“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12)
Now that I am a senior citizen, I have begun receiving a lot of junk mail targeted at my age group. I am getting a lot of mail from people selling hearing aids. I can get a free hearing exam. Frankly, I do not need a free hearing exam since my wife tells me all the time that I must be deaf since I do not listen to her. Yet, it is true, my hearing is not as good as it was 50-years ago. My eyesight is also not as good. Devices like glasses and hearing aids provide us with an ability to take in written and auditory information. Similarly, God has given us the Bible and the Holy Spirit so we can hear from Him.
The Holy Spirit of God opens the heart to understand the truth of God. The major problem with man is not hearing auditory noise or seeing the written word of God. It is one born in the heart that has been corrupted by sin. This spiritual blockage is what keeps the most intelligent people (from a human perspective) from comprehending the truth of the gospel. Those who do not believe when hearing or reading the Bible have a heart’s predisposition against the truth of God.
This work of the Holy Spirit is fundamental in people being able to comprehend the truth of the gospel. Jesus had much to say concerning the Holy Spirit in this manner. He spoke words of this in preparing the disciples for His departure, where He called the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Truth” (John 15:26). Regarding the work of opening the hearts of people to grasp the truth, Jesus in referring to the Holy Spirit stated the following.
“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:8–11, ESV)
The Holy Spirit would open the heart of people to understand their sin problem, the righteousness of Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), and the coming judgment for sin. Furthermore, Jesus went on to tell the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be instrumental in their further understanding of God’s truth.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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.” (John 16:12–13, ESV)
Jesus was speaking of a time when the Holy Spirit would come upon them. This happened on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and from that time on all believers were indwelt with the Holy Spirit at salvation (Rom 8:9-11). The Spirit would work in all believers to reveal to them the deep truths of God’s word.
Theologians call this work of the Holy Spirit in understanding God’s truth the doctrine of “illumination.” It is that the Holy Spirit opens the hearts of believers to understand the truth of God as revealed in His word, the Bible. Here we are not speaking about new revelation but opening the heart of people to comprehend the truths of Scripture that He wants us to know.
It is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit that reveals the truth of the Scriptures in our hearts. This illumination of the Scriptures lights the way of righteousness so that believers can avoid straying from the safe path and wandering into the path of darkness and destruction. The Psalmist wrote that God’s word “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, ESV) and Paul indicated that it was the Spirit of God who illuminated the truth of the Scriptures for us.
“For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts 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 understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11–12, ESV)
Thus, every true believer has heard the voice of the Lord calling him or her to saving faith. The voice of the Lord may have come from someone preaching the gospel message, or reading the Bible, like I did, or by a variety of other means. Yet, it was the ministry of the Spirit that illuminated this truth to the unsaved person’s heart, prompting understanding and saving faith.
Moreover, the Holy Spirit works in every believer after salvation to understand the word of God. When we study the Scriptures, when we read them, when we hear the word of God preached, seeds are planted and illuminated to us. When we need these truths in life, the Holy Spirit brings them to mind. In this way God speaks to us so that we can make correct choices.
Therefore, the issue is one of believers growing in their knowledge of Scripture and being able to discern the thoughts and intents of their hearts. Believers must get serious about the study of God’s word.