The Baptism of Fire
By Mary Kroeger
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire; Whose fan is in his hand, and He will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12)
God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ's coming! Although the Jews were waiting for God to fulfill the many promises in regard to sending them a Messiah, they were not ready to receive Him! Why? Because their mental image of a Messiah needed correction. They were expecting a Messiah who would rid them of all their enemies and establish His kingdom on planet earth with Jerusalem as its capital (just like many Christians are today). Their wrong ideas had become their truth! They were firmly entrenched in them! They were immersed in the expectation and hope of a Messiah who would free them of the domination of Rome and establish a physical kingdom. They gloried in this hope!
If you have ever tried to change the traditional thinking of a church or organization, you will understand how difficult this task is! Many of us have experienced how difficult it was for us to leave the teaching we received from childhood - the ideas that we accepted as truth and formed the foundation of our faith. So we can understand that this was a very difficult task!
As John preached in the vicinity of the Jordan River, he never mentioned winning battles over foreign enemies. Instead, John preached repentance, and it requires a change of mind! He contrasted his baptism of repentance with the Messiah's greater baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire! What did that mean?
To receive John's message, the Jewish hierarchy in particular, would have to examine its traditional thinking, and be ready to leave its preconceived ideas before it could accept John's message! To really understand this difficulty, we ask ourselves and our church leaders, whether we are we willing to examine our religious traditions and beliefs in the light that Christ is, and leave all that is not the reality? What would it take to make us willing to change our thinking? As we meditate on this, we begin to understand what Jesus meant when He said that we have to leave all to follow Him!
Repentance involves a change in our thought life. To receive new understanding we have to repent of our old ideas. For example, the people who believed that the earth was flat, had to repent of that thinking in order to accept the truth that it actually is round. When lies have become our truth, it is very difficult to leave them!
John the Baptist had this difficult job of getting people to see that they had to repent of their wrong beliefs and receive their Messiah as the One who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire! What would this baptism be like? Are these two baptisms or does the baptism with the Holy Spirit include the baptism with fire? What is the purpose or goal of this baptism? To be baptized with the Holy Spirit sounds great, but fire does not sound inviting!
The answer to these questions came later - after Christ's crucifixion, resurrection and 10 days after His ascension. In Acts 2 we read that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers as 'cloven or divided' tongues of fire. This tells us that it is one baptism with a dual purpose. Our physical tongue is an unruly organ that speaks good things and bad things. It needs to come under the direction and control of the Holy Spirit as one tongue. To achieve this, the consuming fire of God is needed.
Fire! Fire is very useful and needed in daily living, but when out of control, it brings a lot of destruction. God is a consuming fire, but His fire is never out of control! It is a cleansing and purifying fire! It will always accomplish the purpose for which it was sent, for it is an unquenchable fire! It cannot be quenched or put out until it has accomplished its purpose!
Fire brings us a two-fold revelation. It reveals what can be destroyed by fire, as well as what cannot be destroyed. It brings a division between the gold and all that is not gold! When gold nuggets are first put into the smelter they look very unattractive. After they have been subjected to a high temperature, all that is not gold has melted away, a revelation of the beauty of gold has come! Do we begin to see the need for the baptism with fire?
A rock that does not contain gold, will not be made to look like gold when it is subjected to heat. In the same way, we first have to be in Christ before we can be purified. The natural man cannot be purified. He can be dressed in good works and outward beauty, but these things do not change his core being; he remains in Adam! Before God's consuming fire is applied to our lives, we need to be in Christ (the truth). At the beginning of our journey we rejoice in our salvation, and we do not realize that a lot of our old thinking still needs to be destroyed. Only the Holy Spirit can lead us into all truth! We need to see the difference between knowing about Christ, and experiencing His life in us. All our wrong ideas and thoughts about God and about ourselves have to be done away with. We have to die to all self-effort, and recognize that only the Holy Spirit can empower us to be His witnesses! This is more than witnessing about Him. It means that the very life of Christ will be witnessed in us! The work of the Holy Spirit is to change us into the very image of Christ! What a high calling is ours in Christ!
In order to accomplish this, the consuming fire of the Holy Spirit is needed! It has to consume everything that would hide the image of the Christ in us! It is a cleansing and purifying fire that transforms us, and the beauty of Christ becomes evident in us.
Although the fire is needed, being in the fire is not a pleasant experience! Even as there was another Being with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they were thrown into the fiery furnace, so the Holy Spirit is with us when we are facing our difficulties and trials! We need both, the baptism with the Holy Spirit, as well as the baptism with fire in order to be transformed into His likeness! We tend to focus on the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and forget about the goal of this baptism. It is to grow us up into the exact image of Christ! Everything that is not Christ, has to be separated from us!
John the Baptist explained the meaning by comparing it to something they were well acquainted with. He said, "The fan is in His hand." A fan blows air and creates a wind. The objective of the fan on the threshing floor is to separate the chaff from the wheat. The wheat is then put into the barn, and the chaff is burned.
What does the chaff typify? It symbolizes all that was needed to bring the grain of wheat to maturity. After the grain of wheat is planted, it needs to die in order that the life that is in the grain can burst forth. As the plant grows, it does not resemble the wheat that was planted. For it to mature, it needs roots, stems and leaves to receive nourishment, the warmth of the sun, the moisture of rain, as well as the winds of adversity. Once the grain reaches maturity (when it looks like the grain that was planted), it needs to be separated from all it needed in its growth to maturity. Without this separation, the grain cannot fulfill its purpose.
What do we need to mature spiritually? We need to feed on the bread of life (truth), drink of the very sense of Christ's sense of being, and overcome our winds of adversity. This occurs as we live out of the resurrection life of the Christ within us!
In symbolism John is telling us that the baptism in the Holy Spirit together with its fire, will purify us. It will bring a separation between the truth and the lies that were dressed as truth. In maturity, the experiences that were needed in order to mature us, are no longer needed. All the false ideas we had about who we are and who God is, had to be thrown out and burned by a fire that will not die until it has burned everything that is burnable!
The cleansing ability of fire is illustrated for us in Isaiah 6. There Isaiah received a wonderful vision of the Lord! He was high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple! The seraphim were there, and God was glorified in song! In the midst of this glory, Isaiah recognized that he was a man of unclean lips. He was not worthy of being a spectator of this glory, and he thought he would have to die. But one of the seraphim came to his rescue. It took a burning live coal from the altar and touched his lips with it, and his iniquity was taken away! The burning coal represents the fire of God! God’s fire is a cleansing fire! It is not a punishment; it is the tool God uses to cleanse us so we can be changed into the image of Christ!
Very often we think that all good things come from God and all bad things come from the devil. We know that God only does good things, and adversity does not feel good, so we blame it on the devil. How did evil come into existence? Since God created all things, there cannot be an exception!
Listen to what Isaiah says in chapter 54:16-17. “'Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and brings out a weapon for its work; and I have created the destroyer to ruin (to destroy). No weapon that is formed against you will prosper. And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me,’ declares the Lord.”
We may be surprised to learn that God declares that He Himself has CREATED the smith who fashions the weapons to do their work of destruction! Since God only does good things, He must have a good purpose for these weapons. We see this illustrated in the life of Job, Joseph, Jesus, and many others. God got Satan interested in persecuting Job, the most righteous man at that time, and God also established the boundaries! The purpose for all the suffering Job had to endure, was to bring him into a living relationship with God and to bless him in the end!
We also see this illustrated in the life of Joseph! Joseph loved God, and God spoke to him in dreams. Then adversity struck! His brothers sold him into slavery, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him, and he was put into prison. Throughout his imprisonment, he kept his focus on the Lord, believed what God had revealed to him, and grew in faith! His ability to interpret dreams got him out of prison, and he became second in command next to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. Later, when he was reunited with his brothers he said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good!” He realized that God ordered both the good and the evil in his life, and that God had a good purpose for the evil!
Jesus, the perfect Son of Man, had to endure rejection, pain and torture! Isaiah 52:14 says, "...His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness ..." The devil did his best to get Him to sin, but failed miserably! Did God have a good purpose for this? Of course! Because of Christ's obedience He is now the Savior of the world! All power and authority have been given to Him! Before He was crucified, He said that we should be of good cheer because He had overcome the world! The world He had to overcome lay in the taunts of his brothers, the unbelief and antagonism of the Jewish religious hierarchy, in the lies and false accusations He had to endure, and finally the horrors of crucifixion!
Was all this in God’s plan? Could Christ have not died a less painful death? No, He could not! If God had not allowed the devil to do his very best to get Jesus to sin, the devil would have claimed that it was an unfair victory, for he had not been allowed to do his utmost to get Christ to sin. Now Christ’s victory is complete! He has taken away the sin of the whole world!
In Christ we are a new creation, born of an incorruptible seed! Just as babies need good food, exercise, teaching, experiences, failures and correction in order to mature, so we also need all these in the spiritual realm! For this to materialize, we need our Pentecost experience with its baptism of fire! Without it we will not grow into maturity. Its goal is to bring us into the experience of becoming who we are in Christ!
The Holy Spirit descended on Christ in the gentleness of a dove, but on the believers as tongues of fire, for the consuming fire of God still had work to do in them. However, Christ was already perfect for God said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased!” In spite of this fact, Jesus still had to go through the fire! Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered! He had to go through the fire to prove that nothing could get Him to sin! Nothing could stop Him from loving His enemies! Nothing could stop Him from doing what the Father showed Him to do! Nothing could cause Him to lose His faith in God! He proved the value of Obedience to the will of God! The fire of God proved the purity of the very essence of His being!
We don't enjoy the fire and would rather blame others or circumstances than admit we need it to learn that nothing can separate us from the love of God! We are in God’s hand, and everything that comes our way is from Him! God is in charge of every circumstance in our life, and absolutely nothing can separate us from His love! "And we know that God causes all things (and “all things” includes the things we don’t want to experience), to work for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!" (Rom. 8:28)
God has given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to do His will, to overcome our weaknesses, to interpret our prayers according to the will of God, and to intercede for us according to the will of God!
God gives the victory in the midst of the fire, so we can come forth as pure gold! As Paul wrote, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38,39 )
It’s so wonderful to know that God is for us at all times, and that nothing can separate us from His love! So we know that the difficulties are there to show us the areas in our life that need to be burned away, as well as to show us the areas in which we have grown! These trials and hardships are needed in order to grow in faith! God’s goal for us is to be changed into the very image of Christ! Therefore all the chaff needs to be separated from who we truly are! It is the love of God in Christ who commandeers and orders our lives to achieve His purpose for us! Therefore we can trust Him in every situation! Praise to His wonderful name!