Our God Is A Consuming Fire
By Jeff Treder
Among Christians today, and especially among younger Christians, there is a notable emphasis on the love and mercy and tender concern of Jesus.
This is good, for it is Jesus who has revealed to us the unimaginable depths of our Father’s love and who, for our redemption, willingly suffered all the agonies of becoming human. Our debt to Him we can repay only by surrendering ourselves and our lives to His holy purposes.
At the same time we must beware of an imbalance in our attitude toward God. Too often we have stressed our subjective experience of God’s love in Christ at the cost of slighting His objective revelation in the Bible.
I do not mean that our personal experience of Christ should be limited. Of Him we can never have too much; even Paul longed for more. Nor do I mean that evangelical Christians are avoiding the Bible or denying its authority. The Bible remains the best-seller and continues to be read by those who believe. But many sincere believers are, I fear, reading selectively, emphasizing those parts which confirm and enrich their experience of Christ’s compassionate love and giving less attention to the rest. In theological terms, God’s immanence is emphasized at the expense of His transcendence.
Jesus has, to be sure, called us His friends, but there is a condition: "You are My friends, if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). We are able to keep His commandments only insofar as we abide in Him and His words abide in us (see John 15:7-10). "Thy word I have treasured in my heart," says the psalmist, "that I may not sin against Thee" (Psa. 119:11). The whole of God’s Word to us – the whole counsel of God – is found in the whole of Scripture.
In particular we are in danger of patronizing God by focusing on His humanness in Jesus, His mercy and meekness and long-suffering, and by neglecting His almighty power, His majesty, His sovereignty, His absolute holiness. God is speaking directly to you and me when He declares: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9).
If we would have the faith of Abraham we must recover something of his conception of God. When God tested him by demanding Isaac as a burnt offering, he did not temporize and debate how such a demand could be consistent with divine love and justice. No doubt he wondered – he was human, too – but he obeyed. You do not debate with the God of Abraham; you obey His commands.
Did the God who revealed Himself to Moses in fire and smoke and thunder on Mount Sinai give His people the Ten Suggestions? Did the God who answered Job out of the whirlwind address Himself to Job’s complaints? No. His answer is summed up in one unanswerable question: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (Job 38:4). And Job had no reply.
Note well, however, that while God did not answer Job’s intellectual questions and arguments, He answered the real need of Job’s heart. How wonderful are the last words we hear from Job: "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees Thee: therefore I retract. And I repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).
To know about God is not enough; we need to know Him personally. And in proportion as He reveals to us who He is and who we are, our self-defenses, like Job’s, are burned to ashes.
Let us not oversimplify by raising a false distinction between the Old and New Testament character of God. The full extent of God’s love for man was not revealed until Christ died to pay for our sins and was raised again to bear us with Him to heaven, yet the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets often manifested a glowing awareness of the divine love beside which our own (to our shame) is but a glimmer.
Moreover, the New Testament also witnesses to the majesty, sovereignty and holiness of God. The ninth chapter of Romans, to cite but one instance, proclaims His sovereignty as starkly as anything in the Old Testament: "Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?" (Rom. 9:20). God is one (Mark 12:29), and is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8).
God is purest love. He is also purest holiness. His perfection is infinitely beyond anything that our natural minds can conceive, let alone what our human wills can attain.
God forgives our sins, but only as we confess and repent, claiming the blood of Christ shed that human sin might be put utterly to death. The Holy One of Israel will not tolerate sin or compromise with it; He has trafficked with it once and for all in the sinless Man Jesus in order to abolish it forever. The second coming of our Lord will signal not only the final judgment of human sin but also its final eradication.
The holy God required that the Canaanite tribes be utterly destroyed – man, woman, child and livestock – and their cities burned to the ground. The Holy Spirit has just this much tolerance for our sin. "As obedient children," God commands us through the pen of Peter, "do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’" (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
Let us pray earnestly that God will expose to us the secret sins of our hearts and teach us to hate sin as He does, so that we may learn Christlike obedience. May the psalmist’s attitude before God become ours also: "The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! The Lord is great in Zion, and He is exalted above all the peoples. Let them praise Thy great and awesome name; Holy is He" (Psa. 99:1-3).
There is a holy trembling before our awesome God that does not ill befit us Christians, even as we hold in Christ through the inward witness of the Spirit a full assurance of our salvation.
Let us then rejoice that He is holy, that His thoughts and purposes are sometimes beyond our comprehension, that He reigns supreme eternally. His inconceivable greatness and unshakable sovereignty can become, as we surrender our lives to Him and rest in Him, a source not of terror but of comfort and security.
A mighty fortress is our God. If God is for us, who is against us? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? The peace that Abraham must have known, the peace that passes understanding, can be ours.
"Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28-29; see also Deut. 4:24).
– From Alliance Life, official magazine of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, October 22, 1975. Used by permission.