Fire is an element that is awe-inspiring and we know from a very young age that you DON’T PLAY WITH FIRE!!! Fire is something that is mysterious and even scientists find it hard to comprehend or understand. It is also something that is absolutely essential, especially in countries that don’t have electricity, where it is used for light at night, warmth in winter and for cooking. It is basic to survival.
God speaks of refining us “with fire”, in other words, a baptism of fire. Luke 12:49 speaks clearly of this, Jesus says, “I have come to cast FIRE upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a BAPTISM with which to be baptised and how greatly I am urged and impelled until it is accomplished!” The baptism which He was talking about, as this was after He had been water baptised by John the Baptist, was His death on the cross which is symbolic of what we are also required to do; putting our self-life to death in order that we may be partakers of His resurrection life now!
In Matthew 3:11,12 John the Baptist speaking to the Pharisees (religious people) says “And already the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptise you in (with) water because of repentance; but He Who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy or fit to take off or carry; He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fan (shovel or fork) is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear out and clean His threshing floor and gather and store His wheat in His barn; but the chaff He will burn up with fire that cannot be put out.” John mentions here that Jesus comes to sort the chaff from the wheat.
The baptism with fire is all about dying to self, having those things in us which are not of God pruned off and thrown into the fire, speaking of our being purified and refined as gold in fire (Zechariah 13:9) along with a new revelation of His greatness, holiness, majesty and sheer awesomeness which results in a renewed fear of God.
I was reminded of Elijah and the altar that had water poured all over it (it had already been baptised or immersed and covered by water) and the fire came down from God and totally consumed it, not only the meat offered but even the rocks and water! The account of this is in 1 Kings 18:30-39. In verses 37-39 Elijah was praying and said “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You, the Lord are God, and have turned their hearts back to You. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones and the dust and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”
There are two other incidents with almost identical wording and responses from people – fire coming from God and the people falling on their faces to worship Him. One is with Solomon when he had just built the Temple as God had instructed him to. He then prayed a prayer (2 Chronicles 6, 7:1-3) and the other incident was with Moses and Aaron in Leviticus 9:22-24, 10:1-3 where they had just offered offerings as God had commanded, then in verse 24 “Then there came a FIRE out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and put incense on it and offered strange and unholy fire before the Lord as He had NOT commanded them. And there came forth fire from before the Lord and killed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, This is what the Lord meant when He said, I and My will, not their own, will be acknowledged as hallowed (consecrated or holy) by those who come near Me, and before all the people I will be honoured. And Aaron said nothing.”
A Consuming Fire
The Bible tells us that our God is indeed a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24 & Hebrews 12:28,29) It appears that the fire of God is, for those of us who are His children, a purifying, consecrating, sanctifying agent burning away anything that is still contrary to Him, whereas for those who are not His or are in rebellion, it is for judgment and destruction like what happened with Aaron’s sons.
Aaron’s sons were the sons of God in the sense that they were part of Israel (God’s people) and also part of the priesthood; yet it sounds as though they presumed and were consumed for their presumption. They offered a fire that God had NOT commanded, God may not have specifically said “don’t offer this” but the fact was that they went ahead without waiting for Him to say to do it. We must be sure we are not only doing what God wants but also that we don’t presume to do that which He hasn’t told us to. “I and My will, not their own will be acknowledged as holy”.
If we think of fire, it will consume anything that is not of itself, like wood, paper etc. For those of us who are the children of God, we have Him living in us through His Holy Spirit and so are already part of the fire and so we can approach God and not be consumed! Fire consumes only that which is not of itself. However, through testing and trials God will burn away in us all that is not of Him so that what remains will be the pure gold of His own divine character. Beloved, do not be amazed and bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test your quality, as though something strange were befalling you. You should be exceedingly glad on this account, though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, so that the genuineness of your faith may be tested, which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire. 1 Pet 4:12, 1:6,7
This is part of dying to self, willingly embracing the fiery ordeal because we know that all that is of us and not of God must be destroyed so that only that which is of the Spirit of God may come forth from us. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 also talks about our works being tested with fire, a fire which consumes anything that is not acceptable to Him, verse 13 says; The work of each one will become plainly known – shown for what it is; for the day of Christ will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done.
Fire for Offerings
With the picture of Elijah and his offering in mind, I had a look at sacrifices and offerings in the Old Testament and discovered a few interesting things. Out of the different kinds of sacrifices, the sacrifice that was slain (or meat offering), the guilt (sin & trespass or expiation) offerings, and the burnt offerings, only the burnt offering was voluntary; all the others were compulsory. The burnt offering (which may refer to a baptism of fire) was the only sacrifice that had to have ALL of the beast put onto the altar; all the other sacrifices had just bits and pieces of the beast put on it. But for the burnt offering, the beast was cut into pieces but all the pieces, including the blood had to be placed on the altar to be completely consumed and burned up by the fire.
The burnt offering was also not only that of sheep but also bulls. Jesus represented the Lamb who was slain and sacrificed for us but what does the bull represent? Every month 7 lambs, 1 ram and 2 bulls were sacrificed as a burnt offering. Seven is the perfect number and also relates to the sevenfold Spirit of God (Revelations 3:1, 4:5), the number two could represent the flesh, as God made us male and female. The bull is typically a wild, rebellious animal compared to a lamb or ram. The bull was also the most expensive animal for the Israelites, it cost them the most to sacrifice it; the bull to be sacrificed and consumed is our very self and it will cost us. It’s interesting too that it was a golden calf in Exodus 32 that the people worshipped, we too can make a golden calf of self or man and worship it.
Once a year the burnt offering was offered by the Priest on behalf of all the people for not only the sins they had committed, but also for sins of omission, things they hadn’t done which they should have. Another interesting thing about the burnt offering is that the fire on the altar was not allowed to go out (Leviticus 6:13), and great care was taken to preserve this burning fire to avoid rekindling it. The word translated as burnt offering (olah) also means to go up or ascend.
Tongues of Fire
At Pentecost in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came resembling fire: When suddenly there came a sound from heaven like the rushing of a violent tempest blast (a violent wind or storm), and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were separated and distributed and that settled on each one of them. The fire wasn’t just above them but “settled” on each one. The disciples waited, prayed and fasted for FORTY days before the promise of the Holy Spirit was poured upon them at Pentecost. This wasn’t just a prayer meeting here and there, this was serious business. The flames of fire represented the Holy Spirit’s coming upon each one gathered there.
Those who have the fire of the Spirit burning within them move together, their individual flames join together to make a big fire which will draw the cold and lost to it’s light and warmth. A single flame on its own easily dies out especially when its not stirred up or fanned; but many flames put together make the fire burn even more strongly and noticeably and is much harder to put out.
Romans 12:1,2 talks about us being a living sacrifice, holy and consecrated to God and that this is our true worship; I appeal to you and beg of you in view of all the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies, presenting all your members and faculties as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational and intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world – fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs. But be transformed, changed by the entire renewal of your mind – by its new ideals and its new attitude – so that you may prove for yourselves what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good, acceptable and perfect in His sight for you. Laying yourself, your dreams, ambitions and very life on the altar before God is what Abraham did symbolically with Isaac.
When we are in night time experiences in our lives, God wants to use them to baptise us with fire, to trust that He knows what is ahead and is guiding us there. Difficulties are not always the enemy having a field day, but God having a rubbish (garbage!) day; cleansing and ridding us of those attitudes and things which are not part of His character, burning it all away.
Baptised by Fire
For I do not want you to be ignorant brethren, that our forefathers were all under and protected by the cloud and every one of them passed safely through the Red Sea, and each one of them allowed himself also to be baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (they were brought under obligation to the Law, to Moses, and to the covenant, consecrated and set apart to the service of God). 1 Corinthians 10:1,2 The children of Israel were baptised into the Red Sea and into the cloud … representing the Holy Spirit, but at night time when it was dark and the way ahead was hard to see, the cloud turned into a pillar of fire! John the Baptist in Matt 3 said that Jesus would “baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”. Part of this can be quite simply, waiting for God to move. The children of Israel didn’t move except when the cloud or pillar of fire or cloud moved. Sometimes they were stationary for days even a month or more and possibly without even knowing why while having to be prepared to move on at any minute, but they had to wait and only move in obedience to God (Numbers 9:18-23). So we too WAIT even though we don’t like waiting, until God gives us the go ahead to move.
I believe that two things come as a result of realising and knowing and understanding who God really is, one is true repentance the other is true worship like the people who saw fire come down from heaven, they fell on their faces and worshipped God. The word worship means to bow downand is an act of surrender and humility. This is part of what we were created for – to minister to God through the true worship of laying our lives down and living through His life through us as a living sacrifice.
I’ve heard some say that we are so fortunate to be living in the covenant of grace; this is true but it implies that it is easier for us now than it was for those who lived under the Old Covenant. But we are not dealing with mere lamb’s blood now but the Lamb’sblood, the blood of the Son of God! Since all this is true, we ought to pay much closer attention than ever to the truths we have heard, lest in any way we drift past them. For if the message given through angels (the Law spoken by them to Moses) was authentic and every violation and disobedience received an appropriate, just penalty, how shall we escape appropriate retribution if we neglect and refuse to pay attention to such a great salvation as is now offered to us? Hebrews 2:1-3
The first believers in the new testament did not treat the new covenant lightly. It is not a grace to allow us to do whatever we like. As the One Who called you is holy, you yourselves must also be holy in all your conduct and manner of living. For it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy. And if you call upon Him as your Father Who judges each one impartially according to what he does, then you should conduct yourselves with true reverence throughout the time of your temporary residence on the earth. 1 Peter 1:15-17 For it is impossible to bring again to repentance those who have been once for all enlightened, who have consciously tasted the heavenly gift and have become sharers of the Holy Spirit and have felt how good the Word of God is and the mighty powers of the age and world to come, if they then deviate from the faith and turn away from their allegiance – it is impossible to bring them back to repentance, for they nail upon the cross the Son of God afresh and are holding Him up to shame and public disgrace. Hebrews 6:4-6.
God as Fire
Since I have begun looking into the baptism of fire, I’ve been amazed at how often fire in reference to God, is mentioned in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, particularly in Revelation. Dying to self or a baptism of fire is also interesting when we think of fire because this is the way that martyrs have often died in the past, burned at the stake. Fire is an element that is awe-inspiring and we know from a very young age that you DON’T PLAY WITH FIRE!!! We must not take God lightly or play games with Him. I think the balance is where we think of God as our Father; we are told in the Bible to honour our parents and you may remember as a child how you respected or looked up to your father or a father figure. You were intimate and yet there was that element of respect and awe.
Fire is something that is mysterious and even scientists find it hard to comprehend or understand. We are told right throughout the Bible that we must not be indifferent or blase about God but to hold Him in reverence and awe. The first believers in Christ had to be encouraged to be intimate with God because they already KNEW God as all powerful and almighty and so they already had a fear of God but were not used to the concept of approaching this holy and awesome God freely and knowing Him as a personal, intimate Being. Paul said in Ephesians 3:12 “In Jesus Christ, because of our faith in Him, we dare to have the boldness, courage and confidence of free access – an unreserved approach to God with freedom and without fear.” I believe that as we come to know and understand more what a truly amazing God He is, we too will respond in true worship.
We need to have a knowledge of who He truly is, not just a head knowledge but an intimate heart relationship knowledge. We can trust in God and allow Him to fan the flames in our hearts. We must be careful not to light our own fires or trust in our own strength and our ways of doing things. Who is among you who fears the Lord, who obeys the voice of His servant, yet who walks in darkness and deep trouble and has no shining splendour in his heart? Let him rely and trust in the name of the Lord, and let him lean upon and be supported by his God. Behold, all of you who attempt to kindle your own fires (work out your own plans of salvation), who surround yourselves with momentary sparks and firebrands that you set aflame!- walk by the light of your self-made fire and of the sparks that you have kindled for yourself if you will! But this shall you have from My hand: you shall lie down in grief and in torment. Isaiah 50:10,11.
I looked up the term “baptism” in the Collins dictionary and found the whole term “baptism of fire” which is defined as; 1. a soldier’s first experience of battle 2. any initiating ordeal or experience. 3. the penetration of the Holy Ghost into the human spirit to purify, consecrate and strengthen it, as was believed to have occurred initially at Pentecost. Baptism is for cleansing, purifying, regeneration and dedication; the original word means being covered with or immersed in.
I felt like I had really been eating some real “solid food” when I began studying this whole area, but felt very humbled when I read in Hebrews; “Concerning this we have much to say which is hard to explain since you have become dull in your spiritual hearing and sluggish, even slothful in achieving spiritual insight. For even though by this time you ought to be teaching others, you actually need someone to teach you over again the very first principles of God’s Word. You have come to need milk, not solid food. For every one who continues to feed on milk is obviously inexperienced and unskilled in the doctrine of righteousness, for he is a mere infant – not able to talk yet! But solid food is for full-grown men, for those whose senses and mental faculties are trained by practice to discriminate and distinguish between what is morally good and what is evil and contrary either to divine or human law. Therefore let us go on and get past the elementary stage in the teachings and doctrine of Christ the Messiah, advancing steadily toward the completeness and perfection that belongs to spiritual maturity. Let us not again be laying the foundation of repentance and abandonment of dead works (dead formalism) and of the faith by which you turned to God. With teachings about purifying(some translations say baptisms),the laying on of hands,the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment and punishment. These are all matters of which you should have been fully aware long, long ago. If indeed God permits we will now proceed to advanced teaching Hebrews 5:11-6:3.
Thinking of the Holy Spirit as wind is also an interesting image because a wind fans a fire! Living in a windy place I know that wind can be very refreshing; but only if you’re HOT! If you go outside and just stand still, the wind can be very cold and uncomfortable, but if you’ve been exercising and running (actively seeking and learning from God) the wind will feel wonderfully refreshing and not uncomfortable!
We are so blessed and fortunate that we have free access to the Bible; the Jews were of course very familiar with not only all of the Old Testament but also the practice of it. They therefore had a very deep knowledge of how perfectly the work of Jesus and the cross and the new covenant complimented the old. Since we haven’t been raised in a culture where the Old Testament was taught and understood, how much more beneficial is it to us to study and ask the Holy Spirit to unveil it to us as well as the New Testament!
The baptism of fire is for consecration, for burning away what is our flesh to make way for God’s Spirit, making us holy and pure and equipping us to serve God as a pure and clean vessel. It may be a painful process as we yield all the pieces of ourselves; our hopes, dreams, desires, ministries, careers, ambitions, belongings, all that we are and have, upon the altar to be consumed completely by the fire of God. But, in the words of C. T. Studd;
“If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me; then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.”