In our study last week we focused on verses 12-15 of chapter 16. For our time this morning I want to focus on a phrase found in verse 13, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…"—as I said last week, in the history of the Church this phrase has been used and abused. Many have claimed Spirit guidance into things that had nothing to do with the Spirit.
Last week in the chat room Jeff Rogers asked, "If the Spirit is guiding believers into the truth of the Word of God today, why is there not more theological conformity and unity among the hundreds of Christian denominations? The results seem to belie the assertion."
The promise to guide into all truth was made to the original disciples, who would record the revelation under inspiration. I think that this refers primarily to the inspiration of the authors of New Testament. This is talking about the "many things" that He still has to say to them from verse 12:
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. John 16:12 ESV
The "many things" are the teaching of the New Testament. Yeshua will inspire them and guide them in all the truth. Since in the context of the Last Discourse Yeshua is preparing His disciples to carry on His ministry after His departure, it seems best to take these statements as specifically related to those disciples. The Spirit guided them in unique, authoritative (inspired) ways.
This special group of men was to be responsible for spreading the good news of Yeshua the Christ to the whole world. They had spent three and a half years with Him, watching His miracles and hearing His teachings. They would relay those things to the rest of the world, and would need God's special help remembering those things accurately.
So what about today, does the Spirit guide us into the truth? I think that in a secondary sense, our Lord's words here apply to us, in that the Holy Spirit opens up the truths of the Bible to us as we diligently study it in dependence on Him. For those first century disciples it was a matter of Revelation and Inspiration, God revealed Himself to them and guided them in the recording to that revelation. For us it is a matter of Illumination. We see the Spirit's work of illumination in:
But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 ESV
"These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit"—the word "revealed" here is from the Greek word apokalupto, which means: "to take off the cover, to disclose."
At it's most basic level enlightenment is the knowledge of sin, and without that knowledge, everything else is pointless. Adam's fall into sin and his consequent spiritual death rendered man incapable of comprehending the truth of Scripture:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV
This means a special work of God is needed to make the Scripture understandable to both the natural man (unsaved) and to the saved.
A seminary professor visiting the Holy Lands met a man who claimed to have memorized the entire Tanakh in Hebrew! The professor was a little doubtful and asked for a demonstration. "Where shall we begin"? asked the man. The professor who was an avid student of the Psalms replied "Psalm 1." So for two hours the man effortlessly and flawlessly recited the Psalms from memory as the professor sat in stunned silence. When the demonstration was over, the professor discovered something even more astonishing about the man—he was an atheist! Here was a man who intellectually could go through the Scriptures, but without the Spirit's illumination the Scriptures never once went through him!
Last week in the chat room Jeff Rogers also asked, "When two people study the same text and get two differing conclusions, is it the fault of the Spirit or did the Spirit guide one and not the other?"
Since the Spirit is Yahweh, let's not blame Him. Maybe the Spirit guided one and not the other or maybe He didn't guide either of them. I don't think that the Spirit's guidance is guaranteed for all believers. You see I think the way to benefit fully from the Spirit's ministry of illumination is by serious Bible study. We cannot expect the Holy Spirit to work apart from the Word of God.
This work of illumination does not operate by giving us secret insight that one cannot derive by reading the text in context, and does not necessarily give us the correct interpretation. Illumination is the Spirit taking what is in the text and making it real to us. By the illumination of His Spirit, He enables us to understand and apply the text. Illumination is the applying of God's revealed truth to our hearts, so that we grasp as reality, and to love for ourselves, what the sacred text sets forth. The Spirit illumines the meaning of the canon, but He does so through study and meditation. Study employs all the proper tools for ascertaining the meaning of the text. Meditation thinks about the facts of the text, putting them together into a harmonious whole and applying them to one's own life. The end result of the illumination ministry of the Spirit is to glorify Christ:
He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:14 ESV
Illumination is not concerned merely with understanding facts but with using those facts to promote Christlikeness.
So when we talk about divine illumination we are speaking about the Holy Spirit's work of making the Scripture alive to us. There are times in our lives when we are reading the Bible and suddenly we are struck by something in the text that we have never noticed before. Illumination is progressive, the more we study, the more we learn. Let me try to give you an example. Philippians 4:13 is a verse that many Christians know:
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 ESV
I remember as I was teaching through Philippians and came to this verse in context that my eyes were opened as to its meaning. What does Paul mean when he says, "I can do all things through Christ"? He means that because he is in communion with Christ, the power of Christ is available to him for every need. Paul cannot do "all things" simply because he is a Christian. He can do all things because he is living in a dependant relationship with Christ. He is abiding in Christ.
Philippians 4:13 cannot be claimed by every Christian. It is only for those believers who are abiding in Christ. When we walk in fellowship with God, we have His power available to help us deal with life. Out of fellowship, we have no power.
Paul says, "I can do ALL THINGS." What are the "all things?" This doesn't mean that he can leap tall buildings at a single bound or run faster than a speeding bullet. It doesn't mean that you can pass an exam that you haven't studied for, or fly an airplane even though you have had no instructions. Verse 13 must be taken in the context of verses 10-13. What he is saying is, "I have the power of Christ to sustain me in life's difficult circumstances." A literal translation would read like this, "I am strong for all things in the One who constantly infuses strength into me."
The phrase "I can do" is from the Greek word ischuo, it means: "to be strong, to have power." Paul is saying, "I am strong enough to go through anything because the Lord Yeshua makes His power available to me as I trust in Him." Trusting in Christ gives us inner power to deal with any and every situation in life. When we come to the bottom of our human resources, we find an unlimited power in Christ. Paul talked a lot about the power of Christ. Walking in fellowship with Christ gives us the power to deal with any and every situation in life.
Have you ever seen a Christian in a very difficult situation and asked, "How can they deal with the situation that they are in?" They can deal with it because the power of Christ is available to those who abide in Him, those who walk in dependance on Him. No matter what circumstance you are facing, you have the power to handle it if you are abiding in Christ. And if your situation is more than you can bear, it is because you are not trusting in His strength.
Let me give you another illustration, I had a paradigm shifting moment in my study of the book of James. When I got to:
Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. James 1:18 ESV
I was Arminian in my soteriology and this verse really did a number on me. "Of his own will"—my first question here was, "What about my will?" And as I studied this out I found that my will played no part in my salvation.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 ESV
"Nor of the will of man"—the word that Lazarus uses here for man is andros, which speaks of a male, not the generic term for mankind. This word is often translated as: "husband." The NIV interpreted it properly as: "husband" here. This probably refers to the father's authority in deciding to have a child. Spiritual life does not come because of a human decision.
So after studying and meditating on James 1:18 I found myself believing in election by the sovereign grace of God. This verse moved me from Arminianism to Calvinism.
One more illustration. It was Matthew 16 that changed my eschatological position:
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16:27-28 ESV
I would read over these verse and think to myself, "Something isn't right here, maybe someday I will understand it." Once I honestly began to study it, it seemed clear to me that the Lord was promising to return in the Second Coming before those men that he was talking to had all died. It just so happens that this fits well with all the other references to the Second Coming in the New Testament. I had read the time statements over and over and I even taught audience relevance, but I didn't get it until the Spirit of God opened by eyes to this truth.
So we could say that illumination in the spiritual sense is "turning on the light" of understanding in some area. I can read what the Bible says about abiding in Christ, about being a disciple, but the Spirit has to make that something that I see as important in my life. In Psalm 119 we see a cry for God's illumination:
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. Psalms 119:18 ESV
This is not a cry for new revelations, but things which have been written and revealed long before, and just now understood by the reader (one of those "aha!" moments). Similarly, verse 73 says:
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Psalms 119:73 ESV
The plea is for personal understanding and application of God's laws as they are studied by the individual. Fifteen times in this Psalm, God is asked to teach or give understanding regarding His laws.
What is informative in this Psalm 119 is that we find purpose statements connected with the illumination verses:
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. Psalms 119:27 ESV
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Psalms 119:34 ESV
I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies! Psalms 119:125 ESV
Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live. Psalms 119:144 ESV
The illumination always points to action. Why does God help us understand His Word? So we are able to live in its light.
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 2 Timothy 2:7 ESV
Paul understood our need to couple intellect and illumination exhorting Timothy to "Think over," seek to intellectually grasp the meaning, this is our responsibility, "What I say, for the Lord" (the Spirit) "will give you understanding in everything." This is God's promised provision.
John Piper explains: "So many people swerve off the road to one side of this verse or the other. Some stress, 'Think over what I say.' They emphasize the indispensable role of reason and thinking. And they minimize the decisive supernatural role of the Spirit in making the mind able to see and embrace the truth. Others stress the second half of the verse: 'for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.' They emphasize the futility of reason without the Spirit's illumining work. But Paul will not be divided that way. We must embrace both human thinking and divine illumination. For Paul, it was not either-or but both-and. If God does not open our eyes, we will not see the wonder of the Word. We are not naturally able to see spiritual beauty."
The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word operate together. As Puritan Stephen Charnock wrote "The Word is the chariot of the Spirit, the Spirit the Guider of the Word."
Something that I think is important for us to understand is that our spiritual condition can influence the process of the Spirit's illuminating the text of Scripture in our lives. Look with me at:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:1 ESV
The focus of verses 6-16 of chapter 2 is clearly illumination. We looked at this last week. In verses 14 and 15 of chapter 2 we see two different categories of men, in verse 14 we see the natural man and in verse 15 we see the spiritual man. The natural man is the unsaved man who has no capacity to believe the Bible. The spiritual person is the saved person, and they have the ability to judge or discern spiritual things. The spiritual man is spiritual because he has been born again, the Spirit of God indwells him.
Now as we come to chapter three we see two different categories of those who are spiritual. In this verse we see that among those who are saved there are some who are "spiritual" and some who are "of the flesh". Some who are controlled by God's Spirit and some who are controlled by their fleshly desires and impulse. The spiritual man is a man that is dominated by the Spirit.
Paul goes on to say, "as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ." The Corinthians were believers, but they were "of the flesh," not spiritual. So we have the natural man who is unsaved, and the spiritual man who is saved. And among the saved there are those who are spiritually mature and those who are "of the flesh." The word he uses to describe them is sarkikos it means: "to be controlled by the flesh," they were baby Christians and were being controlled by their flesh.
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 1 Corinthians 3:2 ESV
Notice what he says about the immature Christian, he has a limited capacity for understanding all of the things of God. They are limited to milk they cannot handle the meat. Is it a problem for a baby to only drink milk? No, that's all they can handle. But when they're five and they still can only drink milk, that is a problem. For a baby Christian to act like a baby Christian is not a problem, when Paul calls them babes, he is not rebuking them, that's how we all start out.
What is the difference between milk and meat? Are there two areas of truth? No, in all doctrines there is milk and meat. These classifications don't refer to areas of truth, but refer to the depths of the truths. Illumination is progressive the more we learn the more we grow and the more we grow the more we're able to learn.
for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 1 Corinthians 3:3 ESV
This is a Christian that is controlled by their flesh in willful rebellion against God, this is not immaturity. The evidence of their carnality is clear, there is envy and strife among them. Those are the works of the flesh and they are clearly manifest in their lives.
So those believers who are living according to the flesh are hindering their ability to understand the Word of God. They can only handle milk. The Spirit's ministry of illumination is hindered in their lives.
From what I understand being illuminated by the Spirit, is connected to abiding in Christ, which we have just studied. Illumination is also connected to walking by the Spirit, and being filled with the Spirit, which are all the same thing. We have seen in our study of John 15:7-11, that we abide in Christ by abiding in His word. In verse 4 He said:
Abide in me, and I in you… John 15:4 ESV
In verse 7 He says:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you… John 15:7 ESV
So in verse 7 the phrase, "My words abide in you," is substituted for the phrase in verse 4, "I in you." So we could say that for Christ to abide in us is for His Word to abide in us.
"And my words abide in you"—the Greek word used here for "words" is rhema, which usually has the nuance of the spoken word. This refers to specific teachings of Christ. So for them it referred to the things that Christ had taught them, but for us it would refer to the teaching of Christ in the Bible.
The Lord reveals Himself to us through the written Word of God. So if you want to grow closer to Yeshua, if you want to abide in Him, spend time in His Word. To grow closer to Christ, read your Bible, read it over and over until you are at home with it. Paul put it this way:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 ESV
Now I want you to see something about this text that is very important. Look with me at:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, Ephesians 5:18 ESV
Paul tells the Ephesians to "be filled with the Spirit," then he says:
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Yeshua Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:19-21 ESV
Paul tells the Colossians, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…," then he says:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:16-18 ESV
It is clear that these two concepts, "letting the word of Christ richly dwell within you," and "being filled with the Spirit" are identical, because the passages that follow each are so similar. The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word richly dwell in one's life. Therefore, the two are the same spiritual reality viewed from two sides. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word.
When Paul says, "Be filled with the Spirit," he is giving a command. The word "filled" is the Greek word pleroo, which means: "controlled." Believers who have the Spirit are commanded to be controlled by Him. So, the question is: How are we controlled by Spirit? The Spirit's control is not an automatic, mechanical control. The Spirit's control is brought about by means. We must take possession of the divine strength He has made available to us in Christ. We appropriate the controlling grace of the Spirit through the means of letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us.
Believers, we need more than a casual acquaintance with the Bible. God's Word is to dwell in us abundantly—it is to saturate us. It must become part of our very being, transforming the way we think and act.
So we abide in Christ through spending time in His Word, and we are controlled by the Spirit by letting His Word richly dwell in us.
Paul tells the Galatians and us that we are to:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 ESV
Paul says we are to "walk by the Spirit"-this is a present-tense command: "Continue to walk by the Spirit." The Christian walk is a daily routine. It isn't something you come to at one point in your life and say, "From now on I commit myself to walking in the Spirit." No. It's not a once-for-all event.
What does it mean to "Walk by the Spirit"? This is very important for us to understand. So let's see if we can practically define it. All of us have heard preachers say, "Let the Spirit lead you," or "Allow the Spirit to control you," and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do we walk by the Spirit? You walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.
For in Christ Yeshua neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Galatians 5:6 ESV
Living faith always produces love. But Galatians 5:22 says love is a fruit of the Spirit. So if love is what faith necessarily produces, and love is a fruit of the Spirit, then the way to walk by the Spirit is to have faith:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 ESV
How does Paul walk by the Spirit of the Son? "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God." Day by day Paul trusts the Son. Day by day he casts his cares on God and is borne along by the Spirit. How, then, do we walk by the Spirit? The answer is plain. We walk by faith. And we do this by meditating on His promises day and night and resting in them. We should be trusting in Him all the time. The more we think about our dependence on Him, the more consistent we will be in trusting in Him and in walking by the Spirit.
Listen to what Martin Luther had to say: "When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh."
To walk by the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word. To have the Word dwelling richly is to be controlled by His Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the author and the power of the Word, the expressions are interchangeable. In other words, the WORD-FILLED CHRISTIAN is a SPIRIT-FILLED CHRISTIAN.
The Word of Christ is the only source of truth we have about God:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16 ESV
Paul is saying to Timothy that the Bible comes from God. He is its ultimate author. The Bible provides information that is not available anywhere else. The Bible is divine self-disclosure. In it the mind of God is revealed on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture, we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is and what He values. In the Bible, God reveals Himself.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 ESV
We love God by living in obedience to Him. How can we possibly do this if we don't spend time in the Bible to know what obedience is?
He is our Creator and Redeemer. If we are going to live a life of purpose, we must know who He is and what He expects from us. The only place that we can get that information is from the Word of God. And I believe that the only way we can walk by the Spirit is to have the Word dwelling in us.
We grow in our Christian walk as we read and study the Bible. The only place where we are going to hear God's voice is in His Word. The world around us will always be giving us the view of the flesh, but we'll only get God's view as we spend time in His Word letting it abundantly dwell within us.
Paul is not saying: Let the Word of Christ have a few minutes of your time. He is saying, "Let the Word of Christ LIVE in you!" God's Word should permeate every aspect of your life. When something happens in life, a Scripture should come to your mind as to how to respond to the circumstance. When this happens, and we yield to the Scripture, we are walking by the Spirit.
The Greek word for "walk" is very ordinary. It means: "to walk from one place to another." It's in the present tense, which means: "keep on walking." To walk means: "to take a series of small steps in the same direction over a long period of time." Walking implies steady progress in one direction by means of deliberate choices over a long period of time. To walk in the Spirit means something like: "let your conduct be directed by the Holy Spirit" or "make progress in your life by relying on the Holy Spirit." It has the idea of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide every part of your life on a daily basis.
To walk by the Spirit implies that we are maintaining an ongoing communion with God. We are exercising those spiritual disciplines that keep our hearts focused upon the Lord, that turns our feet away from sin, that warms our love for Christ. How are you going to walk by the Spirit if you are not in any sort of communion with Him?
The Spirit filled life of walking by the Spirit is the equivalent to living a Christlike life. Walking by the Spirit involves saturating my life with the person of Christ. He should dominate my thought patterns as I live in the consciousness of His presence. Since the Spirit's work is to point to Christ, walking by the Spirit means that my life is patterned after the Lord Yeshua the Christ.
So illumination is the Spirit's work in those who are walking by the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, and abiding in Christ. It is only as we study and obey the Word that the Spirit will give us illumination. Illumination is the applying of God's revealed truth to our hearts, so that we grasp as reality what the sacred text sets forth.