Most of us have heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This phrase emphasizes the power of images over words. The underlying risk in the use of imagery is that there is a possibility that the significance of the image may not be communicated to the viewer. So when the image of tongues of fire is used to describe the visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3), we are invited to explore the significance of such imagery. Through an examination of the significance of fire being used to represent the Spirit of God, we can see three different facets of what the baptism of the Holy Spirit entails.
In Acts 2, fire is used to symbolize the very presence of God.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (Acts 2.1-3)
Through this passage we see that the fiery tongues were a manifestation of the very presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus, when we talk about being filled with the Holy Spirit, we must realize that it means that we carry the very presence of God with us. It is also important to note that Spirit baptism is not a one-time experience. We must be regularly refreshed by the Holy Spirit. This is possible only if we take time regularly to seek after the presence of God.
Fire can also symbolize sanctification in the Scriptures.
The broad meaning of sanctification is “the process by which an entity is brought into relationship with or attains the likeness of the holy.” Thus, in order to be conformed to the image of our holy God, we must participate in the process of sanctification through the Spirit. In Psalm 66:10, we read about God refining his people like silver is refined. This process of refining or purging away sin is essential in our lives in order to be in relationship with God. As Dr. Kenneth Archer notes, “The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a baptism of fire that purges and protects, propels us into mission, and plunges us into the depths of God’s being.” Thus any desire for the anointing of the Holy Spirit must be accompanied by a desire to live a holy life in the sight of God.
The image of fire should birth in us an increased sense of urgency to share the gospel with others.
Robert Menzies notes that the primary manifestation of the Holy Spirit was the bold and inspired witness of Jesus’ disciples especially in the face of persecution. Fire is contagious and is hard to be contained. Similarly, when the fire of the Holy Spirit consumes us, it would be hard to contain the gospel within ourselves. God needs people who are willing to be filled with His anointing of fire, who would then spread the gospel like wildfire in this world that desperately needs it.
So how does understanding the significance of fire affect us as the body of Christ? We need the anointing of fire in order for the church, both individually and as a community, to be effective in carrying out the mission of God. We want the manifestation of God’s spirit, similar to that in the upper room, but do we invest time in His presence? When we invest time in seeking after God, it allows God to work in us freely.
. Kenneth J. Archer, The Gospel Revisited : Towards a Pentecostal Theology of Worship and Witness (Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 59.
. D. R. W. Wood and Marshall I. Howard, New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1058.
. Archer, 59.
. Robert P. Menzies, “A Pentecostal Perspective on “Signs and Wonders”, Pneuma 17, no. 2 (1995): 268, accessed September 8, 2015, https://seu.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001009357&site=ehost-live&scope=site.