God's Truth by Revelation and Illumination, Not by Intellectualizing
Summary: "Don't intellectualize the Gospel," said my pastor. And he was right. God's truth comes to us by His revelation and illumination by His Holy Spirit, not by our mental effort, no matter how well intentioned.
Matthew 16:15-17 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”
•• How did Peter learn this great truth that Jesus was the promised Messiah? By divine revelation, not by “flesh and blood” — that is, not by human wisdom and intellect.
•• 43 years ago, when I was a fairly new Christian, a good friend held up his bible and said to me, “There’s only one way you’ll understand this, and that’s by revelation.” Quite honestly, at the time I was skeptical. But as I grew in my faith, I realized that he was correct. Although our minds are certainly involved in our Christian faith, the receiving of God’s truth is primarily at the spiritual level, not the intellectual one.
• Romans 8:16, KJV "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." How do we know we are born-again children of God? The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit, at that deepest (spiritual) level within us. That’s how Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah — it was “revealed to [him].”
1 Corinthians 2:11-14 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
•• How do we “understand what God has freely given us”? We understand the truths of God as we are “taught by the Spirit”. The things of God “are discerned only through the Spirit”. Theologians make semantic distinctions between "revelation" and "illumination." But for our purposes today, I use these terms in the cooperative sense that the Holy Spirit illuminates to us — that is, sheds light upon — God's revelations of His truths to mankind. In other words, our understanding of divine truth is a primarily spiritual process, not a mental/intellectual one.
•• That offends many modern thinkers. In our so-called Age of Reason, we are fooled into thinking that mankind can grasp God’s truths by applying intellectual force. Unfortunately, laboring under this type of wrong thinking, I earned 37 semester hours of Theology and Philosophy credits at a Catholic university (Boston College), but in all that intellectual endeavor I never experienced a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ! My intellectualizing of the Gospel hid its life-changing revelation from me.
1 Corinthians 3:19a For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.
•• The Oxford don might scoff at this, but it is true nonetheless. Once a young man of my acquaintance shared his Christian faith with a chemistry professor at his university. The professor’s response was, “It’s too simple.” And therein lies the problem. God’s divine wisdom and man’s intellectualized “wisdom” are not one and the same. The former is supernatural; the latter is worldly.
•• Mortal man tends to glorify the intellect. But God does not reach out to us through our intellects. No, but as we have read, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits. That’s the primary level at which God communicates to us — His Spirit with our spirit. Peter didn’t “figure out” Jesus’ Messiahship by his natural faculties. Rather, it was revealed to Him by God. And for that Jesus said Peter was “blessed”.
•• One caveat before we move on. I am not suggesting that our minds have no place in living our Christian faith. In fact, Jesus exhorted us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). The apostle Paul encouraged us to "pray with the spirit and ... pray with the understanding also" (1 Corinthians 14:15). My intent today is not to discredit the importance of our minds, but rather to clarify the fact that the primary level at which God communicates His truth to us is the spiritual level, not the intellectual one. The wise believer looks for the spiritual to inform the mental, not vice versa. With that focus in view, let’s go on.
How is God’s truth revealed to us?
1) The word of God —
John 8:31-32, KJV Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
•• The word of the Lord is spiritual — John 6:63, KJV “…the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."
•• It is by continuing in the Lord’s word that we know the truth.
Psalm 119:105, 130, KJV Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path…  The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
•• God’s word will enlighten us. It is “a lamp” to guide our feet, “a light” to illuminate our path. When His words enter into us, they give light and understanding. For this reason, every Christian should be a dedicated, daily reader of the holy Scriptures of the bible. As you read His word faithfully, you will find that the “light will come on” for you concerning numerous truths of great relevance to your life.
2) The Spirit of God —
John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
•• The Holy Spirit is God’s heaven-sent “Teacher”. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things. That does not discount the value of Ephesians 4:11 teachers. But the Holy Spirit who inspired the word of God is by far the most capable One to teach us its truths.
•• Each time I go to read the Scriptures, I begin with a prayer similar to Psalm 119:18 — “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” When you read the Scriptures, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the truths you are reading.
John 16:12-13 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
•• The Holy Spirit, being the divine third Person of the Trinity, knows all truth. Therefore, He is eminently qualified and is capable of guiding us into all the truth.
Acts 10:19-20 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
•• Sometimes the Holy Spirit will speak to us directly, not always through the Scriptures. Keep your heart open to a direct word to you from the Spirit of God.
3) Anointed ministries —
Amos 3:7 Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.
•• The Israelites of Old Testament times received much guidance, and the revelation of God’s plans, from the prophets God had placed among them. There are still prophets among the Lord’s people today, and we do well to receive their ministries, of course submitting all that they say to the measure of Scripture.
Ephesians 3:4-5 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
•• Several decades after Jesus had returned to heaven, apostles and prophets continued ministering in His Church. Those ministries and the evangelists, pastors, and teachers — the fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4:11 — are in our midst to the present day. We do well to receive the blessing of their ministry giftings.
4) Visions —
Daniel 2:19, 22-23, KJV Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven…  He revealeth the deep and secret things ... thou hast now made known unto us the king's matter.
•• Daniel and others in the bible received revelations from God through visions. The apostle Peter, in his great sermon on the day of Pentecost, tells us that one of the results of God pouring out His Spirit on His people is the receiving of visions — “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
•• Visions may not necessarily be a common occurrence. In my 40+ years as a born-again Christian, I have received probably two visions. But they contained important revelations for me. So remain open to visions, if the Lord should choose to speak to you in that way.
5) Dreams —
Matthew 1:20-21, 24 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” …  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
•• We see a number of instances in the bible where God revealed important information to His people in a dream. A word of caution here: I’m not talking about what a friend of mine calls a “hamburger and french fry dream”. Not every thought that comes to you during sleep is from the Lord! But on occasion the Lord does use dreams to communicate His truth, His plan, His wisdom. So be open to that, and again, judge all by the infallible measure of the Scriptures.
6) Trances —
Acts 10:9-11; 11:4-5 ...Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners… [11:5] Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was.”
•• In this instance, God put Peter into a trance, during which He gave Peter the great revelation about the Gentiles being accepted by God.
•• This is not a common avenue of revelation. But the bible and church history do show trances as occasional methods used by God to communicate revelation.
7) Angels —
Acts 27:21-25 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.
•• I have, to the best of my knowledge, never seen an angel. Others whom I know have seen them. The Bible contains numerous instances of people (Daniel, the apostles Paul and John, Mary’s husband Joseph, and others) who received important revelations from God from angelic visitations. The bible word "angels" means "messengers". In that capacity, on occasion they serve to bring messages from God to His people.s
8) Gifts of the Holy Spirit —
Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
•• It seems that a gift of the Holy Spirit (perhaps prophecy or a word of knowledge or wisdom) was God’s method to call Saul/Paul and Barnabas as apostles (Acts 14:14).
•• The Scriptures have abundant examples of God revealing things to His people via such spiritual gifts as a word of knowledge, a word of wisdom, a prophecy, a tongue with interpretation, or a discerning of spirits. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in the Church today and are a valuable source of God’s revelation to His people.
•• Many years ago, three of us had spent several hours attempting to cast a demon out of a demon-possessed young lady. But we had no success. Then the Lord spoke a word of knowledge to us that precisely pinpointed the nature and the cause of her demonic bondage. And from that revelation we received faith to cast four demons out of her, after which she was immediately saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and praising God.
9) A spiritual mind —
Romans 8:6, KJV For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
•• This is a very simple truth: keep your mind attuned to spiritual things, not carnal ones. That will keep you open and receptive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Remember (1 Corinthians 2:14), the things of God are “discerned only through the Spirit”.
10) In prayer —
Luke 6:12-13, KJV And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles.
•• Jesus prayed all night, then in the morning He chose His twelve apostles. The bible abounds with examples of prayer being answered with wisdom or revelations from God.
•• My first pastor used to say that we are as spiritual as we are prayerful. When asked how he seemed to be so sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading during the church services, this pastor replied, “It’s directly proportional to the amount of time you spend waiting on God.” In other words, prayer predisposes us to hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice.
To sum up, God communicates His truth to us more by His revelation than by our intellects. Keep yourself open to the various biblical ways which God uses to impart His truth to us: