This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He himself with baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” – John the Baptist, Matthew 3:11
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. He had a particular ministry–he would cry out before Jesus publicly stepped onto the scene, and call people to return to God in preparation for the Messiah (Savior-King) to arrive. One feature of his ministry was baptism, the immersing of a person in water.
Baptism continues to be a rite which declares one’s faith in Jesus for salvation, both in obedience to Jesus’ command (Matthew 28) and as a symbol of dying to one’s sinful ways and being reborn to new life in Jesus (Romans 6).
Yet, while John baptized for repentance, the commitment to turn from a life of sin, he spoke of a greater baptism, a spiritual baptism that Jesus would bring. This was a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.
To be immersed into the fire has one of two results: To be cleansed or to be destroyed. In Matthew 3:12, John warned that the “chaff” or those who refuse Jesus will face the fire of destruction, a judgment of God against their rebellion. Those who belong to Jesus, however, experience a fire that cleanses.
In his first letter, Peter talked about our faith being refined as through fire (1 Peter 1:7). The refining process of gold and silver is intense. Fire is introduced, hot enough to melt the metal, and with time as impurities float to the top they are scraped away until what is left has been purified.
This is how the Holy Spirit functions in our lives. By faith in Jesus, we receive the Spirit as a gift. He gives us a new heart and he starts the life-long process of shaping us, using God’s word and our life experiences, to be more like Jesus. This process the Bible calls sanctification will one day result in our glorification in eternity–we will be like Jesus in our character with no flaw of sin or hint left of our rebellion against God.
When we trust in Jesus, he immerses us in the Holy Spirit, the very one Acts 2 described as coming on God’s people like tongues of fire.
If we reject Jesus, then John’s words in Matthew 3 stand to us as a warning. But if we receive Jesus, then we experience one of the greatest things we could: The gift of the Holy Spirit who, like fire, will refine our lives.
All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.