“I’ve read that passage 10 times in my life, heard several messages in church, but never understood what God was trying to teach me until your message. Thank you.”
This is something that most Bible teachers and pastors hear from time to time. It’s meant as a compliment to the preacher… and it is. It is a compliment to preparation, creativity, and delivery. When I receive that compliment it always helps validate the hours of work that go into everything from simple lessons to the most complex sermon to a weekly youth group talk. But the primary compliment goes to God. When I hear that comment I know that the Holy Spirit has done something in that person’s life.
Here is the definition of illumination I learned in college:
The Illumination of the Bible (also relates to pneumatology) That supernatural help of the Holy Spirit which enables man to understand and comprehend the meaning of God’s revelation.
Illumination has two aspects as it relates to us. First for unbelievers, illumination is the Holy Spirit helping the person to understand God’s truths for the purposes of salvation. Practically, this is what makes the difference between someone who has heard the gospel message 20x’s and not responded and responding to the 21st time. Second for believers, illumination is the action of the Holy Spirit when you understand God’s revelation to you. (99% of the time that revelation is the Bible)
Practically, what does illumination look like or feel like?
- Illumination may illicit emotion, but is more intellectual than emotional. In other words, when a person understands deeply what God is asking them to do… it generally manifests itself emotionally to an action. Let’s say you are sitting in church and the pastor is preaching about being honest in all areas of your life. As he is teaching the passage, you sense strongly that you are not being honest about how you report your time at work. Privately, you make an intellectual decision to change. The pastor may not of even said “Are you lying about your work hours?” but you have decided to make a change. Since you feel guilty about what’s happened in the past, the message has brought about emotions. This is an action of illumination. It is something the Holy Spirit did with you during a message.
- Illumination never contradicts the Bible. We are a symbolic people. We look for symbols and signs in everything we do. And sometimes people will come to me and tell me something like, “When you were teaching this message, I felt convicted to _____.” It is hard to argue with a persons feelings, isn’t it? But sometimes that ______ is actually a something irresponsible or even sinful. Let’s be clear. Illumination is an action of the Holy Spirit. And God cannot, by His definition, contradict His written revelation to us. So the Holy Spirit would never tell you to abandon your family or cuss someone out or run away from your problems.
- Illumination is not independent of the council of wisdom. In the past, some denominations have used illumination as a way to do whatever you wanted. I am a big fan of people studying God’s Word on their own. The only danger of studying God’s Word on your own is that sometimes you take action on what you are learning without consulting any other source. (Like a commentary, talk to your Christian friends, etc) So, if you are reading 2 Samuel for your morning devotions and you notice that David did something… and you think that since David did that, that you should look for an opportunity to do that… that may not be what God wants for you. In actuality, this “false illumination” has led to the creation of many cults of Christianity.
Illumination of God’s Word is one of the most exciting things in the world! My prayer before every Sunday morning and every youth group and every time I study God’s Word personally is that the Holy Spirit would reveal to me what I should do.
As a new believer, one of the very first verses I ever memorized was James 1:22. I hope I am a catalyst to putting faith into action!
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22