Regardless of what you might feel or believe about the word “religion”, it has a place as a definition of the life of a disciple of Jesus. People may not like it, but it remains a reality. The Christian Scriptures refer to disciples of Jesus as priests. And priests practice religion. That is their primary function. Their entire role, perhaps life, is bound up in the practice of religion. And for disciples of Jesus, this is true as well.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.Hebrews 12:28-29 NASB
The word for “service” above is a Greek word typically referring to a “hired hand” or even, in some cases, “enslaved”. The translators of the Septuagint used it for service to God (or other god), almost exclusively. and in the Christian Scriptures, it’s never used otherwise. Here, the writer of Hebrews combines it with “reverence and awe”, making the meaning unmistakable.
One of the dangers of only seeing our life with our Savior as a “relationship” is that we run the risk of missing His superiority. He is our Savior, but He is also our Creator, and not just of people, but the this vast, unimaginable universe. The writer was serious, dead serious, about serving our Savior with reverence and awe.
We think of Jesus as “love”. That makes us feel good because we don’t really understand love. I know that’s true because we get a warm fuzzy comfortable feeling from God being love, but not from God being a “consuming fire”. Suddenly we’re overly hot, on fire, about to die.
We need to strike a balance in our relationship with our Creator. We, as disciples of Jesus, must take Him more seriously than we do. The choice of the word for “service”, brings with it a life dedicated to working for God. For the Greeks, it can have religious significance, but it typically referred to working for someone. We think of our work-life as separate from our religious-life. That’s not how our Creator inspired Scripture to be written.
One of the more familiar passages speaking to service to God is Romans 12:1,2:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:1-2 NASB (emphasis mine)
In this passage, “service” is a noun, but the noun version of verb used in Hebrews 12:28. In other words, it’s the same thing said differently. The point for Paul in this passage is that our lives are to be completely dedicated to this life of service to our Savior. Which is very close to the meaning for Nicodemus, our writer of Hebrews.
Nicodemus provides a terrifying reason, missing in Paul’s call to service. “Our God is a consuming fire.” Do you think of Him that way? Do you consider that your seriousness in service is due to Him being a consuming fire? Our Creator is also our Savior, and He is love. But He is also a consuming fire! Think about that for a moment. That, logically, means that love is a consuming fire.
There is so much we miss in our life with our Savior. We do not pay enough attention to Scripture, and miss so much of what our Creator reveals about Himself to us. We have to fight our tendency to focus only on what we like about our Savior, and miss what He shows us about Himself. We need a more complete view of our Savior. We need to receive all of Him revealed in His Scripture.
This means that we need to spend more time in study of Scripture, something we tend to spend the least amount of time during the day. We also need the varied perspectives of our fellow disciples. Our Creator doesn’t reveal Himself fully to each person, but contextualizes Himself to His creatures. Jesus never healed the same way twice. The Holy Spirit doesn’t “fall upon” His people the same way, and there are different effects each time. Paul doesn’t write the same thing to every church, because they don’t all have the same people nor the same problems.
Let’s remember the seriousness of our religious relationship with our Creator. Let us live reverently and in awe of our Savior. Let’s keep in mind that the One before whom we live is a consuming fire. This isn’t an opportunity for roasting marshmallows, this is the fiery furnace with an extra Person in it. Let’s sober up and get busy.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation