous means refinement and purification. God’s holy fire consumes all wickedness, so everything the unrighteous person is or has is consumed. Even the supposed good deed of the unrighteous are an abomination to the Lord.

For those clothed in the righteousness that God supplies through Christ Jesus, the children of God are like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: they walk through the fire and come forth without even the smell of smoke upon them — so complete is the righteousness of Christ, in regard to our salvation.

In the case of our sanctification, God’s consuming fire removes all the impurity in our motives, our character, our service. These are all burned away like the dross from silver or gold. This theme of refined silver and gold is one that is repeated often in the scriptures.

It should not be implied that the process of refinement is an easy one. The fire can get pretty hot. When impurities are plentiful and persistent it may have to burn for a while. And those God has designed for work that requires an extra measure of purity, so that they shine more radiantly in His presence, the trial by fire may seem nearly unbearable. But when those fiery trials happen, we can rest on the promise: “When you walk through the fire you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God…your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2b-3a). The refining fire of God may hurt, but it will never harm us.

There is, however, on caution for the Christian who considers the consuming fire of God. It is not for his person but for his works. In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Paul explains that in the end, our works will be tried by fire, and only that which is of eternal value will stand. Those works we have done which withstands this trial by fire will be our reward. In his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim Cymbala notes, “Paul doesn’t say that the quantity will be tested . . . everything will focus on quality.” For one who is saved but has little of eternal value to show for his life, he “will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through flames.”

When you consider the image of our God as a consuming fire, can you “shout for joy” as you fall on your face in worship? Or do you duck for cover?

by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries