I really think you can tell a lot about a person by their reaction to God’s word. If someone presents a fairly positive view of the Bible, I know they either A) haven’t read it, or B) really don’t take it seriously. What do you mean, Keith? When I say “fairly positive view” I mean the way most people take it: They recognize the positive impact it’s had on the world, and they might even concede that it has some good nuggets of wisdom, like “Love your neighbor” and some interesting stories.
But I stand by my proposition. It’s the same “Liar/Lunatic/Lord” principle that C.S. Lewis proposed: A man who claimed to be the sort of things that Jesus claimed could not possibly be just a good teacher. He’s either a Liar on the level of a demon from hell, or he’s a lunatic on the level of a man who’s says he’s a poached egg, or he’s the Lord of all creation. The one thing he could not possibly be—a good teacher—is exactly how most people think of him.
It’s the same with God’s word, what we know as the Bible. The one thing it could not possibly be would be a collection of good advice and interesting stories. It claims to be so much more: The very words of God from his throne. If you literally stood by God’s throne and heard him speak, it’d be fully in accord with what you read in that Book. It’s either that, or it’s not worth reading. Or to paraphrase Lewis again, If the Bible is true, then it means everything. If it’s not true, then it means nothing.
So what does the Lord say about his word here? He compares it to two common things we see almost every day: fire and a hammer.
I particularly love the first image. His word is fire. Now, when you first hear it, you just might think “Ok, so fire burns. His word consumes everything it touches and burns it up.” But it’s much more nuanced than that.
Heat has different effects on different substances. It hardens wax. It softens clay. In the same way, his word can soften someone’s heart or harden it. It depends on the condition of the person’s heart. If a person wants to mold clay, he might have to heat it up in order to soften it.
Think of heat when you’re purifying a precious metal like gold. The same heat consumes the dross, but it purifies the gold. In the same way, as a believer, his word consumes the parts of me that don’t look like Jesus, and in the process purifies me.
Or think of a hammer, the second image. A hammer is a tool, and it can be constructive or destructive. Actually, it’s commonly both at the same time. People don’t often break rocks into pieces just because they want to see littler rocks.
His word will end up destroying the rocky hearts of people who don’t listen to it. In fact, Jesus said his word will stand and accuse them on Judgment Day. It will be their Prosecuting Attorney, so to speak. All the times they heard about God’s anger on sin or about the Good News about Jesus will literally come back to haunt them.
For the lost, his word will only have a negative effect. But for me as his redeemed child, it’s negative and positive. Yes, his word—as the sword of the Spirit—will cut into me and point out my faults and lingering sin. But it’s not there to condemn me like it does the unredeemed. It’s there to purge away the dross and make me more and more like my Savior.
You see, you can’t ignore fire. And you can’t ignore a swinging hammer. God’s word will have an effect on you, both now and on the other side of the Great Divide. What that effect will be is determined by what type of person you are.
So which will it be?
Father God, I know very well what effect I want from your word. Please, Spirit, use your word like a surgeon’s scalpel—cutting and healing. Cut away the parts that don’t look like my Savior, and mold me into his likeness.