“FALSE ASSURANCES, #4 (I’ve been illuminated!)”

Hebrews 6.4-6



1.   There are three words that I would like to make sure you are acquainted with before this morning’s sermon, the words revelation, inspiration, and illumination.

2.   They are theological words, but they are also important words that everyone who reads and study’s God’s Word would benefit from understanding a little better: 


1B.      Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder and longtime president of the Dallas Theological Seminary, began the chapter on Revelation in his eight volume Systematic Theology with these words:  “IN ITS THEOLOGICAL usage, the term revelation is restricted to the divine act of communicating to man what otherwise man would not know.”[1]

2B.    So, revelation has to do with God revealing to man what man could not otherwise discover on his own.  God accomplishes Revelation by a variety of means:

1C.         First, there is God revealing Himself through nature:  “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork,” Psalm 19.1.

2C.         Next, there is God revealing Himself through providence.  I define providence as the unseen hand of the invisible God moving in the affairs of men to accomplish His purpose.  From the child of God’s perspective, providence is described in Romans 8.28:  “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

3C.         Third, there is God revealing Himself through preservation.  Though we do not have the time to fully explore this aspect of revelation, scripture is plain in its many declarations that God preserves both the physical universe and His Own people, thereby putting on display His glorious attributes of power, faithfulness, and mercy.

4C.         Fourth, there is God revealing Himself through miracles.  A miracle is the intervention by God into His physical universe in a way that seems to be an exception to the normal processes by which He governs nature.  From God’s creation of the universe in which we live in six literal days, to the deliverance of Daniel from the mouths of lions, to the catching up of Elijah into heaven, to the parting of the Red Sea and the feeding of the Israelites with manna from heaven for forty years, God has revealed Himself by means of a multitude of miraculous interventions in the normal order of things.

5C.         Fifth, there is God revealing Himself by means of direct communication.  This, of course, would be such times when God spoke to individuals such as Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, and a whole host of others recorded in the Bible.

6C.         Sixth, there is God revealing Himself by means of the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 1.1-2 reads, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.”

7C.         Finally, there is God revealing Himself by means of His Word, the Bible.  Jude 3 makes reference to “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” which, of course, is by means of the Bible, the Word of God, the holy scriptures.

3B.    To reiterate, whenever God reveals Himself to His creatures that act of revealing is termed revelation. 


1B.    If revelation has to do with God revealing Himself to His creatures, revealing to them things they otherwise would not know, inspiration has to do with a specific aspect of revelation.  Inspiration, when the word is considered as a topic of theology, has always and only to do with written revelation, has always and only to do with the Word of God, the Bible.

2B.      Again, I consult Chafer:  “THE THEOLOGICAL use of the term inspiration is a reference to that controlling influence which God exerted over the human authors by whom the Old and New Testament were written.”[2]

3B.      What needs to be kept clear in our thinking is the fact that inspiration never has to do with an individual, in scripture, but always with the result.  That is, there is never a claim that any person is inspired in the Bible, but that scripture is the result of inspiration.  To this end Paul wrote Second Timothy 3.16:  “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.”

4B.      Revelation, then, is something which God does, and has done by a variety of means.  Inspiration is the result of God’s revelation through the scriptures.  Thus, when an individual says, “I felt inspired,” he has every right to use that word, so long as we understand that he is not using the word “inspired” in the theological sense.  Theologically, only the Bible is inspired, never people. 


1B.      You might have already observed that revelation is a work of God, and that inspiration is a work of God.  Unless God reveals there is no truth concerning God available to His creatures.  And unless God inspires there is no record of the truth God has made available to His creatures.  As with revelation and inspiration, so illumination is a work of God.

2B.      There are several ways, however, in which illumination differs from revelation and inspiration:

1C.         First, whereas revelation and inspiration have to do with communicating truth, illumination has to do not with communicating truth, but with understanding truth.  God has revealed Himself by means of revelation, and given us a written record of that revelation by means of inspiration.  But unless a person is illuminated he will not understand the truth he has been exposed to.  Luke 24.45 speaks of the resurrected Christ’s illumination of two men He had been teaching:  “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.”  Illumination is the key to real understanding of spiritual truth.

2C.         A second way in which illumination differs from revelation and inspiration is that illumination is partial and incomplete in a way that revelation and inspiration are not.  Let me explain: 

3C.         When God revealed Himself by various means of revelation, He did not reveal everything about Himself there is to know, but He did perfectly and accurately reveal what He chose to reveal.  So, there are no degrees of revelation.  What God reveals is always perfectly true and accurate.

4C.         Likewise, when God inspired the Word of God, the result was a perfectly inspired scripture.  There are no degrees of inspiration.  Something is either inspired or it is not.  The Bible is inspired and the Koran is not, because the Bible is God-breathed and the Koran is not.

5C.         When it comes to illumination, however, such words as gradual, partial and incomplete are very appropriate, because God’s illuminating work, whereby He enables someone to grasp spiritual truth and understand it, differs from person to person, varies according to a number of factors, and never results in perfect understanding by anyone this side of heaven.

6C.         In First Corinthians 13.12, Paul contrasts between what is known now by illumination and what will be known once we get to heaven and have full understanding of all things:  “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 


1.   So, we have three theological words that shed light on God’s activity of making Himself known to His creatures; revelation, inspiration and illumination.

2.   Revelation has to do with God revealing things about Himself to His creatures that could not otherwise be discovered.  Inspiration has directly to do with providing a written record of that portion of God’s revelation that He wants everyone to have access to.  Only the Bible is inspired, never people.  Then there is illumination, whereby God makes it possible for someone to actually understand what is written in the Bible.

3.   Since the Bible is complete and will not be added to by God, revelation and inspiration basically have to do with past activities of God communicating truth to the human sphere.  What more urgently concerns us is this thing called illumination, whereby we come to understand God’s revelation and inspiration, the Bible.

4.   Brother Isenberger comes to lead us in a song before this morning’s sermon.  Please stand at this time. 


1.   Allow me to set up a case history for your consideration.  Let us suppose that a person comes to Calvary Road Baptist Church and church attendance becomes not only a habit of life, but a delight.

2.   After some months of coming to Calvary Road Baptist Church, this very nice person comes under a season of painful conviction and is hopefully converted.

3.   Never before much of a reader, this person overcomes personal obstacles and diligently reads the Bible just about every day.  Before long, and while reading the Bible, this person’s understanding of Bible truths improves to such a degree as to bring pure delight to the soul.

4.   Again and again, truths never before grasped are understood more and more completely by this excited student of the Bible.  Friends are also amazed at the insights, at the grasp of Bible truths, and the applications of those truths to daily living this person now has.

5.   The question before us is what is this person’s pastor to make of this turn of events, of these new insights, of this quite apparent illumination?  More importantly, what is this person to make of this seeming illumination?

6.   So we might be guided by God’s Word, please turn to Hebrews 6.4-6.  When you find our text for today, stand for the reading of the holy scriptures: 

4      For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

5      And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

6      If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. 

7.   This is a very difficult and hotly contested portion of scripture to interpret, and I do not want to take the time today to untangle the knots for you.  But there is one sliver of truth in this passage that all of our persuasion seem to be in agreement about, and which will serve as the kernel of truth from which my sermon will germinate.

8.   Please read the passage again with me.  What I want you to focus your attention on is the remark made in verse 4 concerning those who were once enlightened.  This is a passing reference about illumination on the way to another issue, and it shows that it is possible for someone to be illuminated even though, as this passage shows us, he is unconverted . . . as his conduct over time shows him to have always been.

9.   My friends, there are many these days who mistake illumination for evidence of conversion, who suppose illumination to be the ground for assurance of salvation.  They are mistaken.  Let me tell you why: 


1B.    The human mind is a wonderful invention of God, capable of the most remarkable feats.  Sometimes the mind is far more capable than a person thinks it is, even causing him to give credit to God for illumination where there has been no illumination.

2B.      Because of my appointment to the Air Force Academy in the summer of 1968, I got a late start at Oregon State University, making it necessary to take some summer classes to graduate on time.  In one particular class, Thermodynamics, I was having a terrible time doing the homework, so I went to sleep one night when I could stay awake no longer.  To my amazement, I woke up in the middle of the night, completed the homework assignment that my mind had unraveled while I was sleeping, and then went back to bed.  Over the course of that summer school session I did that on several occasions.  Sometimes similar occurrences take place with someone who is studying the Bible or listening to sermons, not realizing that the mind does not stop working during sleep or during other activities, and mistaking a very natural figuring out of facts and details for spiritual illumination.

3B.    A hopeful convert is especially subject to this type of thing, supposing an accumulation of facts from the Bible to be illumination, and eagerly desiring to attribute certain things to the blessings of God.  But rather than illumination being the explanation for the conclusion that a sudden insight has been gained, it might very well be imagination. 


1B.      Please turn to First Timothy 4.1:  “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”

1C.         Notice that last phrase, “doctrines of devils.”  That is literally referring to the “teachings of demons.”[3]

2C.         My friends, the demons have access to your mind in the very same way the Holy Spirit does.  And if you are a hopeful convert, how are you to discern between the truth of God’s Word and the subtle distortions of truth that the demons would urge upon you?

3C.         Are you so proud that you figure you would know the difference?  The whole point of this verse is that there are seductive spirit beings who lead people astray.  And who would be most vulnerable but some hopeful convert?

2B.      Now turn to First John 4.1:  “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

1C.         Is this not another warning about unclean spirits influencing the unsuspecting?  Of course, it is. So, how will you guard yourself against the perception of being illuminated, all the while you are actually being deceived?

2C.         Many will say, “Well, I will try the spirits, just like John says.”  But do you know how to do that?  Hebrews 5.13-14:  “ For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

3C.         The passage I just read indicates you have to be well taught in the Bible to discern between good and evil.  But how can you do that when you don’t know the Bible?  So, you cannot try the spirits whether they are of God.  You haven’t the Bible knowledge to be able to discern.

3B.    Of course, the classic case of spiritual deception is the serpent’s deception of Eve in the Garden. 

1C.         We do not have the time to look up that passage, but she is the most well known case of being overmatched against a spiritual foe of vastly superior intelligence and experience.

2C.         It is unlikely that you would know when you are being influenced to misapprehend a spiritual truth.  Imagine yourself being spiritually darkened in your understanding, all the while thinking you are being illuminated.  That is exactly what happened to Eve. 


1B.    Our text for today addresses the illumination by the Holy Spirit of those who very clearly were not saved.  As well, do not forget such notable figures in the Bible as Balaam and Judas Iscariot, both of whom were illuminated to a sufficient degree to speak God’s truth, but who were both obviously lost.  There was also Saul, Israel’s first king.

2B.      Folks, we have people sitting in the auditorium right now who can recount to you the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  They could testify of being thrilled because of newfound understanding of Bible truths, only to later become aware of their lost condition before being truly converted.

3B.      What must be realized is that the Holy Spirit does have a ministry in the lives of many people before they are converted.  The Lord Jesus Christ speaks of this ministry in John chapter 16, a ministry that requires illuminating unconverted people. 


1B.    Is this not what the Savior was referring to when He said to His disciples, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come”?[4]

2B.      And to what is Paul referring in First Thessalonians 4.9, if not the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, when he wrote, “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another”? 


1.   The illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit is wonderful and glorious for every child of God, filling his soul with delight as he is taught of God.  How dreary the Christian life would be apart from the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit.

2.   But though the absence of illumination is a source of trouble and should be a fright to anyone as evidence of a lost condition, the presence of illumination should be no assurance of salvation.  Why not?

3.   First, because illumination is so subjective an issue that there are times when a person’s own mind conjures up thoughts that are misinterpreted as being illumination when it is no such thing.

4.   Second, because what is thought to be illumination can very well be the result of some subtle demonic influence that, rather than shedding light on a spiritual truth or the nature of God, is actually spreading darkness and deception about God and the things of God.

5.   Third, illumination should not be allowed to provide assurance of salvation because we know from the Bible that the Spirit of God illuminates even unsaved people.  So, if that be true, how can someone know for sure that he is saved because he thinks his understanding is illuminated?

6.   Finally, we know the Spirit of God illuminates believers.  But the purpose of illumination is not to provide assurance of salvation, but insight into a spiritual truth or reality.

7.   Let us, then, be sure about things we should be sure about and be cautious about things we should be cautious about.

8.   Revelation is something God does.  Apart from revelation, we could know nothing about our great and glorious God.

9.   Inspiration has to do with that portion of God’s revelation which records truths for us to consider and study and know.  The Bible is inspired and there is no part of the Bible which was not inspired of God.  About those two things, revelation and inspiration, we can be very certain.  Those are objective truths.

10. Illumination, however, is a very subjective thing.  Illumination, or what passes for illumination, has four potential factors that require wisdom and discernment to properly evaluate:  Some so-called illumination is no illumination at all, but the imagination of a man’s mind.  Some so-called illumination is not illumination at all, but is the seduction of a person by evil spirit creatures called demons.  And then there is the real and genuine illumination of the Holy Spirit, but in the lives of both the lost and the saved.

11. So, what do you do with illumination?  You exercise caution.  If it proves to be genuine you rejoice.  But you never take it as a sign that you are a Christian.  Assurance of salvation comes from other indications besides illumination.

12. Are you concerned about your soul’s condition?  Are you troubled about your salvation, not having the assurance you can have and should have?  When everyone steps outside for some finger food and fellowship, why don’t you and I talk?

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1976), page 48.

[2] Ibid, page 61.

[3] Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ NT Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[4] John 16.13

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