A Consuming Fire
Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.
The writer to the Hebrews began his letter by explaining that Jesus Christ is more exalted than angels and greater than their renowned leader Moses(Hebrews 1:4, 3:3).
Throughout his writing, he warned people to avoid complacency in their faith, and to remain true to God. Now, at the end of the letter, he reminds them that they someday will enter heaven, and at the time of judgement, the whole earth will be shaken.
The proper response to the truth of Christ’s supremacy, the hope of heaven for believers, and the uncertainty of judgement for unbelievers is to ask God for grace so that we may serve Him “acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
Fear? We think faith, hope, and love are appropriate, so what is this fear about? We make a mistake when we reduce God to a peer, someone to take or leave depending on our mood and whether He makes us feel good at the moment. Throughout the Scriptures, however, we find that the people who have any inkling of the greatness of God fall to the ground in abject awe. He isn’t the sweet guy in many of our drawings of Him, and He isn’t the fuzzy fellow we used to find in flannelgraph puppets in Sunday School. He is the Author of life, the Creator of the universe, the Alpha and Omega, One whose presence was so terrifying that His best friend, John fainted at the vision of Him in His glory(Revelation 1:17). Our God is merciful and kind, it’s true, but He is also a consuming fire. We will be wise not to forget that.
The truth is, fear and immorality are two of the greatest inhibitors of performance.
In our attempt to make God accessible and caring, sometimes we also minimize His majesty and holiness. We seem to be at odds with the idea that we can be loved and cared for by a powerful Being. I think some of that stems from the humanizing of God. We are well aware that powerful people usually have little or no time for ordinary people. Often the weak and the timid are used as tools by the powerful for their selfish means with no regard to their well-being. So we have moved as Christians to make God into a warm, fuzzy, kindly grandfather who gives gifts and blessings to the children and just loves everyone without condition, and makes everyone feel special. This character has little to say about how people act, he just lets them be their own person. And he goes along to get along.
But that’s not the biblical picture of God. Yes, He is loving and caring. We read that His relationship with Adam and Eve in the Garden was close. He came and walked with them each evening in the Garden. The obvious fellowship between them and God speaks of genuine relationship between two parties that enjoy each other’s company. But when they sinned, we read that they hid themselves from God because they were afraid. They knew they had broken covenant with God and they knew they were going to be subject to judgement. Yet we read that with the judgement, God extended grace and mercy. As the Israelites were traveling through the wilderness, they experienced the grace and blessing and patience of God, but they also were frequently awed by His power and glory. They were instructed to “love God with all their heart, soul, and mind” and yet they were also told to “fear God.” This fear is not the fear of terror but the awe and wonder and amazement at the power, glory, and holiness of God.
When John encounters Jesus on the Isle of Patmos, he sees Him in all His glory. John has been in the presence of Jesus before when He was on earth before the crucifixion and resurrection. He has seen Christ the Savior, clothed in flesh. Now he sees Christ in His glory and his immediate response is to fall at His feet in fear and wonder. This friend and companion revealed as He is invoked such awe that John can find no other response than speechless fear. In that moment, Christ reaches down and reminds John that he doesn’t have to be afraid.
Over and over as people in the Bible had an encounter with the full measure of all that God is, they were struck with awe and fear. We read that at the dedication of the tabernacle that the glory of God filled the place in such a way that the priests could not continue to minister and even Moses who had met with God on the mountain could not enter the tabernacle because of the glory of God. We read that when Solomon dedicated the temple that it was filled with the glory of God so powerfully that no one could enter. We read that around the throne of God in heaven that the hosts of heaven are constantly bowing in reverence and awe before the throne exclaiming, “You, O Lord,are worthy to receive glory and honor and power and praise.”
Perhaps one of the best descriptions of the majesty of Christ is given to us in Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
“ For He has rescued us and has drawn us to Himself from the dominion of darkness, and has transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption [because of His sacrifice, resulting in] the forgiveness of our sins [and the cancellation of sins’ penalty]. He is the exact living image [the essential manifestation] of the unseen God [the visible representation of the invisible], the firstborn [the preeminent one, the sovereign, and the originator] of all creation. For by Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, [things] visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities; all things were created and exist through Him [that is, by His activity] and for Him. And He Himself existed and is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. [His is the controlling, cohesive force of the universe.] He is also the head [the life-source and leader] of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will occupy the first place [He will stand supreme and be preeminent] in everything. For it pleased the Father for all the fullness [of deity—the sum total of His essence, all His perfection, powers, and attributes] to dwell [permanently] in Him (the Son), and through [the intervention of] the Son to reconcile all things to Himself, making peace [with believers] through the blood of His cross; through Him, [I say,] whether things on earth or things in heaven. For in Him all the fullness of Deity (the Godhead) dwells in bodily form [completely expressing the divine essence of God]. And in Him you have been made complete [achieving spiritual stature through Christ], and He is the head over all rule and authority [of every angelic and earthly power]. In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, but by the [spiritual] circumcision of Christ in the stripping off of the body of the flesh [the sinful carnal nature], having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him [to a new life] through [your] faith in the working of God, [as displayed] when He raised Christ from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh (worldliness, manner of life), God made you alive together with Christ, having [freely] forgiven us all our sins, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of legal demands [which were in force] against us and which were hostile to us. And this certificate He has set aside and completely removed by nailing it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities [those supernatural forces of evil operating against us], He made a public example of them [exhibiting them as captives in His triumphal procession], having triumphed over them through the cross.”
Colossians 1:13-20, 2:9-15
I’d encourage you to read these verses over and over until the awe and awesomeness of God permeates your soul until it sings:
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
How privileged we are to be called the children of God and may our awe of Him move us to worship, to honor and to serve with passion!
Dr. John Thompson