Have you ever noticed how many great and highly visible ministries that men have built up and that seemed to have been blessed by the Lord have shriveled up and come to naught? Or have you noticed that since you committed your life to Christ things have got more difficult, not easier? I am sure that all too many Christians blame the devil for this, but is that the case?
Jesus said, “Every plant that my Father has not planted shall be rooted up.” He also told His disciples that “the flesh profits nothing.” How much of what we do as Christians is a product of our own human industry and wills? We come into our Christian walk but still have all our worldly goals, pursuits and giftings with us. In effect, we put Jesus in our bag of supplies that we think will get us where we want to go and help us get there. Then we wonder why He kicks a hole in the bottom of our bag and our treasures start falling out!
Some of us have a natural ability to draw a crowd with our speaking or writing skills and then we set out to build an organization and a marketing scheme around them–all “for the glory of God,” of course. That’s the American way to become prosperous, is it not? And everyone knows that Jesus is an American. At least it seems that way because the world has embraced an Americanized version of the gospel that preaches, “Jesus suffered so that we don’t have to. We are the King’s kids and we should live like princes and enjoy the fat of the land. The heathen have stored up their wealth for us to inherit! ” It all sounds so smooth and so good, doesn’t it? We can have the best of both worlds. This is the “gospel” that draws the self-serving crowds and fills mega-churches, but is it the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Jesus preached a gospel that crucifies the carnal desires of the flesh if we dare to yield to Him and follow His Spirit. Jesus said, “If any man would be my disciple let him take up his cross (not his BMW) and follow me.” Jesus preached a gospel that was meant to divide. Think about it. One man that heard Him said, “Let me first go bury my father.” To this one He said, “Let the dead bury the dead; you follow me.” To another who was rich He said, “Give all that you have to the poor (not the prosperity preacher) that you might have riches in heaven, then come and follow me.” That man turned away because the “deceitfulness of riches” had him. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.
John the Baptist gave us a hint of the nature of the gospel of the Kingdom of God as he prophesied about the coming Christ.
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:10-12, rsv)
I grew up in a wheat farming area, the famed Palouse Country of the northwestern United States. When wheat comes to a head and is ready to be gathered into the granaries, the farmers use combines to first cut down the stalks of wheat and then to separate the wheat kernels from the stalks and the chaff (the husks around the grain). The chaff is discarded with the stalks and stubble and the wheat is saved. They only want the wheat kernels themselves. The rest goes out the back of the machine and often the farmers burn the stubble and chaff in their fields when the harvest is over. Fire is good for the grains and natural grasses. It shocks the grasses and brings new life, but it kills the weeds and their seeds. It is part of God’s natural design.
For years I have pondered this baptism of fire that John prophesied, and felt that it is not the same as the baptism of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. I was reading a writing by T. Austin-Sparks that confirmed my suspicions. The Spirit comes into a person and He both anoints for service and He purifies the servant. Jesus said,
“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened [constrained] till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:49-50).
It was the fire of unerring and avoidable discrimination. Fire always finds things out. As it creeps and encroaches and overtakes, it makes one discrimination between things that it can devour and things over which it has no power. It puts them into those categories; the finding out, the classifying, the deciding. Look at the context, Luke 12:51 – “Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.” He goes on – “There shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law…” – discriminating, setting things in the category to which they belong.
One category is that which can go on and abide and endure because it is of God. The other will be licked up by the fire, and simply pass out of existence. “The fire shall try every man’s work“, said Paul (1 Cor. 3:13). The fire of unavoidable and unerring discrimination [It classifies our works into wood, hay and stubble or gold, silver and precious stones]. That has ever been the effect of a work of the Holy Spirit; to put us into the place to which we belong. It is a kind of dividing thing all the time. Are you for or are you against? Are you with or are you not with the Lord? Are you going on with the Lord, or are you not going on with the Lord? The Holy Spirit is pursuing that course all the time to find us out and to just classify us like this, so that when the Holy Spirit has worked we are in definite categories. Division has come, and it is unavoidable.
It is no use, dear friends, our trying to avoid this. You see, here is a terrible statement. “I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34), dividing even families and households. You cannot avoid it; it is no use trying to. If you are going on with the Lord, this sort of thing is going to happen, and in the world it is going to become perfectly clear and pronounced where we are. It is of no use just trying to keep and avoid, you have got to yield to the work of the Spirit, and it is costly in your own home with the clear division on the ground of whether the Lord is having His way or not – clear division in the family anywhere, everywhere – you just cannot avoid it…*
We are first filled with the Spirit of God when we believe in Christ, but then the real work of God in our lives begins, the work of destroying our souls’ power over our freshly enlivened spirits (see Hebrews 4:12). Everything of our old soul natures that the New Testament calls our “flesh” has to go. Our flesh once controlled everything we did, but now it is a threat to going on with Christ. The flesh is the chaff and the kernels of wheat are our spirits. All things must pass through the cleansing fires of God. Peter was a mixture. On the one hand he heard God tell him that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and on the other he was used to tempt Christ to save Himself from going to the cross. To this man of mixture Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32, ESV2011). Fire and sifting are needed to get the chaff out of us.
The fire of the Holy Spirit also does something else. It makes you an enemy of this world that is dominated by Satan. Brother Sparks went on to write:
It was the fire of inevitable provocation. No sooner had the Spirit come, the fire fallen and begun to move over the earth, than there was tremendous and terrific uprising of antagonism. It is inevitable. If you and I are going to be men and women of the Spirit, we are not going to have an easy time. Hell will see to that. At once the clash arises and it is true that the more the Holy Spirit is able to have His way in us and to lead us into all the will of God, the more we find this opposition, this antagonism. And it not only comes between us and the world, it sometimes comes in the circle of the Lord’s own people. It is inevitable provocation. You wonder why, sometimes. As you read the New Testament you wonder, ‘What is the matter with these people? Why should they be so upset and so annoyed? And why should it be so spontaneous, this thing? And persistent; so unreasonable?’, but there it is. There is the fact. It is inevitable.
You see, this thing that the Lord came to do and is doing, will not allow for any neutrality. It is going to be one thing or the other. It is going to be for or against. The eyes of flame (here the fire comes in again) the eyes of flame will not allow lukewarmness or anything that is of the Laodicean character. The fire is a positive element always, and it will create positive situations. If everything is all just nice and quiet, no disturbance, no trouble and no antagonism and opposition, you have reason to question whether the Holy Spirit is doing much, because He does aim at such a positiveness, which is a very, very costly thing. It is either with the Lord, or not with the Lord, and there is nothing between. It is going to come out sooner or later and be precipitated.
Now, the Lord says that is what He came to do. This is not an accident, a chance or things having gone wrong or miscarried. This is exactly what He came to do – to scatter fire on the earth and these are the inevitable effects of the fire. They are going to work out.*
Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” So, dear saints, as the apostle put it, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to test you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Peter 4:12, KJ2000). When things are hard as you follow the Lord, they are supposed to be. He is pulling your “camel” through the eye of His needle. None of the old baggage we have held so dear can proceed on in this walk we are called to, not even the “good things” we had or the “good qualities” we possessed. If it is not out from Christ in us, it is of no use to the building up of the kingdom of God. Thank God that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him. The working of Spirit will make sure of it in those who are the sons and daughters of God.