INTRODUCTION. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “to be on fire for the Lord”. Have you ever wondered what it means exactly? While this paper does not claim to have researched the etymological history of the phrase, the goal here is to show the phrase’s most likely Biblical context and that it has relevant application to the Christian experience today.
FIRES OF THE TRIUNE GOD. When we consider the three persons of the triune Godhead individually, a picture of fire and/or fiery light is found in descriptions of both their persons and purposes.
The Father. For example, Father God is described in the Word as a consuming fire worthy of reverence and awe (Hebrews 12.29). In fact, the voice of God was described as a blazing fire with black clouds and a deep, forbidding darkness that stretched all the way from the top of Mount Horeb to the very heavens (Deuteronomy 4.11—12). What’s more, Father God’s Holy Writ—the Word of God—is described as a hammer of fire that breaks a rock into pieces (Jeremiah 23.29).
God’s presence was also often depicted in terms of fire or fiery light. For example, His presence appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush that was never consumed (Exodus 3.2). In the Shekinah glory, God’s presence was said to be a pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the desert (Exodus 13.21), and at times a fire powerful enough to make Mount Sinai tremble violently (Exodus 19.18).
Father God’s presence is furthermore described as totally engulfed in a radiant fiery light in the Godly visions of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1.4, 27—28). And Daniel saw Father God on a throne flaming in fire and a river of fire actually flowing out from before him (Daniel 7.9—10). When approaching the Father’s throne, we draw near to him who lives in and clothes himself with immortal light that shines out the fiery light of his splendor and majesty—his glory (Psalm 104.1—2; 1 Timothy 6.16; Isaiah 60.1—3).
To draw close to the fiery presence of Father God is “to be set on fire for the Lord“.
The Son. When Jesus came he brought “a fire on earth” (Luke 12.49), intending to set our hearts ablaze with the passions of his heart to please the Father by knowing and obeying his Word (Luke 24.32; John 15.10). And Jesus will one day come again, this time to bring the blazing fire of Judgment that will consume all the wicked who have rebelled against the Spirit of God (Revelation 20.14—15).
The fiery passion of Christ already come is one of love. To know Christ is to embrace that mighty blazing Orb, the Morning Star, burning bright with the Majestic Glory of God rising in our hearts, like his resurrection from his baptism of fire by crucifixion (2 Peter 1.17—19). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3.16). He thus taught us that loving our brothers is how we may pass from death to life (1 John 3.14) and how we can set our hearts at rest in God’s presence (1 John 3.19). Anyone who believes in the Son of God has life in his Son—indeed, eternal life (1 John 5.10—11).
Only by and through Christ (John 17.25) is the truth of Father God fully revealed to us so that we may partake in the glory that the Father has given to the Son since before the creation of the world (John 17.24). Also, by and through Christ we are able to share in the fellowship of love that flows from Father to Son since eternity past (John 17.26). These revelations are incomprehensibly intimate. Listen to the passion that Christ’s heart has for those who believe in him.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am” (John 17.24). Note how Jesus does not hold back any portion of the Father for himself. He wants us to fully partake in the Father as if we were him! And further: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me” (John 17.22—23). In other words, whatever passes from Father to Son is immediately passed on to us so we might share in their absolute, complete unity. We are One with the Father through the Son. Indeed, the love Christ has for us believers is so fiery passionate that it literally makes our hearts burn within us (Luke 24.32).
The fiery passion of Christ to come is one of justice. In John’s vision of Christ’s return he saw Jesus riding on a white horse with hairs on his head as white as snow, but his eyes were like blazing fire and his face shone like the sun in all its brilliance (Revelation 1.14—16). Out of the mouth of Christ came a sharp double-edged sword as he led the charge of his army of angels into the final battle of this era. Jesus and his army of justice captured the beast and his false prophet (the anti-Christ & a servant) and threw them into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, after which he slayed all the kings of the earth and their armies and left them for dead to be gorged on by vultures (Revelation 19.15—21; see also 2 Thessalonians 1.6—7).
Satan will then be bound while Christ reigns on earth for a thousand years (Revelation 20.2), after which Satan will be loosed on earth once again for a short period of time (Revelation 20.7) until he is finally thrown into the lake of burning sulfur forever (Revelation 20.10). Then will come the Day of Judgment before the great white throne, where each person will be judged for eternity according to his faith and works (Revelation 20.15).
And so, on the one hand, Jesus is filled with a fiery, passionate heart of love and on the other he is filled with fiery eyes and a passionate heart of justice. To draw close to the fiery passions of Christ Jesus is to fuel the fire of God.
The Spirit. Scripture teaches that to be set on fire for the Lord and to maintain its intensity one must draw close to the Father by and through the Christ. The question then becomes—how does one draw close to the Father by and through the Christ given that Christ currently sits at the right hand of Father God in heaven? (Colossians 3.1). Enter the third person of the Triune God—the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of burning, the Spirit of fire! (John 15.26; Isaiah 4.4).
The Holy Spirit was associated with fire when John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3.11). The prophet Isaiah prophesied that the Spirit of God was “a glow of flaming fire” (Isaiah 4.5). On the day of Pentecost when the Spirit actually came to earth, the Holy Spirit was portrayed by Luke as “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of [the disciples]” (Acts 2.3). Also, we are commanded to fan into flames the gifts of God’s Spirit (2 Timothy 1.6—7). Finally, we are warned to never put out or squelch the Spirit’s fire within us (1 Thessalonians 5.19).
As Scripture clearly teaches, the Holy Spirit is often affiliated with fire. To remain on fire for the Lord, we must fan the flame of the Holy Spirit within us.
THE FIRES OF SANCTIFICATION THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. The question then becomes—how do we go about fanning the flame of God’s Spirit within us? Answer: discover the Spirit’s purpose and put it into application.
Every believer has been called to grow in holiness and purity—the sanctification of man (1 Peter 1.15—16). The Holy Spirit is the agent of our sanctification (1 Corinthians 6.11; 2 Thessalonians 2.13). By making known the presence, passion and forgiveness of God, the fire of the Spirit will in turn produce the purity of God within us.
The Fire of His Presence. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God indwelling the heart of every believer (Romans 8.9). In the old economy under the covenant of law, God filled the tabernacle with the fiery glory of his presence by indwelling the innermost room called the Holy of Holies (Exodus 25.8). The Spirit of God hovered just above the Ark of the Covenant where he would meet with Moses and subsequently the High Priests to give commands and answer their spiritual inquiries (Exodus 25.22). This fiery presence provided light and guidance to God’s people as they journeyed in the desert (Numbers 9.17—23). In like manner, when Solomon finished constructing and dedicated the temple building, the presence of God “filled the house of the LORD” in much the same manner and for the same reasons (1 Kings 8.10).
In the new economy under the covenant of grace in Christ, the moment we come to believe in Christ as our Savior, the Spirit of God indwells our innermost room, our holy of holies—that is, our spirit (Romans 8.9). God guides and convicts his children through the Holy Spirit dwelling in our very bodies—our body being the “tabernacle” and the “temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 5.1; 6.16). Therefore, as the glory of God filled the tabernacle/temple of old, so his glory through the flames of his Spirit fills the new temples of Christ—our bodies.
The Fire of His Passion. The Holy Spirit also stirs the passion of God in our hearts, and we must learn to nurture our passion for Christ in order to grow in holiness. Recall to mind the two disciples who unwittingly talked with the resurrected Jesus for several hours as they traveled down the road to Emmaus. Once they realized it had been the risen Christ that had so eloquently spoken to them about the Scriptures prophesying the coming Messiah, they asked each other: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24.32). The Spirit of truth in Jesus’ words had stirred the passions of their hearts.
Similarly, after the apostles received the baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2.3—4), the disciples carried within them a passion for Christ that lasted a lifetime, a passion that compelled them to speak the Word of God assertively and boldly despite being persecuted and even martyred because of it (Acts 4.31).
To fan those flames of passion and keep them burning within us (2 Timothy 1.6—7), there are three primary means of fueling these fires. First, we need to pray daily to be filled with his Spirit (Ephesians 5.18), and also “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5.19—20).
The second means of fanning the flames of God’s passion within is by walking in the Spirit, living by the Spirit (Galatians 5.16). “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5.25). This entails not only listening for the Spirit of truth’s voice, but also following its lead once we hear that voice. “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts'” (Hebrews 3.7—8). To follow the Spirit’s lead, we simply must combine the message of truth we hear from him with faith (Hebrews 4.2).
The third and final means of fanning the flames of the Spirit’s passions is to sow to the Spirit. “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6.7—8).
These flames of God’s passion can indeed burn forever within us as long as the fuel feeding them is the truth of his Word.
The Fire of His Forgiveness. Finally, to grow in holiness, a believer must continually work the process of forgiveness in his life—to acknowledge his sin, to ask for and receive God’s forgiveness, and to forgive others.
In the old economy of the covenant of works, the sacrifice of forgiveness at the altar had to be made on a regular basis in order to make atonement for the sins of the people. The fire would consume the sacrificial animal’s burnt offering and carry the swirling embers of burning flesh as a pleasing aroma up to God in heaven (Exodus 29.41). The altar can serve as a picture of our commitment to the Lord in the context of the new economy of grace, as well.
As believers in Christ, however, the apostle Paul implored us to offer our bodies, not an animal carcass, as “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12.1). The living sacrifice of our bodies are engulfed by the flames of the inextinguishable fire of the Holy Spirit, and the pleasing aroma to God is the broken spirit and/or contrite heart of a believer who has acknowledged his sin, has experienced Godly guilt, has bowed in prayer and is asking God for forgiveness (Psalm 51.17). These swirling embers of humility are indeed an aroma that only the flames of the Holy Spirit can produce.
In the old economy, the law of God rested in the Ark of the Covenant which was kept in the Holy of Holies within the sanctuary. Today, the Spirit facilitates this process of maintaining holiness through forgiveness by writing God’s laws on our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8.10). Internalizing God’s commands makes it easier (not easy) to live the way God wants us to, and living Godly lives is what enables us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This in turn is what empowers us to test and approve what God’s good and perfect will is, which is how we live in a Godly manner (Romans 12.2)—and so the process goes.
Finally, regardless of how well we take the required steps for forgiveness discussed above, we will not receive forgiveness from God if we do not also forgive those who have sinned against us (Matthew 6.15). This command comes directly from Jesus and is an unambiguous prerequisite to being purified through the process of forgiveness.
CONCLUSION—The Fire of His Purity. As the silversmith uses fire to purge the impurities from precious metal, so God will use the Spirit to make known his presence within us, fan the flames of Godly passion within us, teach us to give and receive forgiveness, and thus ultimately cleanse and purify our faith, increasing our holiness (Psalm 66.10; Proverbs 17.3).
And so, to know God, who is a fiery presence, and to abide in Him, which is a fiery process, is what it means to be on fire for the Lord!
May the fires of the Lord burn within us forever!
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