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QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
Q. Last time, we pursued the first of three areas evoked by BAPTISM. We touched covenant, sacrament and the poor in spirit.
Today, we take the second: BAPTISM OF FIRE.
This is sometimes used of a horrendous or testing experience, especially in battle. We however go back 2000 years or so, to consider what John the Baptist meant when he said THIS (Luke -17):
"I indeed baptise you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire."
Since Jesus Christ is the One to whom John pointed (John 1:29, where he stressed that He was the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world: an orb which, however, has been none to keen to profit, though many are cleansed within it), let us now hear what HE, the Lord, said on this (Luke 24:49):
send the promise of the Father upon you; but stay in the city of
Q: What is this baptism of fire, here?
A: It is the Holy Spirit, whose presence is in the hearts of those forgiven, repentant, restored, renewed in the image of God which had been fouled (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10).
Q: Why is it called fire?
1) it was symbolised by actual tongues of fire at Pentecost, when courage, power and conviction came in such a style to the apostles and others that their preaching arrested the city of Jerusalem, thousands were saved, miraculous confirmations continued in the stream of the earlier witness and work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
There it meant: cleansing, renewal, burning up of rubbish in one's life, moulding into a form of single-minded dedication, and being given power to do what had to be done in the grace and love, in the Spirit of the Lord; for the Lord IS that Spirit (II Corinthians 3:17): so that in reality He comes, being presented to our hearts.. Here was a work of sanctification (as in II Corinthians , where it is deeply inward, personal and developmental in godliness), mixed with direction, ambassadorial anointing and appointing, comfort, strengthening, warming, melding into the mind of Christ.
Of further interest for Pentecost is the fact that NOT ONLY were there tongues of fire, but a) they came from a common unitary origin of fire, and b) the diversification into tongues came to relate to the individual heads of those anointed - or, since it was fire, reached as appointed. This has an intimate relationship, as we shall see, to the vision of Ezekiel (recorded in Ch.1 of his prophecy).
2) Because, as you see from the earlier quotation from John the Baptist, fire is like a double-edged sword, if you will forgive what to some may appear a figurative atrocity, though others may realise that this is the whole point.
Firstly, it symbolises purity, removal of what contaminates or pollutes: intense unmitigated brilliance. This is part. Thus there is precision in purity, sharpness and acuity like laser, accuracy; and there is also power to deliver, like a surgeon, aseptically, with that sharpness.
Secondly, however, there is, equally, a warming, a heart-stirring and a wonder beyond oneself entirely, as in fire that is burning not from one's own hearth, or by one's own resources, but in some blazingly celestial might. The application as we have seen adds a personal aspect that related at Pentecost, to boldly fearless and extremely functional service.
Let us look at the former aspect: thus not only is there a meaning - power, holiness, commission, but there is a latent meaning, even here, also: JUDGMENT, burning of rubbish (cf. Hebrews , where serving God "with reverence and godly fear" is emphasised!). Let us put that all together.
On the one hand there is a
PURGING; on the other, a destruction in deserved judgment. At once, also, there
is wonderful enablement, and purification for better enablement. Without the
divine protection which is the deliverance of the Christian, the case is very
like one of cancer: get it out or it will get into you and YOU will be the one
to get out! Fire is fearful to what must burn, and trash is for the fire, no
greater trash than sin being available! When the home is safe however, how
wonderful that the fire burns the waste (Romans 8:32ff.).
It reminds us of Isaiah 6, of the episode when the coal of fire touched his lips!
Fire in the sense of intense, immense, dazzling purity is seen in the vision of Ezekiel accordingly (Ezekiel 1:4):
RAGING FIRE ENGULFING ITSELF, AND BRIGHTNESS WAS ALL AROUND IT AND RADIATING OUT OF ITS MIDST LIKE THE COLOUR OF AMBER, OUT THE MIDST OF THE FIRE .
Malachi in 3:2-3, refers to the coming of the Lord at judgment, in terms of a refiner's fire - Who, he asks, can abide the day of His coming? while Peter in I Peter 1:7 uses fire in terms of a test for the genuineness of faith now, and its purification ready for the celestial living.
Q: But what is this BAPTISM with fire?
A: First, it is linked to BAPTISM WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT, where we find this in Luke, as we saw. The sense of purification, power and commission is prominent, and so is the internal result of course. You find this from the EXTERNAL result seen at Pentecost (so TOTALLY different from what the so-called Pentecostals activate and illustrate) - that wonder time of rich and comprehended communication. It was there that the miracle, the sheer gift of many comprehensible languages came as a birthday present to the church of the New Testament in its life after the ascension of Christ.
In one sense, the rebuke to
For the time, then, at Pentecost: Instead of the babble of Babel, that judgment on earthly and worldly power and unity without God, which diversified language and split up the races: at the real Pentecost, there came power to speak so that the many nations represented in Jerusalem at that festival time, could be reached at once. Their own languages conveyed the sacred words of the pricelessly costly gospel to them.
In one sense, indeed, it was a procedural addition to Christ's once for all resurrection. Though the power behind it is always available to God's people (Ephesians ), its basis is one; and Pentecost ruptured a curse which the Christ can and does remove individually from His own, and from which the new heavens and the new earth will be free. Meantime, there is the test of history, as the love of Christ is filled up in labour and service of love, including translation and language work; while through the Gospel, in the setting of the word of God Himself, the work of Great Commission continues. In this, Christ in His "unsearchable riches" is so presented that even to "the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephesians 3:10-11).
But Pentecost, that free open day of grace, even in proclamation, in language: it was a mission in a nutshell, commission serviced by the spectacular, an illustration of what was to be done with more sacrifice on the part of missionaries and those who send them, when the time moved on, and the days grew longer, and nearer to the return of Jesus Christ. Yet in this wonder, there was wisdom too: the result was intimacy of language, the very one that had been the voice of one's youth. EACH heard in his OWN tongue!
Q: Is baptism by fire some matter of languages, then?
A: That was only one MANIFESTATION of it. In fact, it WAS an inward reality in the nearness to, communication with and love of Christ, in a sense that was objective, though invisibly spiritually communicated. It was readily understood by those who had been WITH HIM, in the flesh, and had gone out for him, either as 12 or as the 70 noted in Luke (Chs. 9 and 10), with HIS POWER then at their hand and heel, to their help. HIS PRESENCE (Matthew 28:18ff.), they had known in TWO ways already. This was a third, and closely related way. It was like communicating by radio, by letter, by E-mail. The mode differs, the communication is the same in the end. You KNOW THE PERSON by any of the modes, and RECOGNISE this same identity beyond all modes.
Q: Should all Christians expect or seek for a second experience after conversion, then, like Pentecost, or along those lines?
A: ALL Christians DO have experience of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is impossible to be born again (and if not, you neither enter into nor even see the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus told Nicodemus - John 3), without having the SPIRIT of God in your heart (Romans 8:8-9). This means that Christ is IN YOU (John 6:51ff.), as is the case when you EAT that flesh and DRINK that blood - that is, receive the Christ, like a sacrificial lamb.
They used to eat the lamb. Now we receive the Lord by faith - since He is in heaven (John 6:62-63, Acts -21), and accept His death as our ransom through a confident appropriation or taking of the same, to our hearts, for our foundation and resting place - (I Corinthians , Colossians 1:1-3). Col.1:22 tells us:
"And you who were at once time alienated, now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death".
Q: But is this some EXTRA, or extra special, supplementary or even primary experience?
A: Certainly not. Is the death of Christ to be supplemental? If you have Him at once through His Holy Spirit IN YOU, when you come to Him, what is going to SURPASS that? Something other than Christ may be tried, but this is no surpassing, but mere deception.
Q: But is conversion the be-all and end-all then?
A: No, it is truer to say this: that CHRIST IS THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL. The Father is going to gather all things together into one, IN CHRIST (Ephesians ).
Q: What then is all the talk about second blessings and the like?
A: Talk, in part; and confusion in part. It is bad arithmetic.
Q: Why is it this?
A: Because there is NO SUCH THING IN THE BIBLE. There is a matter of MANY REFRESHINGS (Acts ) - "seasons of refreshing" will be sent, said Peter. There is no such thing as 2. There is no SECOND blessing, in the sense of some special draft, far less necessary stage of sanctification or other spectacular, phase or feature.... let alone as if it were the first. ONCE YOU KNOW CHRIST, there is an awareness that it is HE, not some 'blessing' who matters.
You do not, when romancing, look for the second blessing from your beloved, but rejoice WHENEVER AND WHEREVER you may commune. The beloved does not change radically, once you are married. You develop, but you're the same, essentially.
Q: What then is the BAPTISM of the Spirit? After all, THAT is Biblical.
A: It is, and it is found in I Corinthians 12:13 that (speaking of Christians), we are ALL baptised by ONE Spirit into ONE body.
"For by one Spirit we are all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit" .
Paul goes on to develop the nature of this body, but as to the baptism, it is ONE, and it occurs ONCE, and this ONCE comes when you are BAPTISED into that one body. You do not become part of a body many times, but once. The integral completeness is released into the world ... once, and that? at your birth! Nor do you do not go on holidays - say in the part of an arm, to someone else's body, and return to your own from vacation... it doesn't work that way.
You are not born into the family of Christ many times, but ONCE. You are not born again MANY TIMES: ONLY ONCE. See I Peter 1:23, where he refers to us as HAVING BEEN BORN AGAIN, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible. As I John 3:9 puts it, the person born of God, this one has His seed remain in him. You do not cease, being given eternal life.
Q: So the baptism of the Spirit is inalienably associated with salvation, with conversion, with first coming into Christ, and that is precisely what it is?
A: Exactly. You may have many experiences in Christ and John 14:21-23 shows that He may manifest Himself to you, as He dwells in you, while Acts 2 shows that the old men will dream dreams and the young men shall have visions as the Spirit is POURED OUT, before that great and terrible day of judgment, while the gospel still pulses its wonder and the Lord still calls, saying TODAY. Indeed, Paul puts it like this (II Corinthians 6:2):
BEHOLD, NOW IS THE ACCEPTED TIME; BEHOLD, NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.
Q: It is confusion of terms then?
A: It is. There is ONE BAPTISM of the Spirit, but there are many experiences in the Lord, from the Lord, through the Lord, many refreshings, many chastenings, many guidings, many illuminations, many strengthenings with might in the inner man (Ephesians 1:17-19, 3:16), many deliverances, many commissions. It is the SAME LORD, and indeed it is THIS SAME JESUS WHO WILL COME AGAIN IN LIKE MANNER, JUST AS HE WENT (Acts 1:11).
There will of course be plenty of other claimants (II Corinthians 11, Matthew 24:24), sometimes as here perhaps, coming as experiences, or givers of experience, while people come toiling to "churches" to be manipulated whilst blasphemous words are spoken, attributed to the Lord, and wild things are done, as if they were His, and they become worked into a spiritual lather in seeking some special privilege or other. I have witnessed such a thing on tape at some kind of Pentecostal meeting. The human use of allegedly divine words which I there witnessed was a sort of spiritual atrocity (Revelation 22:17ff.).
Q: What then is the great result?
A: In fact, the GREAT REWARD IS CHRIST HIMSELF, who is One of unsearchable riches (Ephesians 3:8), and when you know Him, you do not need to be going about to find if someone has captured some experientially potent version, or edition, or publication of Him, to give to you, like a sort of existential edition of Romanism, at his or her say-so. It is good to worship God together in public worship, but it is far from good to imagine this creates Him, or His power or His favour to bless you.
God gives the Holy Spirit to those who OBEY HIM (Acts ). Selfish seeking as if you wanted MORE for yourself, and had to incite Him to loosen it from heaven, rather than concentrating on HIM, because HE is the centre, NOT YOU, this is the problem. It is often applied spiritual selfishness which can lead to confusion, deceit and heretical manipulation. To be filled with the Lord (Ephesians 5:8) is One thing. To seek, if you will, to arrest the petrol pump and "handle it" yourself": this is another!
By ALL MEANS seek the Lord, with your whole heart; but do not go seeking EXPERIENCE any more than you would, if you truly loved some one whom you married. The experience results from love, which shows itself in many ways - both the love and the experience. But if you need power for service, or grace to withstand evil, or wisdom to show His mercies, why then, this is good.
It is good, as in Acts 4, to come together to praise Him, and seek His enabling; but as to experience for its own sake, what is it that one loves: the Lord or the experience?
All this is misleading, and it will mislead. Be content in the Lord, and seek Him, HIM ONLY! THAT is what the Psalmist says (Psalm 62:1-6, 123:1-3, 73:25-26). THAT is what is soundly spiritual. You do not need that any man should teach you (I John ). Let others minister but for your part: "Test all things, hold fast to what is good" (I Thessalonians 5:2, I Timothy 1:5, II Timothy -14).
You are not DEPENDENT on human ministry, though it is properly edifying and the meeting together of the people of the Lord is commanded (Hebrews -25), and profitable and ministration such as preaching requires co-operation (Hebrews ). This is like a team. If the game is cricket, 40,000 umpires will not make it correct to put the wickets between the bowler and the batsman. Think about this! The apostles give that resounding NO! to "church power gone wild" when they told the priestly officials, "Work it out for yourselves whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than God!" (Acts ). Actually, to keep to the word order: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than God: judge for yourselves!"
Your life is not conditional on this specialised help, as He dwells in you already. You may on occasion have to act like that, and dissociate yourselves, indeed, from the vile abuses of truth men in clerical robes can demean themselves to perform, as others. IF you are HIS, HE lives in you - dwells in you.
BUT if He does not dwell in a person, then you can understand all this wild, seeking, this gross and sometimes outrageous impersonation and pretence about Him. It can quickly appear as a carnal substitute for spiritual peace.
Q: That brings up the whole point of commissioning FOR service. What about that?
A: Yes. You see that in Acts 3. They all waited upon the Lord and fasted and sought WHOM He would have them send out as missionaries. HE SHOWED THEM and doubtless as He did, signifying Paul and Barnabus, there was experience in that very action of the Lord. But was it the experience, delightful as it doubtless was, or the ANSWER that they sought? "Love does not seek its own", but in itself, there is beauty. One must learn to REST in His love, as you find in Zephaniah 3:17:
The Lord God in your midst, the Mighty One will save: He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.
Again in Psalm 131, you have this:
Surely I have calmed and quietened my soul, like a weaned child with his mother: Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
And in Psalm, 130:5- 7:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning -
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.
Let us serve one another, pray with one another, in small groups and in larger ones, let us seek to serve Him, to fulfil the Great Commission, let us be glad for His frequent coming near with blessing; but let us seek to be pure, to be sanctified, to be ready, to be serviceable, to be near Him, ready with action at His pleasure. There is love in deed and in word, in testimony and in obedience. WHO then is the one who loves Him? Christ said this: "If any one love Me, He will keep my word" (John ). CONSIDER THAT. You know yourself how pleasant it is when someone who seems to love you DOES the things that show it. Not that SHOW is the point, it is the reality which being there, acts accordingly, which is so pleasant (Psalm 133).
Love without action can be sentiment with sediment. Love in word only can be hypocrisy. But love that seeks ITS OBJECT, the ONE it loves and keeps constantly near, that is a love which SPEAKS FOR ITSELF.
THAT is a love which bespeaks a baptism in conversion, and a seeking and a blessedness! It is this, not experience per se, that is beautiful. Like happiness, experience is a result of right relationships, truth and reality. Seeking it for its own sake can readily become a selfish sink into which all manner of refuse can fall.
IF YOU LOVE ME, said Christ to Peter , FEED MY SHEEP (John 21)...
remember this: "IN ME IS YOUR FRUIT FOUND!" Do you remember from our
earlier session, where that those words are found?