When we say ‘God is a consuming fire’, does it mean that God will burn away our confusion and fear?
In trying times, like in this pandemic season, it is understandable that many believers need comfort and encouragement. In this respect, “Grace for Purpose”, a motivational Christian portal with its own Youtube channel, is highly relevant and often meets their needs.
But one of its videos on prayer has some serious issues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8mrfq6SNIU
The video clip at 9.05 minute states that ‘God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12: 29), meaning that He is powerful and holy. That is true. I agree with it.
However, it goes on to say this means God will burn away the confusion and fear in our lives. This is not what this verse, Hebrews 12: 29, says.
To understand the ‘God is a consuming fire’ verse better, we have to view it in its proper context—from the passage where it was taken:
“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
(Hebrews 12: 25-29).
But, alas, this is what you would expect from a site called “Grace for Purpose” that twists God’s word (in this case Hebrews 12:29) to offer a soft, ear-tickling brand of Christianity that treats God as our servant who exists to serve us. Undoubtedly, this type of ‘seeker sensitive’ message of God’s favour and blessing attracts many. It does not spell out what we need to do if we have sinned and need to repent. It downplays God’s holiness and judgment while it elevates His grace, love and mercy, much to the delight of many believers.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
So what is the correct interpretation of ‘God is a consuming fire’?
Fire is a metaphor for God’s anger and righteous judgment on humanity.
In Deuteronomy 4:24, we read about God’s intolerance of false gods (idols): “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” He won’t tolerate rivals who compete for man’s worship and allegiance.
In the New Testament, the concept of fire being linked to judgment is seen in John chapter 15. Christ warned that believers (branches) who fail to abide in Him (Vine) will be burned—that is come under judgment: "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned" (John 15:6).
What does abide in Christ mean? Put simply, it means to obey His commandments: "Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us" (1 John 3:24).
Furthermore, “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
Juxtaposing these three verses (John 15:6, 1 John 3:24 and John 3:36), we come to the conclusion that if we fail to abide in Christ—willfully choose to disobey His commandments—we will be burnt (face God’s judgment).
In conclusion, ‘God is a consuming fire’ does not mean that He will burn away believers’ fear and confusion—a promise—as this “Grace for Purpose” video seems to suggest.
On the contrary, ‘God is a consuming fire’ is a serious warning against falling away. If believers reject or disobey God, they will face His wrath and judgment; they will be burnt as that is what fire does best. The righteous judgment of God is not something to be trifled with. In fact, the main theme of Hebrews is this: Warning new believers against apostasy.
In trying times, like in this pandemic season, it is understandable that many believers need comfort and encouragement. In this respect, sites like “Grace for Purpose” excels and often meets their needs.
However, “Grace for Purpose” should not stoop to the level where it twists scriptures, throws out basic rules of exegesis, treats God like a servant and turns a grave warning into a soothing promise. That would mean turning the gospel into sanctified, motivational messages.
The gospel is not merely about encouragement and motivation but also about self-discipline, correction, rebuke and self-denial:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
This passage in Hebrews chapter 12 above is based on Exodus chapter 19 when God came down to Mount Sinai while Moses went up the mountain to meet Him in order to receive the Ten Commandments. The warning God issued to Moses is not to let the priests and people to come up the mountain for God is holy and they will be consumed by fire. God is holy and man is sinful. If they attempt to approach God, without being sanctified, they will be consumed in His presence. For God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12: 29).
THE DIVINE MAKEOVER
Harbouring an image of God that is attractive and agreeable has its dangers.
Love and mercy are important attributes of God. He is slow to anger, quick to forgive and chose us while we were yet sinners. He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.
But He is also a God of justice and righteousness. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14). He is also a Holy God, a consuming fire, to be feared and revered (Hebrews 12:29).
EIGHT KEY TENETS OF HYPER-GRACE DOCTRINE REFUTED
When red flags go up at popular beaches, it means there are dangerous undercurrents that endanger lives. Stay out of harm’s way. Similarly, in the spiritual realm, we need to raise red flags whenever there are dangerous false teachings so that impressionable believers will not be entrapped.
GRACE AND TRUTH
Half-truth: The Law came through Moses but grace came through Jesus.
Whole truth: The Law came through Moses but grace AND truth came through Jesus.
GRACE AND LAW
Have God’s moral laws become irrelevant for believers saved by grace? Does grace do away with the Law?