“That We Might Know” — Illumination

“That Book in Your Hand”

As we continued the study on Bibliology, the nature of the Bible, my fifth sermon was on what theologians refer to as “Illumination” — the work of the Spirit in helping us to understand the Bible.

Because the Bible is a spiritual Book, teaching of spiritual things, it needs to be understood spiritually.  Once we move into the spiritual realm, though, we are in trouble.  It is like handing a book in French to someone who doesn’t know any French at all.  He may be able to figure out some of the words, or use an on-line translator to get some sense of what is being said, but he can’t really follow what is going on.

This sermon dealt with God’s provision for that need for “spiritual translation” work.

Rewind

Sermons on the nature of the Bible:

  1. The inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16.
  2. The moving of the Spirit in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21.
  3. The inerrancy (complete reliability) of God’s Word.
  4. The preservation of God’s Word.

Note:  I said in my summary post on the preservation of the Scriptures that I hope to write some things on how that doctrine applies to the field of study known as textual criticism.  I am still deferring that topic because this sermon was so closely related to aspects of preservation, and especially my first When Copies Differ post.

The Problem

A. Some Scripture is Hard to Understand For Everyone.

II Peter 3:15-16

 15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

I had some good teachers in university and seminary — but Peter was a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Peter had much more time with his Teacher than I had with any of mine.  Peter knew New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew better than anyone alive today.  Yet, even Peter said that some Scriptures are hard to understand — so I think we can safely say that some Scriptures are hard for anyone to understand.

B. It is not Natural for us to Really Understand.

 I Corinthians 2:14

 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

It is, very simply, contrary to our nature to understand the spiritual things of the Word.  We are like that person trying to understand something written in a language we’ve never read or spoken.

So the problem is clear.  The Scriptures aren’t always easy to understand, and they are spiritual in nature.  We need help.

God Gave Us His Spirit

I Corinthians 2:9-13

9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

A. God Wanted to Reveal Spiritual Truth (9-10).  As we look at these verses, it is very clear — God wants us to know His truth.  He didn’t just launch His Word out there thinking maybe it might come home to someone somewhere.  He had a specific purpose in mind when He revealed Himself in His Word.

B. This Requires the Spirit (11).  If we’re going to know the things of God, the Spirit of God has to be involved.  He is the one who knows the things of God.

C. He Gives Freely – Spirit and Truth (12).  “THAT WE MIGHT KNOW” — I took my sermon title from this verse.  God wanted us to know the things that He freely gave, and so He freely gave us His Spirit as well.

  • The whole point of revealing Himself was that we might know.
  • To reveal Himself was to speak of spiritual things, which we cannot know.

Thus, God’s decision to reveal Himself was necessarily also a decision to do a work of illuminating (shining light on) the Scriptures by the Spirit.  Otherwise, it would have been a pointless exercise.  “That we might know” requires illumination just as much as it requires inspiration and preservation.  All of Bibliology is anchored to this purpose of God — “that we might know” the things of God, the things that He reveals to us.

Note:  Illumination closely parallels the attesting work of the Spirit which I discussed in a couple of previous posts, dealing with preservation and differing copies of the Scriptures.  Some might say that illumination and the attesting work of the Spirit are the same thing.  Perhaps it is best to say they are different aspects of the same work.  He helps us understand spiritual truth as revealed in His Word, and He “bears witness with our spirit” that it is true.

D. The Spirit Teaches (13).  This verse explains this work of illumination somewhat by bringing teaching into the discussion.  Before this verse, the emphasis was on the Holy Spirit as the Revealer — here, He is our Teacher.  That which He has revealed He now teaches, so that we can know and speak spiritual things.

Furthermore, this adds further information about His work of illumination of the Scriptures — He can and does sometimes use human instruments in this work.  He enables His people to speak the things He has taught.  Thus, He is using us to “light up” spiritual truth our brothers and sisters in Christ by speaking His teachings.

Illumination — Focal Point and Scope

Ephesians 1:17-19

17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,

A. Illumination’s Focal Point.  This is the passage from which the term “illumination” comes — “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened.”  If you walk into a room and turn on a light, the room is “illumined” so that you can see — the light is shining on it.  However, you can’t see if your eyes are covered.  Eyesight only works when light reflects off of the surfaces in the room and shines into our eyes.

So it is with the work of the Spirit in “illuminating the Scriptures.”  The focal point of this work of illumination is in us.  He “lightens our eyes,” causing the spiritual light which the Scriptures give to shine into our eyes in a way that we can process the truth.

Though we sometimes talk about the Spirit’s “illumination of the Scriptures,” that really isn’t a very precise way to speak of it.  The Scriptures ARE light — He doesn’t have to shine light on them.  The problem is with our spiritual eyes, the eyes of our understanding, and this is what He enlightens.

B. Illumination’s Scope.  As we look at these verses, we see our eyes are enlightened primarily in two areas of truth:  things related to our salvation, and things related to God and His power (especially in His working towards us).  We should not consider this an exclusive statement — certainly, the Holy Spirit illumines our understanding of the Scripture in regard to other aspects of spiritual truth as well.  But this is the central truth of the Scriptures — God loved lost sinners and, in power, love, and holiness, reached down and saved us.  Every other doctrine of Scripture is woven into that theme of our redemption.

The True Teacher

I John 2:20, 27

20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.

(…)

27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

A. You Have the Holy Spirit.  In this passage in I John, the Holy Spirit is called an “unction” or an “anointing.”  John is refuting the errors of those who claimed to be the “spiritual elites,” who claimed to have special spiritual knowledge, and he tells his readers that they have the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  He abides in them.

This promise is to all of us who have been saved (Acts 2:39).  The same Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost, the anointing that abides within, is yours if you have trusted in Christ for salvation.

B. He Teaches You.  This Holy Spirit is your Teacher.  He may use human agents at times, but He is the One who will teach you as you read His Word.  God, living in you, is teaching you when you open your Bible.

C. You Can Read God’s Word Yourself!  Let me repeat that.  You can read God’s Word yourself.  You don’t need anyone else to read it and learn from it the truths that He reveals to us there.  The Holy Spirit is in you, illuminating and teaching, so “that you might know.”

God gave His Word that you might know.  He preserved it that you might know.  Many of His people have literally laid down their lives so that you might hold “That Book in Your Hand” — so that you might know.  He has given you His Spirit, that you might know.  Read it, learn it, study it, memorise it, think on it — that you might know, might know the only true God, and all He has done for you.

I Corinthians 2:12

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

John 17:3

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Next main article:  Rightly Dividing and Perspicuity — “Love for Dummies”?

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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