God is a consuming fire. That phrase can set off alarms (no pun intended).
When we hear or read that God is a “consuming fire,” we have varied emotional responses. Some react with fear, anxious that this refers to God’s judgment. Others react with excitement, believing it refers to His power and protection. Both can be true. However, as followers of Jesus, we don’t need to be anxious or fearful. What do I mean?
What Does the Bible Mean When it Calls God a Consuming Fire?
Remember, God uses many images from creation to help us understand aspects of who He is. Living Water. The Vine. Our Rock. Light of the World. Lion of Judah. Lamb of God. God wants to be known and has made Himself known to us through what He has created, through His Word, through His prophets, and finally, through Jesus Christ. His love for us is so relentless, He surrounds us with ways to know Him.
I grew up in a household with a healthy respect for fire. My father was a firefighter and then fire chief—a career spanning 65 years. I’ve seen training videos of fire when it’s out of control. Some of you have witnessed that firsthand.
A raging fire can sound like a living, breathing beast. Nothing can stand in its way. It devours everything in its path. Sometimes, especially out west, the only way to fight fire is with fire. That’s how powerful fire is. Relentless. Consuming. Awesome.
Still, many of us enjoy campfires. Firelight is compelling, comforting, and beautiful. Fire in the night can keep us safe, guide us home, and bring us together. Firelight brings out the storyteller in us. We can cook over a fire, and it can keep us warm. Firelight can signal that we aren’t alone or rally support when there is danger.
But we always remember to respect fire. We probably try to teach younger humans to respect fire. The rules we teach them about fire safety aren’t there because we love rules. The rules are in place because of the nature of fire. Fire doesn’t change its nature just because we ignore or get lazy with our respect for it. Fire is fire.
Likewise, God, by His nature, is raw power. God is spirit. He is a force, a light, a consuming fire, and He doesn’t change His nature just because people ignore Him, refuse to respect Him, or even deny His existence.
Fire is beautiful, useful, essential, mesmerizing, and necessary for life. So is God. Fire can also be overwhelming, fierce, and a powerful force against whatever tries to get in its way. So can God.
Where Does the Bible Refer to God as a Consuming Fire?
In Exodus 3, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. The bush was aflame, but the fire did not consume it (Exodus 3:2). In Exodus 13, God led the Israelites through the wilderness in a “pillar of fire” by night. Likewise, when the Holy Spirit arrived in the upper room at Pentecost, there came a sound like a mighty rushing wind, “and divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them” (Acts 2:3 ESV).
There was no mention of the room’s occupants being burned or consumed by the arrival of the Holy Spirit “as of fire.” Moses wasn’t injured, and no one was harmed by the pillar of fire. Remember that God controls His interactions with us. In Christ, we have nothing to fear.
There are specific mentions of God as a consuming fire in Scripture (all quotes from the ESV):
“Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24)
“Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.” (Deuteronomy 9:3)
“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: “Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?” He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil.” (Isaiah 33:14-15)
“He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.” (Jeremiah 2:3)
“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 12:28-29)
What Do These Passages Reveal about God’s Consuming Fire?
From the context of these verses, we can understand a few aspects of God’s consuming fire.
First, it is intended to keep the focus of our worship on God, the only One worthy of our worship and obedience. God designed us for worship, but Satan creates counterfeit opportunities to entice us into worshiping worthless idols. Sin tempts us to worship ourselves. God’s fire is like a fierce boundary reminding us to keep our eyes on Him alone. While this fire can be unsettling, the true danger lies in wandering from God.
Second, the enemies of God are consumed by His fire. He went before Israel to battle enemies; likewise, His fire now defends us against all spiritual enemies. He is our Protector and Deliverer. He roars with fire to consume those who would lead His people astray or harm them.
Third, some can dwell with the consuming fire, according to Isaiah. These people walk in righteousness. Walking in righteousness doesn’t mean living perfectly but surrendering our lives to Jesus, who gives us His righteousness. Therefore, we have nothing to fear. My father spent his life studying fire. He understood and respected it, but he wasn’t afraid.
Fourth, there is a refining aspect to God’s fire. God disciplined the Israelites when they persisted in their idolatry and sin. We can feel the fire of His corrective action in our lives but remember, He knows just what we can bear. It was lamentable as Jeremiah faced the discipline of God’s anger toward Israel. Still, in the NKJV, he does write, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22). Followers of God are refined by His fire but not consumed.
Finally, the consuming nature of God’s fire should move our hearts toward gratitude for Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross, His resurrection, and the gift of His Holy Spirit. We are not consumed. It should also motivate us to represent Him well and take every opportunity to share the gospel with those who don’t know Him.
Who is Consumed by God’s Fire?
There are instances in God’s Word where the enemies of God (such as the prophets of Baal in their showdown with Elijah) were consumed by fire (1 Kings 18:20-40).
At other times disobedient or rebellious people among the Israelites were consumed by God’s fire. Aaron’s sons were destroyed by fire when they disobeyed and offered a “strange fire” in the Tabernacle, displaying extreme disregard for God’s holiness (Leviticus 10:1-2). Fire consumed some who rebelled in the wilderness (Numbers 16).
Revelation describes a time following Jesus’ second coming where Satan and the enemies of God are destroyed in the lake of fire and sulfur, along with Death and Hades. Then in Revelation 20:15, we learn of the end of those whose names are not written in the book of life, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Jesus died so that we might live and avoid becoming subject to this consuming fire. All who call on the name of Jesus are saved. Conversely, some will refuse to accept the truth of the gospel for themselves. Jesus is clear about what awaits them, and all Scripture points toward Jesus as the One who saves us from the fire.
Does God’s Fire Mean He’s Not Loving?
When we knock on our family home door, even if it is the middle of the night and we are not expected, we would expect a loving, healthy father to let us in.
If we are in a drunken state or under the influence of drugs, running from the law, or looking for a fight with our father, we can expect to be greeted with a measure of his fiery anger. Even then, though, with a loving, healthy father, we would know we are safe as we endure correction.
If an enemy pounds at the door or a violent person intent on harming our family forces entry, we may witness a greater fire from our loving, healthy father aimed at this intruder than we’ve ever seen before. Our father may even seem frightening to us as he defends us, but the fire is fueled by love for those of us He protects.
This is the nature of God’s holy and consuming fire. It is fueled by love because He is love.
Just as we hate anything that destroys our children, God hates what destroys His. He created us to be in relationship with Him and to enjoy His love, but Satan, sin, and evil engage in lies, deception, and all manner of evil to draw us away. God’s holiness burns with a consuming fire for our good.
Should We Fear God’s Consuming Fire?
If we are in relationship with Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear from God’s consuming fire.
When Daniel’s three friends were thrown into the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, the furnace was so hot it killed the men who threw them in. But when the king looked into the furnace, he announced, “‘Look!’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God’” (Daniel 3:25 ESV).
When they were released, onlookers “saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them” (Daniel 3:27 ESV).
Jesus Christ walks with us through any fire we face on earth and delivers us from the fire that is the destination of Satan, Death, Hades, and all those whose names are not written in the book of life.
If we do not know Jesus or even live in defiance of Him, then yes, fear would be an appropriate reaction. God is a consuming fire.
But He offers salvation to all who call on the name of Jesus.
As Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 ESV).
Our God is powerful and beautiful. In Christ, we are welcomed to His light.
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Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a blogger, speaker, coach, and disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored four encouraging, unsettling books including Running from a Crazy Man and The Art of Hard Conversations. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com.
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