The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. — Exodus 13:21–22

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came in the form of fire. That day—as the New Testament counter-part to the day that God’s presence filled the tabernacle in the desert (Ex 40)—was an era-defining moment in the Bible’s metanarrative of salvation.[1] In this moment, God’s normative presence in the world transferred from a building, to a people.

In the desert, God sealed the covenant with His people by filling the tabernacle with his fiery presence. Now, on the day of Pentecost in the New Testament, God seals his new covenant by filling the new tabernacle—Jesus’s disciples—with holy fire. As the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead rushed upon the disciples in power, they were united with Christ. Through this union, the disciples became integrated into the new temple that is the body of Christ. On this day, they likewise became an extension of the new creation that was launched in Jesus’s resurrection. On this day, those faithful to Jesus became the living testimony of the reign of Christ over the power of sin and death. Just as Jesus promised them (Acts 1:4, 8), by the Holy Spirit they are now the faithful, formed, and filled witnesses of the Good News.

The Holy Spirit, like fire (and like the Law in the Old Testament) illuminates. This is the primary point of comparison between fire and the Holy Spirit. We will also see in this chapter that both fire and the Holy Spirit purify, protect, and comfort God’s people.

Illumination

One of the fatal mechanisms of sin is that it likes to remain hidden. It hides in the dark. By hiding, sin keeps us convinced that there is nothing wrong with us. Sin makes sure that we stay in the habit of measuring ourselves (behavior, attitudes, and thoughts) against other people rather than against Jesus and the Word of God. First John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” It’s by grace-enabled invasion of the Holy Spirit in our lives that our eyes are opened to the fact that we’re sinners.

The Holy Spirit, in other words, convicts us of sin. The Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians,

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:17–24; italics added).

Paul points out here that behavior problems originate in the mind and in the heart. Paul describes the stark contrast between the empty minds of pagans, and Christians who have “learned,” “heard,” and were “taught.”  More specifically, when people act less than human, it’s their minds and hearts are darkened. The Holy Spirit brings light to darkened minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit, as the illuminating fire of God, reveals God’s will to us. We simply can’t live a holy life that conforms to the image of Jesus without knowing how God expects us to live. The Holy Spirit is the means through which we can know what God wants of us. The Holy Spirit is also the means through which we are empowered to live in such a way that conforms to God’s expectations for human thinking, and subsequently behavior.

Paul also points out in this passage that having a darkened mind is the same as being alienated from God. This is Paul’s way of saying what John says in 1 John 1:5–7:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaimed to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what it true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

In other words, being simply forgiven from sin without being filled with the Holy Spirit is undoubtedly less than God’s intentions for Christians. The issue isn’t about behavior as much as it is about the heart. At the same time, proof of a heart transformation manifests in our behaviors; but it all begins with the illuminating fire of the Holy Spirit.

They Are the Problem

Sin not only keeps us convinced that there’s nothing wrong with us, it also keeps us in habit of thinking that everything that’s wrong with the world is other people.

We have already mentioned the story of the exodus. For four hundred years the Israelites suffered as slaves in Egypt. According to the first two chapters of Exodus, Pharaoh was a particularly evil slave master. He not only made the Israelites suffer under the burden of impossibly difficult labor, but also murdered hundreds and even possibly thousands of Israelite babies. As far as the Israelites were concerned, getting rid of Pharaoh meant getting rid of all of their pain. He was the problem.

The story takes an interesting turn once the Israelites get out of Egypt and into the desert. It turns out that the Israelites’ problems do not go away once Pharaoh was out of their lives. In fact, things get worse after being freed from Egyptian slavery. Stubbornness, rebellion, betrayal, idolatry, ingratitude, murder; the ugliest of human behavior was unveiled in the desert. The desert wandering revealed that the same evil in Pharaoh resides within Israel as well. It’s not a him, or them problem, it’s a me problem. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes,

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? […] Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

All this to say, people are broken. We even have difficulty telling right from wrong. We need help. We need a counselor to tell us what to do, what not to do, and how to be. This is what the Holy Spirit does for us.

Sins of Commission and Omission

When people think of sin, they normally think of a list of things that they shouldn’t do, much like the Ten Commandments. Don’t make idols. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. Don’t work on the sabbath. Don’t murder, etc. The problem is that the Law can’t possibly account for every possible scenario. Nor can it transform the desires of our heart and attitudes. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit, like the Law, reveals to us the kinds of behaviors we need to avoid. Because of the sin nature, we don’t always intuitively know what we shouldn’t do. As humans, we have a proclivity for making idols, being vengeful, and constantly worrying about a stable future. Our carnal desires and broken pasts lead us to immediately gratifying, self-destructive behavior. The Holy Spirit helps us. He reveals to us the self-destructive behaviors that come natural to us for the sake of changing these ways of living. When we do what God tells us not to do, it’s a sin of commission.

The counterpart to sins of commission are sins of omission. A sin of omission is when we don’t do what God has told us to do. Don’t kill your neighbor is one thing. Love your neighbor is something altogether different. The Holy Spirit not only reveals what we shouldn’t do, but also what we should do. For example, in the Torah God instructs Israel not to harvest all of their grain at reaping time. God tells them to leave the edges of the field for the poor and the foreigner (Lev 23:22). Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus tells us, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). When we fail to do this, we sin.

One time, one of my Haitian friends asked me to preach his dad’s funeral. I immediately thought, no way. My friend’s dad was a famous voodoo witchdoctor in Port-au-Prince, the largest city of Haiti with a population of seven million people. Everything I learned about missiology told not to do this. I really didn’t know what to expect, what to preach, how to handle myself as a foreigner in this kind of context, along with a bunch of other things translating into my overwhelming under-preparedness to preach a witchdoctor’s funeral. On top of it all, it was bad timing. It was finals week at the school where I teach, we had visitors at our house, and an overbooked agenda.

Even though I didn’t want to do this, I told my friend I would pray about it. A few hours later, I started to pray. The first words out of my mouth were, “Lord, I can’t do this.” He responded immediately with, “I know, that’s why I want you to do it.” In more occasions that I can count, I’ve waited for hours, days, weeks, months, years for an answer to prayer. Not this time. This time He spoke immediately. With a number of other confirmations later that day, I came to a place where I was absolutely sure that God wanted me to preach the funeral.

Knowing what God was asking me to do, it would be been a sin for me not to do it.

Too often we have the tendency to think of salvation as being what God does for us (forgives us our sins). Salvation is more than this. Salvation is also what God does in us and through us. When we come to the point of really embracing that God’s plan is to rescue the world through us is when sins of omission really come into play. God has a mission both for the collective body of Christ, as well as for individual believers. This mission is not merely about not doing evil things. It is much more about doing what He’s asked us to do. Paul says to the Christmas in Rome:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Rom 12:9–18).

The Sin Nature: Standing Up In Our Hearts

There’s the story of a little boy sitting next to his dad in the pew at church on Sunday morning. The boy was fidgety. The service was running a bit longer than usual and he was ready to go. Eventually, the boy was standing in the pew.

“Sit down, son,” said dad.

The boy reluctantly sat down and crossed his arms angrily.

After about thirty seconds, the boy was twisting and shifting around in his seat again. Sure enough, before long, he was on his feet in the pew.

“Son, sit dow,” dad said with a firm voice. “We will be done soon.”

Giving his dad a look to kill, he sat again, arms crossed and brow scrunched.

Sure enough, just a bit later, the boy was standing in the pew for the third time.

“I said sit!,” said dad.

Compliantly, but angrily, the boy sat down.

After a few seconds, the boy looked up as his dad and said, “Hey dad.”

“Yes,” said dad with a sigh.

“You see I’m sitting down?”

“Yes, son.”

“Well in my heart I’m standing up.”

Our hearts have a rebellious bent. It’s our nature to oppose authority. We want to be our own boss. We want to decide for ourselves what’s good and what’s evil. We can too easily identify with the enemies of God and His messiah in Psalm 2:3 that say, “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” We just can’t help it. It not just what we do, it’s who we are. This is the sin nature. God has made humanity the crown of His creation (Heb. 2:7), and we’ve fallen into thinking that we’re the gods it.

In Ephesians 2:3, Paul says, “All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.” David says in Psalm 51:5, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” That sin is our nature is why we need reborn. We desperately need deep, deep healing. The very shape of our hearts needs to change. This is why Paul use the metaphor of the a circumcised heart to describe the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives (Rom. 2:29).

We do a lot of evangelism in Haïti. A lot of the time when people aren’t ready to become Christians, they have similar reasons as to why. One of the more common reasons that we get especially from men is that thy don’t want to become Christians because they are not ready to give us the passions of the flesh. They tell me, “I know I’ll just be frustrated because I can’t do what I want to do any longer!” This is the perfect chance for me to explain the full gospel to people. I explain that becoming a Christina isn’t just a change in behavior, but a transformation of our very desires. In Thomas Chalmers’s  phrase, coming to Jesus comes with “an expulsive power of a new affection.” This means that the Holy Spirit ignites inside of us a love for Jesus that entirely reorients our desires. I explain to folks that it’s not just about being forgiven and acting pious. It’s about being reborn.

Self-destructive desires masquerades as pleasantry. The golden rule of the Satanic Bible is “do what you want.” Behind this concept is the idea that if it feels good, tastes good, is pleasant in any way, then it must be natural; it must be right. This is what is at the heart of the Fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. The text says,

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate (Gen. 3:6).

Here, Eve sees that if it’s a delight, then it must be good. This is a lie. This is why we need the Holy Spirit and the Word of God working together to help us discern evil. Second Corinthians 11:14 says, “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” First John 4:1–6 reminds us that we have to test the spirts because they aren’t always as they appear. We need the Holy Spirit to illuminate us so as not to be deceived by the world, nor by ourselves.

New Age

Over the past half-decade or so the New Age movement has gained momentum in America.[2] Some of the more popular New Age gurus in popular culture include Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carrey, Deepok Chopra, and Eckhart Tolle. New Age, while it comes in many forms, is a melting pot of Eastern religions and philosophies stripped of religious rhetoric and often infused with contemporary psychological jargon.[3] It’s attractive to those who have a hunger for spiritual things but are disenfranchised with organized religion. New Age promotes the idea that the truth will set you free, and that the truth can be found inside of you.

New Age is particularly dangerous because many of its proponents teach that it’s in harmony with the teachings of the Bible. This is evidenced in the wave of books underlining the common ground teachings of New Age and Christianity. The so-called complimentary relationship between New Age and Christianity is further confirmed in a 2018 study conducted by Pew research which shows that nearly every American church-goer believes in some aspect of New Age. The study states:

New Age beliefs are common, even among Americans who are highly religious in traditional ways. For example, about three-in-ten Sunday Stalwarts believe in psychics, and a similar share say that spiritual energy can be located in physical objects such as mountains, trees and crystals. Smaller shares believe in reincarnation and astrology. Overall, half of Sunday Stalwarts and God-and-Country Believers and nearly all of the Diversely Devout affirm at least one of these four New Age beliefs.[4]

There is one thing that New Age has got right, and that is that the truth sets us free (John 8:32). It’s wrong about all the rest. In particular, the last place we find truth is inside of us. The deeper we peel away the layers of the human heart like and onion, the more perversion and corruption we will discover. Because of the sin nature, we deceive ourselves. We can convince ourselves that the worst thing in the world for us is the best thing for us. Furthermore, because of the rebellious, self-serving nature of the human ego, people will do anything to justify doing what they want. The truth is anywhere but inside of us. The deeper you look inside of yourself, the more rancid the corpse of the dead soul you will find. It is the stench of self-consuming cannibalism.

The Holy Spirit illuminates us to this very fact: that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). This means that the truth is outside of us. The Bible is the Truth. God is the Truth. When Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13), it reminds us that we need guidance when it comes to truth. We are lost on our own.

Emotions Can Be Deceptive

We also need the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit to show us which of our emotions are deceitful and sinful. Too often in contemporary Christian culture believers make their feelings synonymous with God’s will. “If it feels good, then it must be God’s will” is the mantra for too many people trying to discern the will of God. Our emotions can mislead us to self-destruction. In fact, much of the spiritual formation and sanctification process is allowing the Holy Spirit to redeem our emotions. The Holy Spirit can help us master our feelings. Dallas Willard writes,

Those who continue to be mastered by their feelings—whether it is anger, fear, sexual attraction, desire for food or for “looking good,” the residues of woundedness, or whatever—are typically persons who in their heart of hearts believe that their feelings must be satisfied. They have long chosen the strategy of selectively resisting their feelings instead of that of not having them—of simply changing or replacing them […] By contrast, the person who happily lets God be God does have a place to stand in dealing with feelings—even in extreme cases such as despair over loved ones or excruciating pain or voluptuous pleasure. They have the resources to do what they do not want to do and to do what they don’t want. They know and deeply accept the face that their feelings, of whatever kind, do not have to be fulfilled. They spend little time grieving over non-fulfillment (Willard, 2002).

Our initial way of thinking is that when we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, we get more of Him. As my good friend says, “That’s not the right way tho think about it. When we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, He gets more of us. This includes our emotions. 

The Holy Spirit Reveals the Character of God

As Matt Friedeman says, “The commands of God are a picture of who He is and a promise if what we can become” (Friedeman & Easley, 2013). For example, what does the prohibition of adultery tell us about God? It tells us that God is faithful. What about the prohibition of murder? It tells us that God loves and values life. And what about the positive commands? For example, God tells the Israelites to not harvest all the wheat in the field, but to leave some behind for the poor. This tells us that God is compassionate; that he cares about those who are marginalized and will make a means to take care of them.

The Holy Spirit is intended for us to not only reveal sin, but also to reveal the will and heart of God for Christians to internalize and embody. The interesting thing about this is that as the people of God conform to His moral Law, God’s image is revealed in the world. God’s commands makes it clear that He hates injustice. He hates injustice because all people are equal by virtue of being created in His image. As injustice pervades society, God is not glorified. When people hate people, lie, cheat, steal, murder, you name it, God’s plan for His glory to fill the creation is thwarted. When people adhere to God’s commands, they properly reflect God’s image into the creation. This is when He receives glory.

The Law and the Holy Spirit Reveal the People of God

Israel was to be a holy nation; a nation of priests. God’s people look different. They act different. They think different. They are holy like God is holy. By being filled with the Holy Spirit, they are witnesses to the self-giving character of God and the power of the resurrection of Jesus.

How do you know if someone is an orthodox Jew? Normally, you can identify an orthodox Jew by the way they dress, what they eat, their sacred day of rest, when they pray, and what kind of people they associate with. This is the case because the Law has very specific instructions about what God’s people are to wear and what they are to (and not to) eat. The laws detailed in the Torah pervade every aspect of Jewish life, from food, to clothes, to the way in which they tell time. But what is the purpose of all of these laws? These commands testify to the world who God is. When Israel obeys God’s laws, they look like him (not physically, of course, but in character and heart posture). When they are faithful, loving, kind, hospitable, honest, and just, it testifies to the character of God to the world around them. It’s only when God’s people obey his commands that onlookers are able to see who God is. This means that obedience to God’s law reveals God to the world through his people.

This is also true of the Holy Spirit, but in a different way. How can you tell a Christian from a non-Christian? Is it by what they wear, eat, or on what day they worship? This is the case in some cultures, but this isn’t always a sure way of determining if someone is a genuine disciple of Jesus. The only way to know if someone is obediently and lovingly following after Jesus is if their lives conform to the life of Jesus. If they love and forgive the way that Jesus did, then you can be sure that they are a Christian.

But how is the character of Christ manifest in the hearts of believers? Through the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus as the One True God to the world through the church, the same way that the Law was intended to reveal Israel’s God as the One True God to the world through Israel’s obedience to the Law. Without the Church, there is no testimony to the saving love of Jesus. The church’s obedience to Jesus through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit provides a witness to the goodness and righteousness of Jesus. In this way, the Law and the Holy Spirit are synonymous in that both work to testify to the character of God through the people of God.

How Will They Know? An Oily Beard

Psalm 133:1–2 is a strange couple of verses. It says,

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe.

What in the world does that mean!? The answer to this is connected to the reference above to the shining face of Moses in Exodus 34, and the explanation is wrapped up in the symbol of oil. Anointing oil symbolizes God’s presence, specifically God’s presence manifest in the Holy Spirit. Oil, like the Holy Spirit, has healing properties, it nourishes, it is fuel for fire (illumination). Oil was also used for beautification. Oil will make your face shiny, and a shiny face means the presence of God is with you.

This is what happened to Moses after talking with God face-to-face in the tabernacle. When he came out of the Tabernacle, his face shone. It was so shiny, in fact, that the people were afraid of him (Ex. 34:29)! In other words, if you have a shiny face, the world will know that you belong to God and that God is with you.

So, what does this have to do with Psalm 133:1–2? These verses are telling us that the single most effective testimony of the church is that the people genuinely love one another. When “brothers live together in harmony,” Israel (represented by Aaron in Psalm 133:2) is living in the fulness of their anointing. When people love one another selflessly, they look like the Trinity. This was the goal of the creation from the start, and this is how the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in the church is missional.

The New Testament affirms this over and over again. Jesus says in John 13:34, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Jesus is saying the same thing that Psalm 133:1–2 is saying: the church’s flagship testimony is their love for one another. John adds to this in 1 John 3:10 where he says, “The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.”

Our point is this, that the Holy Spirit reveals the people of God to the world. When God’s people obey Him, the world can see Him, and when the world can see Him through humanity, then He is glorified and His missionary purpose of the creation is fulfilled.

Cleansing

We see the Holy Spirit as an internally cleansing fire in the words of John the Baptist when he says, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7–8). The Holy Spirit not only illuminates sin, but also cleanses the life of sin. While the Law and the Holy Spirit have in common that they both reveal, there is one big difference between them. Once again, the Holy Spirit both reveals sin and empowers to overcome sin. The Law doesn’t accomplish this. The Law only shows where sin is. The Holy Spirit, however, reveals our sinful actions, attitudes, and thoughts so that He can cleanse us from them. In fact, the entire purpose of the revealing work of the Holy Spirit is to cleanse.

While the cleansing work of the Law is external, the cleansing work of the Spirit is internal. This is why Jesus calls the Pharisees whitewashed tombs. He says,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matt 23:27–28).

Jesus is pointing out that while they Pharisees attempt to obey the Law of Moses on every point, their thoughts, desires, attitudes, and very nature are still sinful. This underscores the point that internal cleansing is needed.

Comforting

Being aware of sin and receiving the gift of cleansing of sin brings comfort. The Holy Spirit, like fire, comforts. Isaiah 40 begins this way:

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins (Is 40:1–2).

This verse from Isaiah was originally written for the Israelites in exile. Their lives were shattered. Their identity as the people of God has been compromised, and their homes and temple had been destroyed. Everything that made them Jewish had been taken away. The most precious of all, the abiding presence of Yahweh in the temple, the earthly palace of God, has been desecrated. This came with a shame inexpressible in words. This was the embarrassment of all embarrassments. Israel was the be God’s special people who were set a part in the world—to enjoy the favor of God and carry the glory of His holy and sovereign name to the ends of the earth. Through their obedience to the life-giving Torah, their holiness would witness to the power of God to redeem the broken human existence. They failed. Now they find themselves confused and shattered living in an impure land among an impure people. They were dirty and ashamed.

It is to this context that God sends a message of comfort through His prophet Isaiah. Isaiah tells them to be comforted, because their sin is paid for. He furthermore tells them that the Lord has not forgotten them and that His presence will return to them. God has both the will and capacity to save them from exile. He will manifest His presence in their midst once again. This means that the purifying fire cleanses in order to prepare for the perennially abiding presence of Jesus. This message of hope during a time of despair and confusion brings comfort to God’s people.

In applying the saving work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit brings comfort to believers. This is a comfort which comes with the release from the shame and guilt of sin.

There is also comfort that comes with no longer wrestling with the Adamic nature. As the Holy Spirit empowers believers to overcome sin, they are released from the constant back-and-forth battle of carnal Christianity described in Romans 7. Because of the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, we no longer have to pull our hair out in frustration over the guilt of a wavering, mediocre life in Jesus. The Holy Spirit strengthens and firms up our faith. He fortifies us to be wholly committed to Jesus. He brings us to the place where the sinful pining of the flesh continually diminishes in the blazing fire of our fully devoted heart.

The divided heart is exhausting and frustrating. The guilt that comes with having a divided heart plants a seed of angst in us that is a constant draw on our spiritual strength and energy. The Holy Spirit can take us to the place where we have the courage and fortitude to say, “NO!” to sin and to the divided heart. He instills in us the courage and faith of Jesus that is required to be fully committed to the will and work of the Father. Comfort comes with the resolve of being utterly abandoned to Jesus.

In Mark 14:54, Peter warms himself by the fire while denying Jesus. This little detail of the story is telling. It demonstrates that that betraying Jesus has left Peter cold. His faithfulness to his master once kept him warm, but now, he needs to find warmth elsewhere.

Acts 9:31 tells us that the Holy Spirit comforted the early church even though they suffered much persecution. The text says, “Meanwhile, the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”

The Holy Spirit as fire comforts believers as the warmth of the fire brings comfort to the cold. Being separated from God is like being left in the cold. Because of the Holy Spirit, Christians do not have to be left to the isolated, below-freezing temperatures of worry and anxiety. The Holy Spirit warms the hearts of those in Christ with the Word and presence of God. There is a sense of deep comfort and satisfaction that comes with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Protecting

The Holy Spirit as fire, by illuminating God’s people to how to live according to the will of God, simultaneously protects God’s people from danger (Ps. 27:1; 119:105; Prov. 2:11; 2 Thess. 3:3). As Jesus says in John 8:32, “And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free,” knowing the truth by the illuminating help of the Holy Spirit protects believers from the threatening lies of the world. Ultimately, lies destroy. To be free from lies is the be free from destruction and degeneration. Knowing the truth protects us. Jesus says in John 17:17, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” How do we know the truth? —by the Holy Spirit.

One of the largest fortresses in the Americas—the Citadelle Laferrière—is about twenty miles from where I live in Haiti. It sits on the top of one of the tallest mountain in the northern region of Haiti. The view from the top is breathtaking. Everything is visible as far as the eye can see. Henri Christophe, the king who commissioned it to be built, did so to defend against the possibility of the French returning to the island after the revolution. To make for an optimal defense, King Christophe wanted his fortress built on the highest mountain for best visibility. The further he could see, the safer he was.

The Holy Spirit is the Christian’s Citadelle. He helps us see threats. His illuminating work makes the enemy visible. The crafty serpent is dangerous because he’s both smart and invisible. As a serpent, he Is easily camouflaged. The Holy Spirit, by illuminating our hearts to spiritual intelligence and illuminating the Word of God for our understanding, protects us. He illuminates the poisonous lies that are hidden in our hearts. He is a light shining in the darkness and chases away the threat of the unknown.

One of my good friends works in addiction ministry. He himself is a recovered addict. He says that addiction, like all sin, thrives in secret. It loves the dark. He contends that the most affective way of killing the power of addiction is to drag it into the light. And, yes, sin must be dragged into the light. It doesn’t go willingly. Once the light hits it, it loses its power (John 1:5). 

Conclusion

The Holy Spirit as fire:

  • Illuminates sin, the character of God, and the people of God to the world;
  • Internally cleanses the hearts of believers;
  • Comforts believers through the alleviation of sin guilt and the satisfaction of God-glorifying obedience;
  • Protects believers from lethal deception.

Finally, the Holy Spirit as fire on the day of Pentecost is the fulfillment of God’s promises to pour out His spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28), thereby making the Church His new temple. The Holy Spirit unifies believers with the resurrected Christ who is the firstborn and head of the new creation (Col. 1:15).


[1] See Chapter 2.

[2] Pew research shows that New Agers are typically 18–45, white middle-class with at least some college education.

[3] The primary philosophies making up New Age are Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

[4] http://www.pewforum.org/2018/08/29/the-religious-typology/. This Accessed December 31, 2018.


Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary

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