Illumination is the Holy Spirit’s work of regenerating us. First, He speaks to us in various ways and through any number of avenues to guide us towards the light of Christ. When faith arises in us, we believe, and this illuminative work by the Spirit climaxes at a definitive point where He regenerates us, refashioning our hearts and making Jesus Christ shine wondrously in our eyes. Illumination, for the purposes here, is the activity of the Spirit in transforming persons into a new character, lifestyle, and goal that centers on magnifying, glorifying, and mimicking Jesus the Christ. Although theologians often speak of illumination as the Spirit’s work of making Jesus Christ and Scripture understandable, it might be better to say that the Spirit’s work makes Jesus Christ and Scripture acceptable. The Spirit’s illuminative work is always about a change of mind and heart, which is expressed in good-works. Illumination is about lifestyle change, not only a change in understanding. Let’s look at 1 Cor. 2:12 – 14: “Now we did not receive the spirit from the world, but the Spirit who is from God so that we should know [experientially] the things which were freely given to us by God, which things we are even speaking, not in words produced from human wisdom but taught from the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to spiritual persons. But the natural man does not welcome (or “accept”) things from the Spirit of God: For it is stupid to him and he is not able to know because they are spiritually evaluated” (1 Cor. 2:12 – 14; trans. mine). In brackets, I’ve placed “experientially” because the Greek verb, “oida,” can focus on “knowing” something through practice, and, I contend, the context more than suggests that here. These verses do not support some strange mysticism, as though what God gives freely is not understandable. The point, from what I can tell from the Greek, is about where the knowledge comes from, not the mysteriousness of it. Knowledge can be merely human or it can be given from “above,” i.e., from God. St. Paul points out that it is not some strange mysterious knowledge, but is plainly communicable: “which things we are even speaking . . . ” The natural man, or unspiritual man, cannot accept or welcome so as to practice what God gives because the knowledge required to know whether it should be accepted or not is not derived from merely human life. The natural man will just find spiritual things dumb. To further complicate things, no one has a full knowledge of something until they experience or practice that knowledge. We might know things we have not experienced in part, but never to the same richness a person who has experienced it possesses. The unspiritual man cannot experientially know what he already thinks is stupid; it is the practice or the experience of the “yes” to the Spirit of God that opens the doors to “accept” and practice the knowledge formerly thought to be stupid. There is a change in understanding, but it is always tied to the acceptance and experience of that understanding. To merely understand with my mind is not enough to claim knowledge on that matter; just ask any snowboarder, skier, surfer, soccer player, football player, or anyone who has experiential knowledge of a game. I played soccer for two decades; experiential knowledge is radically different from watching soccer from the sidelines. Now that we have handles this, what does the Spirit’s illumination do to one’s attitude about the Church?
Illumination, then, always leads to people coming together around the life and character of the Lord Jesus Christ. When I use the word “Church,” I am not envisioning the local church per se while not denying that this may be a legitimate expression of the Church. The Church is a lifestyle. Its lifeblood is the illumination the Spirit does and continues to do. Each individual contributes to the Church (1 Cor. 12:12), and the illumination the Spirit does initiates a believer’s love for Jesus Christ, but it does not stop there. The phrase, “in the Spirit,” used frequently across the pages of Scripture is used to describe the existence of the saints (Rom. 8:9, 1 Cor. 12:3, Phil. 2:1, Col. 1:8, 1 Pet. 3:18). Being in the Spirit minimally means being attuned to the concerns of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25). We want to practice what we are now accepting in our thinking and so trying to actualize it in our lives. The Spirit in indwelling individuals and the community, not one or the other. Illumination is about loving Jesus Christ, but to love Him is to love those in Him. We cannot say we love God but hate other believers. To say such is to deny one’s inclusion in the body of Christ, as 1 John argues in a number of places (1 John 2:9, 4:20). Illumination is about, therefore, coming to know Jesus Christ, that regenerative moment we say “yes” to God, and about growing in greater intimacy with other believers. We are illuminated all along the way when we are with God, for God is light.
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