What a shock it must have been to religious people the day John the Baptist, direct to the point as usual, threw out a challenging question in respect of how they were living life and especially regarding living for God: ‘What counts in your life? Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s dead wood, it goes on the fire’ (Matthew 3:10 Message).
We too, in our day, need to be challenged strongly at times as to just how alive our personal relationship with God really is! Is it dead or alive? Has the fire gone out or is it still blazing away? Are we religious or relational? After all, only that which is alive in our heart by God’s Spirit will count and last both in eternity and (extremely important) be worth something now!
John had just realised that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees, the supposedly religious of his day, were showing up for a baptismal experience because it had become the popular – the in-thing – to do (v7). In his typical uncompromising and straight-out manner, he challenged them in respect of their outward appearance and obvious heart attitude of indifference.
‘You brood of snakes!’ he exploded harshly, ‘What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskin is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin!’ (v7-9). In other words, being religious, doing the right things, in themselves, are just not good enough.
John went on to fortify his point: ‘And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as Father… descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen.’ Then he really hit them with the big one mentioned above that is worth repeating: ‘What counts in your life? Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s dead wood, it goes on the fire.’ Wow!
That question, that challenge, remains today. Some people may appear to be so spiritual on the outside – but God sees what’s on the inside, what we’re really like and where our trust and true relationship with him is at.
Kingdom life – a change within
Listen! What is not of God in our lives will perish in everlasting fire. We miss out on many blessings when we’re not living for Jesus! But if the fruit of the Spirit is allowed to mature within it will produce great blessings now, remain strong and not be burnt up!
John’s great concern was that those who gathered around him would understand that there was something more important than the mere ritual of water baptism … a change within, what he termed an ignition of kingdom life – a vital changing from the inside out (v11).
Let’s have a brief look at four baptisms mentioned in scripture…Body, Water, Holy Spirit, Fire.
1) Body. The Holy Spirit automatically baptises new Christians into the universal church when they receive Christ as Saviour (1 Cor.12: 12-13). But this is an invisible heart matter. The only real measurement we have of how much a person has allowed the Holy Spirit to saturate them into the body (the church) of Jesus is by what we observe in their attitude toward church life.
Many times pastors wonder why some people don’t fully embrace local church life and enter into connecting, really worshipping from the heart, engage in body ministry, witnessing, prayer, operating spiritual gifts, believing for miracles, healings and blessings, and developing a relationship with God.
Simple! Such people haven’t allowed themselves to be fully saturated by the Spirit into the life of the church of Jesus! Oh, they may part of their local church all right but they’re not active members. And that’s sad…they miss out on so much. Sadly too, such people are like John’s dead wood.
2) Water. Jesus commands this in Matthew 28:19. When we accept Christ as Saviour, it’s a public declaration that we now belong to him, not Satan, sin, the world or our previous selfish ways; that Jesus is now our master and Lord.
Of course water baptism in itself doesn’t save anyone…only the blood of Christ can do that. But again, ministers who know the meaning of water baptism can wonder: Why do people who call themselves Christians not follow through and with joy be water baptised?
Maybe pride, lack of biblical understanding, perhaps a genuine physical disability or a fear of water. Or maybe it’s just plain outright refusal and disobedience to the Lord’s command.
3) Holy Spirit. This one is a special baptism of power for Christian service and discipleship and Jesus alone is the baptiser (Mk.16: 17; Acts 1:5, 8). The pure Pentecostal stand is that the initial personal experience evidence of having been baptised in the Spirit is speaking in tongues – other languages that one hasn’t been taught to praise God (Acts 2:4ff).
But let me emphasise it strongly! The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not just about speaking, singing, praying and thinking in tongues! No, it is much more! It’s about receiving internal spiritual help from on high to live and act as Jesus would…positively, with a sense of destiny, an ability to overcome sin and self, and to bless others through operating the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12: 7-11. It’s a gateway to serving God in a very powerful way.
4 )Fire. Back to John the Baptist. He went on, in Matthew 3: 11-12, to make the most dramatic statement in respect to what is meant to happen after salvation is experienced: ‘The real action comes next: The main character in this drama – compared to him I’m a mere stagehand – will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.’
Baptism is always about being immersed – covered – saturated by. John was prophesying an overwhelming baptism of, and in, fire! This Spirit baptism of fire means that the dross, rubbish and waste of the flesh are supernaturally burned out of our lives as we yield completely to Jesus. That we be so filled full with the Spirit and are living the Jesus lifestyle that we then have no time or desire for the corruption of the world, selfish agendas or being religious without a meaningful relationship with our heavenly Father. That we’re into relationship with God and we’re on fire for Jesus!
Jesus is concerned about a clean sweep, relationship not meaningless religion
Jesus is the baptiser in the Spirit and Peter said the Holy Spirit is a gift (Acts 2:38)! Don’t refuse the gift from Jesus for which he died on Calvary in order to give you along with a glorious salvation. Be encouraged …don’t be afraid of the Holy Spirit. Likewise don’t be afraid of the Spirit’s fire…his cleansing. It clears the heart and mind and makes way for a hunger for the fulness of the Holy Spirit!
Why do some Christians who are Spirit-baptised no longer flow in charismatic praise and worship, love the things of God – and his people – as they should? Don’t operate in the gifts, go back into bondages, remain unmoved when the Spirit moves, don’t flow with the body, don’t hunger and thirst to know God’s Word and such?
Simple! They have allowed Satan to get in and rule them and they have disregarded the work of the Spirit within. They go on neglecting the moving and the voice of the Spirit and that is so dangerous for it is like the proverbial looking ‘the gift horse in the mouth.’
The Holy Spirit is not any old gift horse…he’s God and the very thought of dishonouring God ought to scare us into wanting him more and more in our lives!
Been neglecting the Holy Spirit? You can put things right by asking for a fresh infilling and be renewed within! You can have an exciting and meaningful life serving Jesus Christ by shrugging off old ways and every inhibiting force and mindset.
Don’t be dead wood! Let the fire fall afresh and be alive to Jesus and – with the Spirit’s help – serve him meaningfully and strongly! Let our lives be green and blossoming! Let them count!