11 “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
This seems like an ominous and not-so-feel-good passage. John the Baptist was trying to explain that this water baptism is nothing compared to what is about to come through Jesus. It is amazing to see what God revealed through John, before Jesus even met him and that wasn’t revealed through the prophetic scriptures. Remember, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even while in his mother’s womb. What he was saying in front of the religious leaders was confrontational. In John 16, we read Jesus explaining this concept of the Holy Spirit’s purpose in greater detail:
7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.
When we read the passage in Matthew, there is a bit of fear invoked for the hearer, maybe even for those of us who are saved. But when we read Jesus’ explanation of the baptism of the Spirit, we recognize that the wheat and chaff being separated isn’t necessarily about people, but about our sinfulness. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the trash in our lives and helps us toss it out and burn it up! While the thought of burning things up in our lives might instill fear, it should bring us relief! Everyone feels better after a little spring-cleaning, don’t they? Have you ever cleared stuff out of your life (possessions, relationships, jobs, etc.) and afterwards felt sad? The “winnowing fork” represents the Holy Spirit in John the Baptist’s metaphor. The Holy Spirit is our helper in that He helps us recognize the things in our lives that hold us back and help us clear it out and burn it for good.
When we read the passage from John 16 and see that the Holy Spirit will come and convict the world in judgment according to sin, we immediately picture sitting before the judgment seat and being sent to heaven or hell based on our deeds. Fortunately, this isn’t what Jesus was talking about. He was explaining that the Holy Spirit helps us by testing our hearts so we may correct our ways and live in the freedom of God’s design for our lives. In verse 11 we read that Satan, the ruler of this world, has been convicted and judged as wrong and therefore no longer has power over us. We have been set free from living against our own design! The Holy Spirit has been sent so that we can walk free from lives of sinfulness, which does nothing but burden and detain us. Now, the devil only has the power over us which we allow Him to have. The Holy Spirit now can remove our character defects and old habits and restore us. He will guide us into all truth. That’s good news! That is the message of Christ: our restoration back to the way things were meant to be.
With this new understanding, we can now embrace and ask for this unquenchable fire that tests our hearts, cleanses our lives, and restores us back to the Father. It may only be January, but let’s start doing some spring-cleaning on our soul and ask the Spirit to reveal to us the things we must throw out. Let’s ask Him to take these parts of our spiritual lives and throw them into the fire, never to affect us again.