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"THE GOD WHO ANSWERS BY FIRE"
by Philip Owen

            “Our God is a consuming fire,” the writer of Hebrews announces. It is an announcement of both explanation and of warning. Any attempt at a full consideration of who God is that omits this thought—“Our God is a consuming fire.”—has missed the mark. Remember during that period of gross idolatry when God’s people had abandoned the one true God to serve Baal that Elijah appeared on the scene and proposed a contest with the prophets of Baal. The contest contained one determinant: “The God who answers by fire, He is God” (1 Ki. 18:24). You remember the history well, so I won’t recount the details of the record. But we should be reminded that fire is a metaphor of judgment and of cleansing. As such, the fire of God consumes all that is sin and purges all that is worthless (all that can burn: “wood, hay, straw”) while purifying all that is of God, all that is valuable (“gold, silver, precious stones”). What God demonstrated during Elijah’s day was not a one-off experience. Though we do not see literal, physical fire, God is still and always a consuming fire, One who answers only by fire. For all His ways are pure and holy ways. He does only what is right, never commingling sin and righteousness, never compromising what is perfect for the expedient, the popular, or the impressive.

            In other words, be wary of a testimony of salvation that bears no conviction of sin because we have a God who answers by fire. A true cry for salvation will always come with a realization of the heinousness of sin and the human inability to do anything about it. And if God answers that cry, it will be an answer by fire, a fire that cleanses the sinner from sin and brings him into a holy relationship with the Lord. One who professes to be saved or to have faith in the Lord who remains in his sin, whose attitude toward sin has not changed, whose former life remains unruffled by his “salvation” experience has surely not heard from a God who answers by fire. When God comes to a sinner, the first issue He deals with is sin, and His method of dealing with it is to cast it into the fire and burn it up.

            Believer, be wary of a life of complacency. It is possible to be a Lot, who was supernaturally delivered from the fire-and-brimstone destruction that God rained on Sodom and Gomorrah yet, somehow, missed God’s graphic message: I am “the God who answers by fire.” And so Lot asked to go to another place of iniquity, Zoar, rationalizing, “Is it not small?” (Gen. 19:20). There are no small sins in the eyes of the God who answers by fire. He must and He will burn up everything that is sinful. We truly are playing with fire when we sin willfully, and God will not be mocked. If we sow the wind, we will reap the whirlwind (see Hos. 8:7). For God always answers by fire. Never does He set aside His holiness or His righteousness even when demonstrating His goodness and kindness. But, of course, as we obey Him, we need not fear because the fire of God harms nothing of eternal value.

            Furthermore, be wary of an assembly in which the message of sin is not prominent. Where God is working, a fire burns constantly. “Worship” services and “praise services” devoid of any reference to or consciousness of sin are a sham, and are also devoid of the presence of God. A so-called pastor whose messages are exclusively positive in the sense that they do not broach the subject of sin is not a messenger of God. Our God is ever a consuming fire and always answers by fire. We must not be deceived that we can only be joyful if we do not think about sin when the truth is that joy cannot exist apart from the blessed holy presence of God as He answers by fire, cleansing and sanctifying our hearts as we hear and obey the Word of God. Where God is answering by fire there is both genuine joy and a zeal for righteousness.

            Much that passes for Christianity today is nothing other than a modern version of Baal worship, an idolatry that denies who God truly is and that exalts self. True believers will eschew this cold idolatry, desiring rather for God to “take away the dross from the silver” (Pro. 25:4) as He faithfully answers us by fire and prepares us for eternal fellowship with Him.

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