"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory!" This is what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah heard exclaimed by the angelic beings called seraphim when He saw a revelation of the Lord of Glory in the year that a powerful monarch of Judah, King Uzziah, died (Isaiah 6:1-7). Isaiah got a vision of holiness that at first overwhelmed him with fear, and then compelled him to volunteer as the Lord's messenger to Israel. It was this sight of divine glory that uniquely fitted him to declare the divine message with authority and meaning. Later in his ministry as God's spokesman and after a mighty demonstration of the Lord's power against the Assyrian armies Isaiah asked the people of Judah a searching and challenging question concerning God whose glory they had witnessed in both judgment and deliverance: 'Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?' (Isaiah 33:14). Devouring fire? Everlasting burnings? Do these statements actually identify God? Yes they do and in case you think this is but an Old Testament concept of God, the writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament confirms the same reality when he reminds his audience that 'our God is a consuming fire' (Hebrews 12:29-Deut4:24).
From Creation to Calvary and beyond, God has revealed that He is at all times and in all things unchangingly holy. Yet despite this, men have over the centuries chosen to ignore divine revelation and ever sought to redefine God in order to make Him suit their perverse thinking and selfish desires. Instead of man being made in the image of God it has been God made in the image of man or an even lesser creature. The Apostle Paul speaks of how there was a time in history when men knew God but refused to 'glorify Him as God.' Instead they 'changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things' to the extent that they 'exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen' (Romans 1:21-22, 25). Of course many will argue that the practice of paganism is one thing, but surely mainstream religions today have the right understanding about God? Do they? It is abundantly evident that Muslims, Jews and Christians have completely different conceptions of God and even among those who claim to be Christian there are fundamental differences in understanding who and what God is.
The all-important and life changing question: ‘Does God exist?' is followed by another that is as equally important and life changing: 'What is God like?' There are people who casually claim to believe in God but their conception of who God is and what He is like, is another matter. Many perceive God as nothing more than some kind of benevolent ‘Father Christmas' figure always giving and there to make us happy or like the 'genie' of the lamp in the story of Aladdin, He ought to grant whatever we wish. They assume that His love obligates Him to protect us from all evil and harm while allowing us to live whatever way we like and in the end He will take everyone to heaven. Such are false notions born out of wilful ignorance and wishful thinking simply because people refuse to accept what the Bible actually says about God and what God has actually said about Himself.
The Bible states three things concerning the nature of God the first of which we have already mentioned: 'God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29). The other two are: 'God is light' (1 John 1:5) and 'God is love' (1 John 4:8). An outstanding preacher of the past, G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) explained in a sermon entitled Dwellers in fire the whole relationship of God's nature expressed by love, light and fire as follows:
'What is fire? Fire is the evolution of light and heat by combustion... In the New Testament, which is the final revelation, we have three definitions of God, which it is well to put together. "God is love." "God is light." "God is a consuming fire." The greatest of the three is not the first, nor the second, but the last, because it includes the other two. God is love and light, and therefore He is fire. The evolution of light and heat is fire. The combination in one mysterious personality of light and love is fire. Love is heat, passion. Light is illumination, principle. Combine the two and you have fire. "Our God is a consuming fire."'
The Blessing of Love
The love of God is holy love. Like all the attributes of His person, His holiness and love are in perfect harmony; God does not and cannot contradict or compromise Himself in any way. God's love means that He desires to bless men. He wants us to enjoy His person and His good and perfect gifts. God wants to bless you today with the greatest gift of all - salvation. This is why He gave His only Son: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). God's purpose in salvation is not only to rescue sinners from judgment but that through His grace those saved will live in holiness and for His pleasure: 'For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works' (Titus 2:11-14).
In summary, the purpose of the love of God is that sinners saved from perishing by His grace will live for His glory on this earth and will finally dwell forever in the presence of His holiness being completely conformed to the image of His Son where they will enjoy God forever and He them. Paul details the grand design and scope of divine purpose for all who trust Christ: 'And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified' (Romans 8:28-30).
The Cross of Christ
It took the Cross of Christ to make God's will possible. Sin completely separated men from God and marred His image in them. God, who is 'of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness' (Habakkuk 1:13), pronounced the sentence of death upon man for his sin (Genesis 3:16-17) and this sentence of condemnation was passed not only upon Adam, but upon the entire human race that followed him (Romans 5:12, 19). Indeed, it was because of God's just judgment upon sin and His legal demand for satisfaction that the Lord Jesus ultimately died upon the Cross. He bore personally and vicariously the judgment of God on the Cross in order to satisfy God who is unchangingly holy and uncompromising in His justice. God's way of salvation has been infinitely costly, but it was God Himself who met the cost by providing His Son 'as Saviour of the world' (1 John 4:14). Jesus paid the price in sacrifice and God accepted that payment. Christ said 'finished' (John 19:30) and God answered by raising Him from the dead. Salvation is offered to all people as the free gift of God by grace: 'For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast' (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Judge of All
God judges sin because He is holy. The consequences of the fall and the suffering of the Cross prove this reality. God in His mercy offers forgiveness and peace today through trusting in the Lord Jesus, but He also warns that unrepentant sinners with unforgiven sins face the certainty of His judgment - 'It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment' (Hebrews 9:27). God is the Creator, Saviour and Judge of all, and like any judge He deals with us according to a standard of justice - His own law. When someone violates the law of their land they should expect to stand before a judge to face the justice of the law they have broken. Such legal function is at the foundation of any civilized state or country and it would be a poor judge who never enforced the justice of the law, but simply let every criminal ever brought before him to walk free without sentence. Such a judge would soon be dismissed!
While there are different aspects to God's program of judgment, the following focuses attention on what the Bible says about the final judgment of all who have ever lived and died. The apostle John, the ‘seer’ of Patmos, wrote of what he saw in relation to it:
'Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire' (Revelation 20:11-15).
All who stand before God in final judgment will be judged for their works. 'Works' refer to lifestyle; to thoughts, words and actions done in defiance of God and with complete disregard for His word. The story of every life has been and is being recorded in God’s ‘books’ and will be presented as evidence against every individual present at this judgment. None escape for it is both 'small and great' who are seen standing, the ordinary and unknown along with the rich and famous. When the Lord Jesus first appeared to John on the isle called Patmos John was so overcome at the sight of His glory that he fell at His feet as dead. Christ touched him and said: “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death" (Revelation 1:17-18). He will use those keys on that dread day. Neither the sea nor the grave can keep the body of the dead from appearing as 'Death' must yield its prey, nor can 'Hades' hold the soul when the mighty Christ, who sits as judge, calls men forth to be united in body and soul for final judgment.
Not only will sinners be judged for their conduct, the ultimate condemnation will be that there is no record of their names in 'the Book of Life'. Their names could have been and should have been there, but they rejected the gospel and so refused Christ as Lord and Saviour, who will on that day be their judge. The second death will be experienced as Death and Hades yield their prisoners to final judgment and eternal punishment. It is called the second death because it is absolute and final condemnation from God and complete separation from Him and what is truly good, forever. Described as a 'lake of fire' it has a way in, but no way out; its dwellers are irrevocably and irretrievably confined in judgment.
The whole concept of judgment in fire shocks us, and rightly so, but why are unrepentant men going to be judged by fire? Remember, 'God is a consuming fire.' His presence and power are inescapable and all-pervading realities, and though today unseen in any physical sense of His person the time is coming when God will make a full revelation of His undiluted holiness. Everything has its source in God and to God everything is heading for final consummation. The presence of the God who is fire will either mean for you and me glory or judgment. We will either dwell in the presence of holiness unto everlasting glory or we will be consumed by the power of that same holiness unto everlasting judgment. Neither hell nor the lake of fire are places of arbitrary judgment designed by a despotic God who wants to torture His apparent helpless victims. Far from it, they represent the infinite justice of holiness, a holiness that was as much revealed at the Cross when God punished His only Son for us. Hell and the lake of fire must be understood and can only be fully understood in light of the Cross of Christ.
In conclusion, the words of G. Campbell Morgan again:
'Those souls that have wandered into everlasting darkness, who have of their own deliberate choice turned their back upon the call of infinite mercy and of infinite law, are not without God, they are with Him, and the fire of their age-abiding devouring is the fire of the Divine presence. Draw me what graphic picture you will of the condition of the lost, it may be lurid, it may be medieval, according to the fastidiousness of this age, out of date, but no picture of the Middle Ages is half so dreadful as the fact of the soul abiding in God yet out of harmony with Him—destroyed by the fire that ought to have made it, because of deliberate and final choice on the part of that soul. Hell is begun here as heaven is begun here. I am not foolish enough to tell you that hell ends here anymore than I am foolish enough to tell you that heaven ends here. Some men tell me that heaven is beyond but that hell is all here. Hell begins here; some of you are in it. Heaven begins here; some of us are in it. When we have done with this material frame we shall be where we choose here and now. Whether in hell or heaven, we shall have our being in God, and in God as fire.'
'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life' (John 3:16).