Illumination Of The Spirit
Many people believe in the doctrine of illumination as part of the Holy Spirit’s work. Christians are being given false assurances that the Holy Spirit personally guides and influences them apart from the word He revealed.
“Illumination is the Holy Spirit’s work as he enlightens the human mind with spiritual understanding in order that man might grasp the revealed truth... The Spirit still illumines the mind and heart of every serious student of God’s Word so that he may discover truths hitherto unknown to him” (Hershel Hobbs, The Baptist Faith and Message, page 21).
This doctrine says we can understand the Scriptures only as the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds with understanding. It asserts (but does not prove from the Scriptures) the Holy Spirit leads a person to understand the Bible in a personal, individual way separate from the Scriptures. (Jesus repeatedly said, “Have you not read?” not, “Have you not been illuminated by the Holy Spirit?”) The Calvinistic doctrine of illumination is deemed essential before you can even understand Scripture because, according to this false doctrine, you are totally depraved and incapable of anything good without it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also teach an illumination doctrine. As a Mormon friend put it, “It is my contention that Timothy could not have ‘rightly divided the word of truth’ without revelation through the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Mormonism teaches one must receive a personal revelation from the Holy Spirit to understand God’s written revelation.
Both of these approaches to understanding the Scriptures make God responsible for either enlightening a person or keeping that person in the dark. The person’s role in learning truth is minimized and a false hope is fostered as people are urged to ask for and expect personal guidance from the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit’s work of helping people know God’s truth is accomplished by (1) The truth He revealed (John 16:13; Gal. 1:12), (2) The truth He miraculously validated (Mark 16:20; 1 Cor. 2:4-5; Heb. 2:3-4), and (3) The truth He inspired that was preached to the world (Col. 1:5-6, 23; 1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16). He continues His work through the Scriptures today. No Scripture teaches a separate function of illumination by the Holy Spirit before one can understand the Bible.
Illumination comes as we become educated in God’s word. Through reading, studying, meditation, and application, we grow in knowledge and understanding of His will. God expects us to educate ourselves and be led by the Spirit by hearing, receiving, studying, and learning the Spirit-given word (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30-31; 2 Tim. 2:15; Acts 17:11-12; Eph. 3:3-4; Neh. 8:8).
Educate yourself in God’s word and obey Him in faith to be saved and blessed (Matt. 7:24-27; Eph. 5:17; James 1:25). Do not wait for some additional illumination from the Holy Spirit. Walk in the illumination He already provides in “the word of the truth of the gospel” (Ps. 119:105; 1 Jn. 1:5-7; Col. 1:5).
Joe R. Price