Wrapping up our six-part series on the authority of Scripture, we examine the Bible’s impact on our lives.
This year we discussed the revelation, inspiration, canonization, and preservation of the Bible. In this last study, we turn to the illumination and application of Scripture.
The Holy Spirit reveals meaning to people Jesus dwells in. That’s the process of illumination. Someone with God’s Spirit working in them can understand and obtain from a Bible text meaning that cannot be garnered by people without His Spirit, despite their age and education. How that happens, we don’t know; it is still a mystery. When we come to the Messiah in faith, His Spirit illuminates the Bible:
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).
God gives all of us understanding. His wisdom is to put the cookies on the bottom shelf so that all His kids can reach them. We do not need somebody to tell us what the Bible means because, as 1 Corinthians 2:13 says. “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches.” This does not mean that teachers sharing their understanding provide no benefit (Acts 8:30, 31). It means that even if someone explains a Bible truth to us, we won’t get it without God’s Spirit opening our minds to understanding.
Illuminating is comparing
So how does this process of the Holy Spirit teaching us, or illumination, happen? Paul says it’s by “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” The Bible is understood best when compared with the Bible. The Spirit compares what God has revealed with what God has revealed. One of the biggest reasons we don’t understand something in the Bible is that we have not compared it with what God has revealed elsewhere in His Word. God’s Spirit gives us that ability.
Now notice Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 2:14: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Discern means to come to a right conclusion on something. The Spirit of Christ makes that possible.
Illumination involves explanation and interpretation, the challenges of study. It takes time to know what was meant for us. Second Timothy 2:15 tells us to “Be diligent. . . .” The word diligent means meticulous, implying work over time. The verse continues, “to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed. . . .” Why would you not need to be ashamed? Because you are “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Applying is obeying
Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. . . .” How are we going to understand the wisdom of Scripture? Through obedience, as the verse concludes: “all those who practice it have a good understanding” (ESV). We learn by doing. If you want to understand the mind of God, you have to apply it.
Why do some people read and do, while other people read and do not? Are we convicted when we read the Bible? Do we see that it is talking to us? If so, that’s the Holy Spirit, first illuminating the Word to convict our hearts and then moving us to apply it to our everyday lives.
Going back to 2 Timothy, Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” for four things: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (3:16). The word translated from Greek as “correction” means the act of fixing something that’s been broken. Instruction in righteousness suggests disciplined education.
What is the ultimate point of all this? Paul tells us: “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 17). The purpose of Scripture is to transform us, to make us complete, able to do God’s will fully. You need instruction? That’s your Book! You need to be convinced of something with proof? It’s there! You’re broken and need fixing? You got it! You need a disciplined spiritual education? That’s there too. It’s all there for you, at your fingertips.
Transformed and reflecting
This Book has changed lives; the Bible changed my life. It can change yours too. But it doesn’t matter how much illumination we have, how much explanation. If we don’t have application, we’ve missed the whole point — the whole benefit.
Are you in love with the Bible? Do you yearn for it? Is your “soul consumed with longing for [God’s] laws at all times,” as Psalm 119:20 says (NIV)? Is the Bible making a difference in your life? Does “the law of the Lord” revive your soul and bring your heart joy, as it says in Psalm 19:7, 8? Probably not, if you aren’t studying the Bible. If you are, it is making a difference.
We have no light in ourselves. In Philippians 2:15, 16, Paul says that we “shine as lights in the world . . . Holding forth the word of life” (KJV). For the Greeks, that word light was used for the light of the moon — not of itself, but reflected. We are the light of the world because we reflect the light from God’s Word. The true source is the Sun of righteousness and the living Word (Malachi 4:2; John 1:1).
There is a power in the Word of God: “’Let there be light’; and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Creation power! Yet beyond that is a power spoken of in Romans 1:16: “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” Gospel power! This Book contains a word of power that can change us, taking us from illusory lives of temporary, physical existence and turning us into something real and permanent and everlasting. That is a huge power.
I don’t know where you are in your Bible study or what your study habits are, but I encourage you to study your Bible daily. If you don’t already, start somewhere — maybe with the big books of Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, the Gospels, or Romans. Or just start at the beginning and work your way through. But make it a habit. Don’t let the day go by without having some time in the Bible while praying about it.
The Bible has authority because it is God’s Word for us and to us. It can impact our lives in a way that no other book can or ever will. We become as we behave. With the Spirit’s guidance, let’s read the Bible and apply it, and receive God’s blessings for doing so.