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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Choose the Fear

As an instinct, fear can be a good thing, keeping us out of harm’s way. It helps us avoid things like, well, provoking gangsters and thugs – fearing what they might do to us encourages a basic kind of wisdom.

Christ reasons, by way of contrast, that there’s only one to be afraid of: God. (Lk 12:4-5) God is capable of inflicting so much damage and harm, truly an infinite amount of pain and suffering, that all other fears should pale in comparison; the very thought of offending Him should move us to trembling (Php 2:12), even as we’re rejoicing in Him. (Ps 2:11)

Many prefer to focus on respect or reverence rather than fear, perhaps to encourage us to be more comfortable with God. But that’s like telling us to relax when our clothes might be catching fire.

The potential danger we’re all in with God is incredibly real, and there’s no point in playing it down: He’s a consuming fire (He 12:29), and most of us are chaff. (Mt 3:12) Even for the best of us, it’s a fearful thing to fall into His hands (He 10:31), and all of us will: evading Him isn’t an option. The slightest uncertainty here should terrify us. (2Co 5:11)

Firstly, a healthy fear of God keeps us from presumptuous sin, from carelessly offending Him (Pr 16:6), and that’s just plain smart – like not poking a gorilla in the eye, even if he seems friendly.

Godly fear also motivates us to ensure our election (2Pe 1:10)striving to enter the narrow gate (Lk 13:24) and pass fully into His rest. (He 4:11) In light of the second death, living for even a moment without absolute assurance of eternal life is unthinkable. (2Co 13:5)

Fear in itself, rational fear of any kind, would never encourage us to run or hide from God: thinking we can avoid omnipresence is like trying to escape from space and time itself; the thought is unintelligent at best. Only an insane dislike, a relentless distaste for the divine, would seek to escape from One who inhabits eternity.

Perhaps this is partly why “the fear of JEHOVAH is the beginning of wisdom.” (Pr 9:10) Try to fathom a soul with any sense of propriety or understanding that willfully chooses to neglect or offend omnipotence. How can anyone with a grain of sense not “kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little?” (Ps 2:12)

A lack of reverence for God, any willingness to sin against Him deliberately, on purpose, not choosing to fear Him in every healthy sense of the word (Pr 1:29), is essentially a failure to grasp the fundamental nature of God; it’s either rank unbelief in who God says He is, or exceedingly irrational.

The fear of God is our friend (Ps 19:9a): choose it (Pr 1:29) and be wise. Learn to fear Him rightly (Ps 34:11)God’s children don’t take Him lightly, casually; we fear Him unto joy. All else is unbelief, enmity, no matter how we slice it.

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