A Consuming Fire

What’s God like? In being selective with scripture it’s easy to miss Him and fashion an idol after our own lusts. (1Jn 5:21) We should look at the whole of God’s revelation.

God is love, it’s true (1Jn 4:8), but that doesn’t mean He’s like a doting, harmless old grandfather.

God is also light (1Jn 1:5), the very medium by which we perceive spiritual reality. God is truth itself (Jn 14:6), undiluted, uncompromised, pure and holy. If we think we can fellowship with Him and not be seeking truth more than gold and silver, if we’re content to walk in darkness of any kind, to any degree, we don’t know Him. (1Jn 1:7)

God is also holy (1Pe 1:16), separate from sinners, higher than the heavens. (He 7:26) He calls us to holiness (2Co 7:1) because He won’t fellowship with anyone who walks in willful sin as a manner of life (1Jn 2:4); He’s angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7:11), and will trample them underfoot. (Ps 119:118) His response to any kind of rebellion is fiery indignation. (He 10:26-27)

We might get a clearer picture of God if we see Him as a consuming fire. (He 12:29) Like a raging wildfire, He’ll destroy anything and everything that’s opposed to Himself in any way (Ps 21:9) just by being Himself, by letting His very brightness shine forth undiluted, unfiltered, untamed. (2Th 2:8)

Yet God’s consuming nature will not annihilate the wicked; it will overwhelm, terrify, incapacitate and disable them with everlasting punishment. (Mt 25:46) God’s enemies will no longer be able to act like enemies when God reveals Himself. That’s a good thing, for God and for everyone – totally consistent with love: God shouldn’t have to suffer forever, and His arms will always be open to anyone who’ll come to Him. (Re 22:17)

God’s love is what fuels His justice and wrath, even His hatred. He’s benevolent, so He hates (or detests) sin and those who persist in it. (Ps 5:5) Sin harms ourselves, others and God, so He won’t overlook sin and let it go; there’s a price to pay. (Ro 3:23) We must pay that price ourselves, a debt we can never ever pay in full, or trust God to pay it for us in His Son; Christ is willing to become our sin, and die in our place so we might be made God’s righteousness in Christ. (2Co 5:21)

God is good, but He isn’t nice: God’s not safe; serve Him with reverential fear and rejoice with trembling. (Ps 2:11) Both His goodness and severity are awesome and beautiful (Ro 11:22), simply awe inspiring (He 12:21); we should rejoice in all His ways. (Re 15:4)

It’s a fearful thing to fall into God’s hands (He 10:31), but there are no other options; it isn’t a matter of if, but when. For those who love Him, who are seeking God’s face, there’s no better place to be. (Php 1:23)

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To Be Saved

The question of the ages: “What must I do to be saved?” (Ac 16:30) has a straightforward answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (31) Salvation isn’t complicated; little children can get this.

Yet, as simple as this is, we may miss it by changing believe on Jesus for something else. For example, we could say as Billy Graham did, believing on Jesus means repenting of our sins, asking Christ to come into our hearts and save us, and committing our lives to serve Him.

Just one little problem: no one in the Bible was saved like this, and in the end it didn’t even work for Dr. Graham himself (he had no assurance of Heaven). With the world ablaze in the wrath of God (Ro 1:18) and nowhere to hide (Re 20:11), we can’t afford to get this wrong.

To help us understand, God describes believing on Christ from multiple angles. It’s receiving Christ as He claimed to be (Jn 1:12a), believing on His name (b) … totally convinced He will do as He says He will do (Ro 4:21), that He’s trustworthy and perfectly good. (Ep 1:13) It means entering into His rest (He 4:3), ceasing from dependence upon our own works to gain acceptance with God (10), trusting implicitly in the finished work of Christ for our redemption (1Th 1:4-5a), the total payment of our sin debt to God. (Is 53:11)

God says we must be born again (Jn 3:7), conceived by God (Ja 1:18), quickened by the Holy Spirit (Ep 2:5), made a new creation. (Ga 6:15) We’re saved by grace through faith (Ep 2:8), supernatural confidence that only comes from the enabling power of God. This is a miracle, not a human work (Jn 1:13); only God can do this, with Man it’s impossible. (Mk 10:27)

So, if we don’t have supernatural assurance in the finished work of Christ, resting confidently in Him as our only hope of eternal salvation, trusting Him and believing in Him as He has called us to, knowing we are as safe from the wrath of God as Jesus Christ Himself, this then is our greatest need. Let us not go back to a memory of praying to receive Christ, or pray again to receive Him now, but let us look to the cross itself (1Co 2:2), asking God to reveal the Lamb of God to us (Jn 1:29), to give us faith in His blood. (Ro 3:25) Let us seek the Lord until we find Him (He 11:6), striving to enter the narrow gate, until we know He has borne our sins in His own body on the tree, and has set us eternally right with God. (1Pe 2:24)

Give diligence to make your calling and election sure – we cannot accept “not sure” for an answer. (2Pe 1:10) His death is available to us all (2Co 5:15) that we may know for certain that we have eternal life. (1Jn 5:13)

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The Law Is Spritual

Laws defining acceptable behavior are spiritual in nature, not physical; they express a moral standard by which we may evaluate our actions. In this sense, God’s Law, Torah, is spiritual, perfectly expressing God’s Way. (Ro 7:14a)

We, on the other hand, are carnal, sold under sin, tending to violate God’s perfect standard. (Ro 7:14b) In this state our sin nature is always looking for ways to justify breaking God’s Law (Ro 7:21); the carnal mind won’t ever submit – it’s at war with goodness itself. (Ro 8:6)

Attempts to subvert Torah can be extremely crafty, using sleight of hand to make the point. (Ep 4:14) One such teaching is that since Torah is spiritual, we need not bother with the letter of the Law. In other words, as long as we’re in keeping with what we think is the spirit of a command, it’s OK to ignore its actual wording and break it. For example, if the spirit of Sabbath is a weekly rest, does it really matter whether we rest on Saturday or Sunday?

This begs the question of whether we can properly honor the spirit of a command while we’re despising its letter, what it actually says. If the sabbath command tells us to rest on a particular day of the week, which it does (Ex 20:10), and we choose to rest on a different day, are we breaking the command? Of course we are, by definition.

While it’s true that God’s laws have spiritual applications, perhaps many such applications, it’s a mistake to think each law doesn’t also have a specific, practical application; it is presumptuous to claim we’re keeping a law in spirit – spiritualizing it – while we’re disobeying it literally. Who are we to say what all the spiritual applications of a particular command are, or even the primary application?

The words are what God has given us, and what He expects us to obey (De 27:26); as we look at the words of all of His commands, as well as all His examples, we begin to understand some of the spirit and intent behind His laws, the precepts. But all of this is based on the very words He uses, the letter, if you will. We can’t rightly divide the Word while we’re ignoring the actual words; we can’t respect the intent of His Law while we’re routinely breaking it; this is handling His word deceitfully and corrupting it. (2Co 2:17)

Certainly, there may be extenuating circumstances where the spirit of a command might be respected while we’re violating its letter. For example, in an emergency we might technically violate the sabbath to preserve life, even of an animal. (Mt 12:11) The sabbath was made for us; we weren’t made for it. (Mk 2:27) We must use common sense in the application of God’s law, and not violate the Law of Love as we force technical obedience to the letter of the law.

God’s Law is written such that it’s the exception to properly violate the letter; for the letter perfectly captures the intent, as a general rule. If we love God’s law, and He’s writing it in our hearts, we’ll be keeping it as well as we can, both the letter and the spirit, as a manner of life. (Mt 5:19)

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The Wrath of Man

I’ve been considering what I’d do if faced with a BLM mob harassing a vulnerable person, an old man or a pregnant mother.

Honestly, my first instinct is to fly into a rage and tear into them, doing as much damage as humanly possible. Yet, clearly, something doesn’t feel right about this; it’s not what Father’s doing in me. There’s something ugly, intrinsically unholy about judgmental rage, especially when it’s hasty. (Ec 7:9)

The Word affirms the same: “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (Ja 1:20) We’re to put away all wrath and malice; it should find no place in us (Eph 4:31) since it’s triggered by a lie. (2Ti 2:25)

For me, the lie appears to be pride-related: when I esteem others better (Php 2:3), and recall that all bullies will be dealt with justly (Ro 2:5-6), the rage dissipates in my avatar immediately, telling me the intensity is rooted both in self-righteous indignation, and in unbelief in the justice of God: not good. This is my old man. (Ro 7:25)

The proper emotion in cases of injustice appears to be sorrow, for both victim and offenders (Ps 119:136); perhaps more for the offenders (53); they’ll be trodden down of God. (18) Knowing no one ever gets away with anything is at the root of this (Ro 2:2), and that I’d likely deserve worse if left to myself. (1Ti 1:15)

And what does my instinctive, judgmental rage reveal? That I’m guilty of the same thing (Ro 2:1): if I were deceived about white, capitalist America being racist enemy no. 1, I’d be on the front lines of BLM, doubtless among the worst of them. I’m reacting this way to cover for myself; the carnal mind loves to project its own sin onto others.

So, rage is out – but the law of love forbids hiding from injustice and doing nothing; if my well-being were threatened by such a mob I’d certainly want others to intervene. Passivity here is cowardly weakness and fear. This isn’t Christ (Php 1:21); we’re to be strong (1Co 16:13), bold as a lion. (Pr 28:1) Minimal necessary force to protect myself and others is required as I have opportunity.

The challenge here is that Marxist activists are intent on goading others into aggression so they can both play the victim and counter-attack with public justification. They’re trained in provocation, almost as an art form, knowing precisely where their legal boundaries are and how to violate them with minimal risk to themselves. (Pr 25:8) Over-reacting is a mistake, especially in such a trap (Ps 119:110), and I’m evidently as likely as any to fall into it, unless God gives me repentance here. (2Ti 2:26)

We can be angry without sinning (Ep 4:26) if we love our enemies. (Mt 5:44) The servant of God has compassion both on the ignorant and deceived as well as on the rebellious, knowing he himself is also prone to sin. (He 5:2) It takes wisdom and grace to attack someone in love, in self-defense or in defense of another. We’re called to this at times, (Lk 22:36), but disarming and deescalating is always preferred. God help us prepare, as we train ourselves in holiness, and be up to the task as and when it falls to us.

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Puffed Up

How do I feel when I find myself in the right and others in the wrong, or in the know when others are ignorant? Do I feel superior, more important, more significant, more valued? Do I tend to get puffed up in my knowledge? (1Co 8:1b) This isn’t love (1Co 13:4); it’s rooted in pride, and tends toward alienation and division.

How does knowing more than others make me better? Why should this move God to love or value me more? It doesn’t; God loves each of us infinitely, because He’s made us each in His image: His love is truly unconditional. (Jn 3:16) I can’t do or be anything to get God to love or value me any more or less.

Yet false religion tries to use spirituality to make itself look better than others (Mt 23:5), to exalt itself (Lk 18:11) because it isn’t grounded in the love of God. (Ep 3:17-19) At it’s core, this is ugly and uninviting, and I think we all know it.

Love is concerned for others who are misinformed, deceived, carnal (Php 3:18) and disobedient (Ps 119:136); Love esteems other better than itself and humbly seeks to help. (2Ti 2:25) This is pure religion (Ja 1:28): without love, I am nothing. (1Co 13:2)

The love of God equalizes everyone, levels the playing field, so to speak. We all have the same invitation to come (Re 22:17), to be as close to God as we like, to partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4) and joy in Him. (1Pe 1:8) What we do with this amazing invitation, how we employ our skills, abilities and resources in going after God, is what defines success. (Mt 25:21)

As we pursue God we’ll come to know Him better (Php 3:8) and understand more of His Way. (He 11:6) We should be deeply thankful for such a precious privilege to know and walk with the living God (1Jn 1:3-4); it shouldn’t make us feel better about ourselves (Ep 3:8), or move us to devalue those who don’t get it.

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Dull of Hearing

An inability to hear or see severely limits our opportunity to receive new information. Most of us cherish our sight and hearing in the natural realm, but not so much in the spiritual; we tend to think we’ve already arrived (Php 3:13), to be wise in our own conceits (Ro 12:16c), thinking we already know it all. We tend to close ourselves off to anything new, choosing to ignore what doesn’t fit with our preconceptions, dimming our own sight and dulling our own ears, locking ourselves into our current errors and limited understanding. (Mt 13:15)

When we read our Bibles in this state, or participate in spiritual discussions, we aren’t really listening with an intent to learn; we’re waiting for an opportunity to reinforce or show off what we think we already know. We ignore and dismiss ideas which might contradict our current view; we want to be perceived to be right, rather than actually being right. We become dull of hearing, unteachable. (He 5:11)

Scripture calls such behavior loving darkness, and it’s our natural state (Jn 3:19); it takes an act of God to wake us up (Ep 2:1) and fill us with love for truth. (2Ti 2:25) Apart from God’s intervention, making us truth lovers, we’d all be deceived and eternally damned. (2Th 2:10)

How do we know if we’re dull of hearing? Simple: when we perceive something inconsistent with our current way, how do we respond? In the natural realm, we carefully consider obstacles and incorporate them into our world view, understanding them and navigating them, or leveraging them as tools to help us on our way. But if we’re constantly ignoring and dismissing reality itself, stumbling over the aspects of it we don’t like and not even noticing, it proves we’re blind, deaf and insensitive to pain – disconnected from the natural world and largely unaware of it. (Jn 11:10) In such brokenness, we don’t tend to last very long. (Mt 15:14)

When we perceive any aspect of reality which might not align with our current world view, a lover of truth pauses and carefully reflects on this new information. What am I missing? How does this fit with my current understanding? If something doesn’t fit, I need to adjust my thinking until it does … until everything fits into a coherent whole. I am poor in spirit; I need others to challenge me, to help me see my blind spots, where I’ve been deceived, where darkness still dwells in me. Everyone knows something I don’t; let my hearing be clear and sharp, so I can learn what I should as God crosses our paths.

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