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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Your Own Conceits

The carnal nature in us, our old man, presumes we already know all we need to know; we don’t seek truth since we think we already have enough. It often operates in a vacuum of desperate self-deception (Re 3:17); the less we know the more confident we are in our understanding: in the extreme, it’s being utterly confident while knowing virtually nothing. (Pr 26:16)

We can detect this well-known principle operating in us, called the Dunning-Kruger effect, when we find ourselves over-estimating our own ability or knowledge, or underestimating that of others. Simply ask, what do I really know about this? How well do my ideas hold up under the scrutiny of experts who disagree with me? How well do I understand their best counter-arguments? Do I have training and experience demonstrating my capability under stress? What are the true boundaries of this area? Is my confidence based on facts or presumption? Whenever we find ourselves smugly confident, unwilling to listen to and deeply consider the claims, opinions or skills of others, we’re deceiving ourselves. (Ja 1:22)

Were it not for the restraining grace of God, our sin nature here would put each of us well beyond hope (Ro 7:24), for one who thinks he already knows has closed his mind (Mt 13:15) and can’t learn. (Pr 26:12) But this presumption is simply pride rooted in lies; we can learn from anyone, we can always improve if we’re poor in spirit and love the truth. As we perceive this arrogance operating within, it’s time to humble ourselves, soften our hearts, and repent. (Ja 4:10)

Rather than thinking we’ve arrived (Php 3:13-14) and are superior to others (Ro 2:19), God tells us all to be not wise in our own conceits (Ro 12:16c): helping each other seek and find the truth (a), esteeming others better, focusing first on fundamentals, along with the lowly. (b) Generally, when we’re missing it big, we’re missing the basics. (Mt 23:23)

This isn’t to say that we can’t be confident in our knowledge of God (Je 9:24), that we must always be doubting everything. (2Ti 1:12) There is room in faith and humility for confidence and certainty. (He_10:22) While that is true, it is also true that we don’t know everything about anything. (1Co 8:2) We can be both confident and teachable, grounded in the truth while ever seeking more of it.

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A Cheerful Giver

What are the biblical principles related to raising financial support for a Christian project or ministry? We see a wide variety of approaches, from George Mueller, who never told anyone about any particular need except God, praying for everything required to care for hundreds of orphans for years, to organized religions claiming they’ve replaced Israel in some way and have a right to demand a tenth of our income, to cult leaders promising God’s blessing and favor on generous donors. Where’s the biblical balance?

If we consider the example of Christ and the Twelve, we’ve no record they ever asked anyone for money. Given that the temple was still functioning, they couldn’t pretend to merit the priestly tithes and offerings like the Church does today, and it seems contrary to their spirit of dependence on God to be asking the public or each other for money. It seems our dear brother Mueller may have got it right.

However, we do have an example of the Apostle Paul taking up a collection for the poor saints which were at Jerusalem (1Co 16:1); though he didn’t specify an amount or percentage, he expected everyone to give something in accordance with how God was blessing. (vs 2) How do we integrate this with the example of Christ and the Twelve?

In this particular instance, Paul said it was a matter of spiritual duty for these particular people to give to this particular cause, and he derives this duty from the fact that Gentile believers were indebted to the Jerusalem saints for the blessings of the Gospel. (Ro 15:26-27)

If someone has a duty to donate to a particular cause, then it’s reasonable to ask them to give accordingly. Torah provides many examples of this kind of obligation, specific instances of how we’re to care for the poor and vulnerable. (De 15: 7-8, 12-14, 16:16-17, etc.)

But apart from formal obligation, the rule of common charity must apply. Do we appreciate being asked to give to a ministry we already know about, which we have not already purposed in our hearts before God to support? Does this edify and encourage us, or do we feel pressured to give when we’d prefer not to? Does it feel intrusive, as if someone is meddling in our personal affairs? If we decide not to give, do we feel obligated to justify ourselves? Do we ever decide to give just to make ourselves feel better, or to appear generous to others?

Once we’re aware of a need, directly asking us to donate tends to put most of us on the spot and make us uncomfortable. This should tell us what kind of behavior it is: uncharitable. Unless we’re already interested in donating, most of us feel a sense of pressure in this context, a requirement imposed on us to make an immediate decision: to either decline to give and justify ourselves (as if the ask implies an obligation), or to give so we’ll feel better and appear generous to others. In either case, we perceive the act of being asked as a form of manipulation, to get us to give when we wouldn’t otherwise. This isn’t giving from a cheerful heart; it’s something neither Paul nor Christ would promote, even if it happens to increase donations.

When we desire to support a particular cause that excites us and aligns with our goals and world view, sensing God’s pleasure that we do so, we give with cheerful hearts without being asked. This is the kind of giving God loves (2Co 9:7), and it’s the only kind we should be encouraging in others, outside formal obligation.

Making someone aware of an opportunity to give, informing them of a ministry, its mission and how it’s funded, is perfectly consistent with charity: it doesn’t directly pressure anyone. As we have opportunity to spread the word and inform others of a godly cause, we should leave the commitment between them and God, as they seek His will in the stewardship of their time, money and resources.

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Rent in Twain

When Christ died, the veil of the Jerusalem temple ripped into two pieces, from the top to the bottom. (Mt 27:51) From what we know of this veil*, it is evident that this was a supernatural event: God Himself tore this veil. What does this signify?

Most Christians claim this event signifies the abolishment of Torah, the Mosaic Law, or at least the sacrificial system and the ceremonial aspects of Torah, but Christ says the entire Torah will be relevant until Heaven and Earth pass away (Mt 5:18); last I checked, both are still here, so this event must signify something else.

The veil of the temple represents the physical body of Christ (He 10:20), so on one level the tearing of the veil might signify the death of Christ, the destruction of His earthly, mortal body: the veil was torn as Christ was crucified. The breaking of His body for us (1Co 11:24), His atoning death for our sin, provides a living Way, an eternal way to God, outside time and space, always new (He 10:19-20), the only way anyone has ever connected with God, or ever will. (Jn 14:6)

We might also observe that we aren’t told which temple veil was torn; there were two (He 9:3): the most visible veil, the one most people would be more familiar with, separated the outer court from the sanctuary. (He 9:2) A torn inner inner veil, separating the Holy of Holies from the sanctuary, could easily have been concealed by the priests and never verified. Perhaps both veils were symbolic of Christ in some way, but it is perhaps the outer veil that is the most relevant, for Christ is that essence of the Father Whom we can all see. (Jn 12:45)

God destroying this outer veil in a publicly visible manner may have been a declaration of His departure from the temple. (Mt 23:38) The temple had already been destroyed twice, abandoned by God in advance (Ez 10:4, 18-19a), and it was ready to vanish away again. (He 8:13) It makes sense that God would depart from the temple well prior to it’s being destroyed, and to make this known, giving the people a sign they should repent and seek Him in the context of pending divine judgment and immanent danger.

Since God hasn’t actually yet told us explicitly what the rending of the veil of the temple means, this isn’t something we need to know. What we do know is that the veil is not obsolete; it is essential to a functioning temple, so it will return with the rest of the earthly temple of God. (Re 11:1-2) Any reasonable speculation on this point, why God tore it during the crucifixion of His Son, must be consistent with the whole of scripture.

  • See comment below.

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Lay Hold

Paul tells Timothy, an earnest Christian, to lay hold on eternal life (1Ti 6:12), and to encourage others to do the same. (vs 17-19) Why should we do this, lay hold on eternal life, if we know we already have eternal life? (1Jn 5:13) Why lay hold on what we can never lose? (2Ti 4:18)

For one, it’s exceedingly unwise to presume we have eternal salvation unless our lives are consistently reflecting this reality (He 6:9), proving it experientially (2Co 13:5), as we’re earnestly pursuing the living God (Php 3:12), to know Him more deeply, to obey Him more consistently, and to love Him more passionately. (2Pe 1:5-7) Those who are complacent in their walk with God, comfortable in this world and focused on it, are actually enemies of the cross, headed for destruction. (Php 3:18-19)

It’s good for us to intentionally and firmly grasp the salvation of God (Mt 11:12), to strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), to cleave to God and His redemption as our only hope, the precious anchor of our souls. (He 6:19) Our old man takes for granted the infinite mercy shown us in Christ, the incomprehensible price paid for our redemption (Ro 8:32), forgets we’ve been purged from our old sins, loses sight and perspective, and would pull us back into dullness and blindness. (2Pe 1:8-9)

Laying hold of eternal life is laying hold of Christ Himself: He is our life. (Col 3:4) It’s abiding in Him (Jn 15:4), partaking of Him (He 3:14), grounding ourselves in the promises and nature of God (Ep 3:17-19), continually reminding ourselves of His way and word. (Col 3:16) Those who won’t abide in Christ are trodden down (Ps 119:118) and cast away. (Jn 15:6)

Ultimately, laying hold of eternal life is letting go of everything else (Php 3:7-8) that we may know Him. (Jn 17:3)

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