Fire is an interesting process. I call it a process because it is not a ‘thing’, per se. It is a chemical reaction – oxidation to be precise. The flames that we see are the glowing of the hot gases that are being released during the rapid oxidation of the fuel in the chemical process of combustion.
Fire is useful in that is can produce energy, heat, can cook food, illuminate a dark night, and scare away hungry animals! But fire also has a destructive side – it consumes the material that is its fuel. That might be the wick of a candle, a pile of logs, or a huge forest. Houses, even entire cities can be consumed by it. When dealing with a fire, our opinions of how fire should react are moot; fire must be dealt with based on the reality of the natural laws of combustion.
Fire also plays a prominent role in the bible. In Genesis it was a tool of God’s judgment against the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Exodus it was the medium though which God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. Fire was a guiding light as a column of fire guided the Israelites in the desert. Fire was a part of the sacrificial ritual, consuming the burnt offering as it was placed on the altar.
In the New Testament, Paul noted that each person’s work will be tested by fire, and what passes through will be what we are rewarded on. Peter tells us that at the end of this age the heavens and the earth will be dissolved with fire, making way for a new heaven and a new earth. Finally in Revelation, we are told that there exists a lake of fire, and it is reserved for Satan and those who follow Him in rebellion against the Lord, followed by the sober statement “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
And in Hebrews 12, we find this statement: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). On initial reading, that statement might have the affect of us keeping our distance. Who wants to be burned and consumed by fire? Yet the statement is made in the context of a letter that encourages to “draw near to God” (Heb 7:19 & 10:22). It is made in the context of a section of scripture that is encouraging us “come to Mt Zion, to the city of the living God” (Heb 12:22). We are encouraged to hear His voice, the voice of the one who shakes the earth when He speaks. I believe the point is this: Since God is in fact a consuming fire, we must come to Him on His terms. We cannot approach Him on our terms. God is God, we are not, and He sets the terms, and the only terms by which we can approach God is the unmerited approval that we have in Jesus. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). All who come to the Father through Jesus Christ are free to approach the throne boldly. All who are outside of that sphere will be consumed.
Perhaps some fear facing God, but we are promised:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel – Heb 12:22-24
Join us Sunday, as we finish up Hebrews 12 - "Our God is a Consuming Fire."