Through the miracle of modern technology, I can dial up a beautiful wood fire in a lovely stone hearth, complete with crackling, glowing embers that even emanates gentle instrumental Christmas music. Best of all, my fire never dies down and never needs stoked. The catch? It’s streaming on my High Definition 4K television, and it’s completely fake.
On the one hand, staring into this fake fire is comforting and relaxing as I sip a steaming cup of morning coffee or tea. I can enjoy the good feelings a cozy wood fire evokes, without any of the inconveniences of a real fire – things like cutting, splitting or carrying wood or stoking the fire. And there’s no effort required to clean up. I simply press a button to turn it off.
So what’s the problem? First, it seems unlikely that, if I had not actually experienced a real fire, staring at images of one on a TV, even in 4K, would do much for me. It is only because I have enjoyed the benefits of a real fire crackling in an open fire place on a cold wintry day that I enjoy my fake TV fire. Also my fake fire is unable to perform any of the important functions of a real fire – like providing warmth, energy, or purification.
Our Christian walk can be like these two types of fire.
When we first come to know the Lord, or perhaps when we renew our commitment to Him, we enjoy the warm glow of His real presence and power in our lives. The fire of His Holy Spirit burns within us and we can’t wait to spend time with Him, to hear His voice and obey, and to share His cleansing truth with others.
But all too easily our initial fervour begins to fade. The required discipline to walk out our faith wanes. This often happens in conjunction with increased submission to our fleshly inclinations instead of to the promptings of His Spirit. Shortly, we find ourselves seeking the memory of what we once experienced by taking solace in a sad substitute - a sort of fake spiritual fervour through emotional stimulation and self-effort. Our relationship with the Lord becomes religion. Instead of experiencing genuine relationship with the living God, we settle for something that looks familiar and perhaps evokes past emotions we experienced when our heart was on fire for Him.
Our text today contains a key to keeping the real fire of the Holy Spirit alive and avoiding the fake fire of religiosity. We must willingly allow the fire of God’s cleansing and purification to regularly touch our lives. When we shy away from the painful process of death to our flesh – like the struggle it takes to maintain a real fire by cutting, splitting and carrying the wood and stoking the fire – we all too easily settle for the fake fire of religious ritual. It is in our ongoing obedience to the Spirit of God - which always leads to crucifixion of our fleshly desires - that we maintain the fervour and effect of the genuine fire of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives
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