Biblical illumination is the process by which the Holy Spirit helps a person to understand the truth of God's Word. Illumination is often discussed alongside related concepts of biblical inspiration and interpretation. Inspiration involves how God has revealed spiritual truth; interpretation involves our study of spiritual truth; illumination involves our understanding of spiritual truth and involves both the Scriptures and the influence of the Holy Spirit.
First, it is important to understand that the Holy Spirit indwells or lives within every believer in Jesus Christ. Romans 8:9 teaches, "You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." First Corinthians 12:13 adds, "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit."
Illumination involves how the Spirit of God helps us understand the truth of God. John 16:13-14 explains, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
The Holy Spirit also uses people gifted in teaching or preaching to help others in the process of illumination. Ephesians 4:11-12 says, "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." Romans 12:6-7 adds, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them … the one who teaches, in his teaching."
It is important to understand that our spiritual condition can influence the process of God's Spirit illuminating the text of Scripture in our lives. First Corinthians 3:1-3 shares a negative example: "But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 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?"
We must remember that "the LORD my God lightens my darkness" (Psalm 18:28). The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, repeatedly emphasizes that God's truth is our foundation for spiritual maturity. We turn to His Word for wisdom and seek help from God's Spirit to understand it through illumination in order to better live His purposes for our lives. Ephesians 1:17-18 explains the appropriate goal of illumination: "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints."
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