“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)
A Christian is a person who — by God’s sovereign choice and that person’s willful invitation — has been rescued by God from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:13-14). God has thereby freed the Christian from slavery to sin, and adopted him or her as His very own child. One of the most profound and mystical aspects of this redemptive work is that the Spirit of God literally invades the life of human beings, dwelling in and ruling over their lives, regenerating them and making possible their divine adoption (Romans 8:9-17). Almighty God actually takes up residence inside a person, spiritually speaking, and manifests Himself — becomes tangibly visibly to the outside world — in unique ways in every person whom He indwells. This manifestation is the heightened ability of the Christian to glorify God and serve others in his life, to manifest the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:1-11).
Any and all actions that honor God come from God’s power and life-giving presence. Wicked men (and women) — even those who denounce God with their whole being and are speeding down the road to hell laughing all the way — can occasionally honor God with their actions, just as a broken clock is right twice a day. But even that is also God’s work, not theirs — a function of what is often called “common grace”. The same can be said for people whom we perceive to be “good”, but are not born again Christians (because the Spirit of God does not dwell in them). The Bible is extremely clear that there is no one who is good, only God alone (Mark 10:18).
But in the life of a Christian, where God’s Spirit dwells, God gives the power to honor Him in specific and unique ways. This empowering is what the Church has come to call “spiritual gifts”, because they are spiritual — from the Spirit of God — and gifts — great blessings to both the Christian herself and to those she serves using her gifts. Many varied lists and descriptions of spiritual gifts exist in Christendom, and I’m hesitant to even attempt some kind of definitive version of that. I’m not sure God would fit very well in whatever kind of box that ended up creating. But many churches agree on gifts like leadership, hospitality, shepherding, giving, teaching, miraculous healing, selfless works, etc. In each case, God has decided in His sovereignty to give one of His children an ability or two that can only be adequately explained supernaturally. When you hear people talk about “gifted teachers” like James MacDonald or John Ortberg or Matt Chandler, they’re referring to the pronounced spiritual empowerment to teach God’s word in a powerful and effective way. Those who are always thinking of how to encourage others may have the spiritual gift of “encouragement.” My wife is constantly looking for ways to serve others behind the scenes and never has any interest in recognition or limelight. I believe she typifies the spiritual gift of “works” or “service”. And so on.
God gave us each unique gifts as an outworking of His grace and with the expectation that we would use those gifts for His glory and for the common good (Romans 12:3-8). If you have given your heart and life to Jesus, make it a priority to explore and understand the unique way God is empowering your life and equipping you for ministry, and ask God to bring the full force of His Spirit to bear on the world around you through His uniquely-shaped presence in your life. It will be an adventure worth writing home about!
For the interested… Here’s are links to a couple different spiritual gift assessments,
one from Willow Creek and one from Harvest Bible Chapel,
which you can use to learn more about your own gifts, if you’d like.
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