What is the Illumination of the Holy Spirit?

J.I. Packer: “The work of the Spirit in imparting this spiritual understanding is called illumination or enlightening. It is not a giving of new revelation, but a work within us that enables us to grasp and to love the revelation that is there before us in the biblical text as heard and read, and as explained by teachers and writers. Sin in our mental and moral system clouds our minds and wills so that we miss and resist the force of Scripture. God seems to us remote to the point of unreality, and in the face of God’s truth we are dull and apathetic. The Spirit, however, opens and unveils our minds and attunes our hearts so that we understand.” (Concise Theology p. 155)

 

Another definition: “The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian person and community in assisting believers to interpret, understand and obey the Scriptures.” (IVP Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms)

 

It is important to note, as Packer touched on in his definition, that illumination is not about receiving new revelation. The canon is closed (Revelation 22:18-19) and Scripture is complete and sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17) to meet our every need. Far too many people have been led astray by looking for new revelation from God instead of looking to the Holy Spirit to shed light and illumine what has already been given in the Bible.

 

So we would say that God not only speaks through His Son (Hebrews 1:1), but God also speaks through His Word. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit, God allows us to see the truth of Scripture that has been placed before us. A lot of people today emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit over and above the Word of God. In all reality, they work together. As we open the text of Scripture and search out its riches, the Spirit brings life and understanding to our hearts.

 

For further study read: 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, Colossians 1:9-10, 1 John 5:20, 2 Corinthians 4:6, and Ephesians 1:18.

The Difference Between Disciples and Apostles

“We read in the New Testament about disciples and apostles, and we tend to think that the two words are synonymous. They are not. A disciple is a learner, a student. An apostle is one who is commissioned by his master with the master’s own authority, then sent out in the master’s name. That distinction is critically important for us because the New Testament tells us that the prophets and the Apostles are the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). That means the apostles had what we call “apostolic authority” over the church of all ages, which authority they were given by the One who sent them.

The first Apostle in the New Testament, the Apostle par excellence, was Jesus. He said, “I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent ME gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak” (John 12:49). Our Lord Himself is the supreme Apostle of the Father, for He carries in His ministry nothing less than the authority of the Father. The twelve, however, were Jesus’ Apostles, having been chosen from the much larger group of disciples who followed Jesus (see Luke 6:13). Thus, Jesus gave to them His own authority.”

Copied from pages 122-123 of R.C. Sproul’s commentary, Mark: He Taught Them As One Who Had Authority.

Comparing the Appearances of Moses and Jesus

I’m going to do something in this post that most people are pretty good at – comparing. Even as Christians we tend to do this, and typically, it is not to our benefit. When we compare ourselves to someone else, we often end up breaking the 10th commandment, which deals with coveting (Exodus 20:17). Let me encourage you to guard your heart from this tendency which only works to hinder your walk with the Lord. However, I think we can benefit from comparing the appearances of two well-know biblical characters – Moses and Jesus.

You will remember that when Moses was born, there was something immediately recognizable about him. As it is rendered in Exodus 2:2, “He was a fine child.” Jumping ahead to the New Testament, Stephen adds, “At this time Moses was born and was beautiful in God’s sight” (Acts 7:20). This tells us that not only was Moses a stand out in appearance, but also that God looked with favor upon him. The author of Hebrews summarizes this in saying, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful” (Hebrews 11:24). Not only did his family recognize this, but so too the Pharaoh’s daughter who took him and raised him as her own. We could go on to take an in depth look at all of the aspects of his greatness, but that is not my intention in this post. I would simply posit that Moses was a beautiful baby and we have no reason to think that his physical attractiveness diminished when he was fully grown. Even as he was about to die, he still had great strength (see Deuteronomy 34:7).

Lets shift gears – what do we know about what Jesus looked like? Answer: not a whole lot. The gospel writers are concerned to describe his humanity (think: fully God, fully man), but they are not nearly as concerned to describe specific details of what he looked like. Perhaps our best clue comes from the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53.  We read in verse 2, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” The reader can immediately spot a contrast between Jesus and Moses. One was beautiful, and One was not. Safe to say – people didn’t follow Jesus because of his looks. And while it would be unwise to say he was “ugly”, it would be more accurate to say he was a typical, ordinary man.

Perhaps a fitting way to conclude is by looking at 1 Samuel 16:6-7. “When they (David’s brothers) came, he looked on Eliab and thought, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him. But the Lord said to Samuel, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Thank God today for the body he has given you, and resist the temptation to compare.

Special thanks to my friend John Sensenig for these insights.

Christ’s Heavenly Session

Our twin daughters love “baby Jesus.” Before Christmas, we went to a parade in our community and one of the girls said, “I don’t want to see Santa Claus, I just want to see baby Jesus!” As Christian parents, Steph and I are glad for this, however, we have also tried to explain to our kids that Jesus did not stay a baby. The gospel writer Luke tells us that as a boy, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). At age 30 he began his ministry, which lasted for about 3 years. According to the plan of God, He was crucified and buried, but He rose again on the third day. For forty days, Jesus showed Himself to hundreds of people through various post-resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Then Jesus culminated his earthly life with His ascension to heaven. “And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

A Definition

The ascension is one of the most overlooked doctrines in Christian theology. It is important because it helps answer the question – where is Jesus now and what is He doing? As 1 Peter 3:21b-22 tells us: “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” This verse describes what is sometimes called “Christ’s heavenly session.” In case you were wondering, the word session comes from a Latin word that simply means, “sitting.” The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is sitting (and reigning) at the right hand of God the Father. This is His heavenly session.

Another helpful verse is Hebrews 1:3. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” This is what we might call “session” language. Literally, the author of Hebrews writes, “He sat down at the right hand” of God. With the work of redemption accomplished, Christ could now return to his throne on high to reign and have dominion. And as Christ reigns, God works to accomplish all of his cosmic purposes. “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).

J.I. Packer puts it this way: “Christ’s session will continue until all his and our enemies, including death, are brought to nothing. The last enemy of death will cease to be when Christ at his appearing raises the dead for judgment (John 5:28-29). Once judgment has been executed, the work of the mediatorial kingdom will be over, and Christ will triumphantly deliver the kingdom to the Father.” (Check out 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 for more on this).

Three Applications

So why does all this matter? First and foremost, we must remember that Jesus Christ is alive and well. The resurrection wasn’t just a hoax concocted by the disciples. Jesus Christ was truly raised to life and is alive and well even to this day. He conquered death and set the captives free. This gives us hope! As one hymn puts it, “because He lives, I can face tomorrow.” Or, because He lives, we as Christians can live. Praise God!

Secondly, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus is interceding for us. “Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). This should be both exciting and comforting to the believer. In our weakness and in our times of need, our precious Savior is interceding on our behalf.

Lastly, we can know that everything is under the rule and authority of Christ. Whether it be angels, authorities, or powers. There is no realm of this universe that does not fall under the reign and rule and dominion of Christ. As Ephesians 1:20-21 reminds us, God raised Christ “from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the one to come.”

In short, Christ reigns and rules on high. There is no earthly power or kingdom that can compare with the rule of Christ. So when you watch the nightly news, or read on the internet about wars and rumors of wars, and government shutdowns, and corrupt leadership, and the national debt, and immorality, and whatever kind of news you encounter, just remember that Jesus reigns. He reigns and rules on high and is seated at the right hand of God the Father!

What is Baptism?

Two Key Scripture Verses:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:3-4

“In him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Colossians 2:11-12

Wayne Grudem writes, “When the candidate for baptism goes down into the water it is a picture of going down into the grave and being buried. Coming up out of the water is then a picture of being raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. Baptism thus very clearly pictures death to one’s old way of life and rising to a new kind of life in Christ.” This can be seen in the above Scripture quotations. Grudem continues, “Baptism pictures (i) Christ’s redemptive work, (ii) my response in faith as I come to be baptized, (iii) and God’s application of the benefits of redemption to my life.” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 968, 980)

The Mode and Subjects of Baptism:

 

The proper mode of baptism is by immersion. In fact, the Greek word baptizo means “to plunge, dip, or immerse.” This was the method practiced by the New Testament church (Mark 1:5, John 3:23, Acts 8:36-39).

The proper subjects of baptism are only those who have given a believable profession of faith in Jesus Christ. This is why it is sometimes called believers’ baptism or credo baptism. Although there is disagreement on this, even among evangelicals, paedobaptism (infant baptism) lacks biblical support.

Why Get Baptized?

 

Baptism is a symbol of the new birth (regeneration). It is an outward sign of an inward transformation. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, but it is an ordinance (or sacrament) done in obedience to Christ’s command (Matthew 28:19) and is a time for great joy and celebration. “The amazing truths of passing through the waters of judgment safely, or dying and rising with Christ, and having our sins washed away, are truths of momentous and eternal proportion and ought to be an occasion for giving great glory and praise to God” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 969). Lastly, it is a public proclamation of one’s new union with Christ. As the apostle Paul put it, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  

The Importance of Christ’s Ascension

R.C. Sproul has said (among others) “If there is any dimension of the life and work of Christ that is neglected in the church today, it’s His ascension.” Evangelicals, for the most part, do a good job of emphasizing the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We often fail to see, however, the importance of the ascension. The ascension is Christ’s return to heaven after the completion of His atoning work. After finishing the work God sent Him to do, it was time for Christ to return to His Heavenly Father. Luke gives us a record of the ascension at the end of his gospel (24:50-53). Sproul suggests that there were four things that occurred because of the ascension of Christ, and these four things are the reason why it was to our advantage that Jesus departed.

1. Exaltation to Glory

In John 17, Jesus speaks of the glory He had with the Father before the world was created and looks forward to enjoying it once again. Even before his crucifixion, Jesus was requesting for God to grant Him the glory he once enjoyed. It was at the ascension that Jesus returned to the realm of glory. His time of suffering and humiliation was over, and He was now being exalted.

2. Pentecost

Before His passion, Jesus made it clear to His disciples that He was going away in order that He may send them another Helper or Paraclete (the Holy Spirit). Even though Jesus was leaving his disciples, His Spirit would remain with them. Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide them into all truth and it was only about ten days after the ascension that the promise of the Holy Spirit was realized. But without the ascension, there could be no Pentecost.

3. The Intercession of the High Priest

The third thing that happened at the ascension was that Jesus, our High Priest, entered into the Holy of Holies where He now functions as our Priest-King. As our great High Priest His chief priestly work is the work of intercession (For more on this read Hebrews 7:23-27 and 9:11-14). As sinful human beings, the only way we can stand before a holy God is through the atoning work of Christ. His shed blood ‘covers’ the sins of the redeemed. Those who have put their faith and truth in Christ can know that the Son of God is interceding on their behalf. That is why we can rightly call Jesus our Mediator.

4. The Coronation of the King

The forth thing that occurred because of the ascension was Christ’s coronation. Jesus was brought up to the right hand of the Father where He reigns and rules eternally. The kingdom of God is not something yet to be realized in the distant future. The kingdom has inaugurated because the King has been enthroned. Jesus is now the King of kings and Lord of lords (Philippians 2:5-11)! The name that was mocked and scorned and trampled upon at the cross is now the name above every name. As Hebrews 1:3 explains, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Later on in Hebrews we read, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). His atoning work was now complete and now all the faithful await the day when Christ will return and make all things new.

Loved By God

Every Christian knows that love is important. The Scriptures are full of love verses and perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, is an example of this. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What I want to explore is the question – how does love become a reality in the life of a believer? We know that God is love (1 John 4:8), but how does that love begin to manifest itself in the life of the Christian? I would like to suggest that it is a process that follows a somewhat predictable pattern. What follows is not intended to be a rigid list, but is more of an outline. As God’s love fills our lives, we can expect this 4-step process to happen in our lives.

1. Experiencing the Love of God

What an amazing thing to think that the Creator of the universe knows me and loves me. Have you ever stopped to ponder that? Because I am “in Christ,” God actually likes me. God is fond of me. God calls me His friend. God will never leave me nor forsake me because I am His child. This blows me away.

Many people have a hard time believing that God could ever love them. They know their past and they know they are a sinner. They are also aware that God is holy and just and cannot simply “wink” at sin and pretend everything is ok. Of course, the solution to this dilemma is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through the electing grace of God, every believer is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. How can God love us? Because the blood of Christ covers our sins and we become a child of God.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) You mean God is actually for me? You mean God is actually pleased with me? God loves me? Yes, yes, and yes!

When we start to understand the love of God, it tends to overwhelm us. We can never fully understand it, but as we begin to comprehend the redeeming love of God, we can’t help but be amazed. God was not required to rescue us…..but He did, by His grace. Praise God. Praise God. Praise God.

There are people who have faithfully attended church for decades who have never come to know or experience the love of the Savior. They are committed to doing what they can to please God and to “do things for God” but they have never come to understand or experience the love of God. Unfortunately, all their striving and toiling will count for nothing at the end of the day. The bible tells us, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) In other words, they are disgusting. Why we would ever think God would be pleased with us, apart from the perfect righteousness of Christ? So first, we must come to know and experience the love of God, in Christ.

2. Loving God 

The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God’s love always precedes our love. Keep in mind that loving God is not simply a matter of doing our best to keep the moral law. Some people think that if they don’t perform up to par, God will not accept them. It’s always our default position to think that if we do our best to please God, He will love us in return, and grant us acceptance into His kingdom. However, this is not a biblical understanding.

Ephesians 2:4-5 explains this amazing reality. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” Here we see that God’s love always precedes our love. Cleary, that which is “dead” cannot love. But as the Spirit of God fills our lives, we begin to experience the love of our Heavenly Father. Over time this love begins to be reciprocated. We gradually fall in love with the One who saved us. We can actually say (and mean it) I love God.

Clearly, love is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just as we continue to grow more and more in love with our spouse, so too do we grow in our love for God. It’s true that we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) But I don’t think anyone would say they have fully mastered this. It is a process that God performs in our lives over months and years and decades. God turns our self-centered, world-focused hearts towards Himself, so that our affections and desires are rightly directed. Gradually, we begin to love God in place of the world and ourselves. Let’s praise God for this amazing work of grace in our lives!

3. Loving our Fellow Christians

If we truly love God and are born of God, it will result in loving our fellow Christians. As 1 John 4:20-21 explains, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” In using “brother,” the apostle John simply means a fellow Christian. What this tells us is that there are certain outcomes we can expect to see when we truly love God, and this is one of them. We are deluded if we claim to love God, yet fail to love and serve our brother in Christ.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) This is a remarkable statement. Instead of trying to take advantage of one another, disciples of Jesus will strive to love and serve one another. The world can’t help but take notice of this.

The apostle Paul expands on this by listing several ways we can serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:10-13) It’s safe to say, we have a high calling as Christians. We are responsible not only to God, but also to the saints in Christ. Our love for God will manifest itself in love for fellow Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Does this mean that love among the brethren is where the love stops? You already know the answer to that question. As Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) Simply put: do good to everyone, especially our brothers in Christ.

4. Loving the World Around Us

Part of “loving the world around us” is sharing the greatest news in the world with them. The apostle Paul is a good example of this. He writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:4-5) This is the gospel in a nutshell. Paul could have kept it to himself, but he didn’t. He chose to share what was so graciously delivered to him – the good news of Jesus Christ.

The people of God are spread out all over the world, which means we live among the heathen. Whether at work or home, there are non-Christians around you. This is not something to be fearful of, but something to embrace. God has placed you in a particular context for a reason and He will use you, if only you are willing. All too often, Christians cut themselves off from the outside world. They are not willing to do the hard (and sometimes messy) work of building relationships with those around them. This means they won’t have the opportunity to share the love of God, which is very unfortunate.

If you are a follower of Christ, that means someone in your life loved you enough to share the gospel with you. We can praise God for sending messengers into our lives – people who were willing to tell us the truth about God, man, sin, and salvation. My question for you is this – are you willing to be a messenger of truth? The bible teaches that it is not the messenger who does the saving – that’s God’s work. But if you are willing, God will use you as a bearer of good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15)

There are many ways we can love and serve our neighbors. I want to in every way encourage this. But perhaps the most loving thing you can do is to share Jesus Christ with the world around you. After all, it is only Christ who can save us from the power of death and it’s only Christ who gives us the hope of eternal life. You have a unique circle of friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors, which means you have a unique opportunity. It’s not an accident you are where you are today. Why not pass on the truth that was so graciously delivered to you?

And so we see, what starts with experiencing the love of God, manifests in us loving those around us. As God transforms our lives, we begin to love our neighbor as ourself. Why not spread the love?