Does Every Believer Have a Spiritual Gift?

The phrase “spiritual gift” is only employed five times in the NASB New Testament. In Romans 1:11 (χάρισμα ὑμῖν πνευματικὸν—charisma humin pneumatikon) it is in reference to something Paul wanted to impart to the entire church at Rome. In 1 Corinthians 12:1, Paul prefaces the entire discussion of manifestations of the Spirit with the expressed desire that the Corinthians be aware of spiritual gifts. But while the Greek includes spiritual (πνευματικῶν—pneumatikon), it does not include any term for gifts.Thus, while the NASB reading implies that the context following 12:1 is a discussion of spiritual gifts, the Greek does not necessarily support that implication. In 1 Corinthians 14:1 and 12 likewise, the NASB includes the phrase “spiritual gifts,” but the Greek only includes the term “spiritual” (πνευματικά/πνευμάτων—pneumatika/pneumatōn) and no term from which the NASB translates “gifts.”

Finally, in 1 Timothy 4:14 Paul warns Timothy not to neglect the spiritual gift within him. In light of the limited number of references in the NASB (five), and the even smaller number of actual references in the Greek (two), there is no biblical data to support the idea that every believer has, specifically, a spiritual gift. On the other hand, there is data that supporting every believer’s having a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7).

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Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #3 We Have to Identify Our Gifts

gift question markRead the series so far.

He had no military training, and no skill with the elite weapons of war, but when he saw a battle that needed to be won he didn’t hesitate to engage. Against all odds, and armed only with the knowledge of how God had strengthened him before, a sling and a few small stones, David faced a vicious enemy. 1 Samuel 17 gives the account of how David heard the Philistines taunting God and the armies of Israel, how no soldiers were willing to fight the Philistine champion, and how David—depending on the Lord—won the day. Being only a boy, David was met with resistance when he volunteered to fight. King Saul told him he was not able (1 Sam. 17:33).

David’s response was brilliant (and helpful): “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37). And of course, we know the rest of the story.

David’s attitude toward serving God provides an excellent example for us today, especially as we consider spiritual gifts. David lived in a different age, and the Holy Spirit was not operating in exactly the same way—He would temporarily strengthen people for specific tasks, and there is no evidence that He indwelt people then as He does in the church age. Because David wasn’t dealing with “spiritual gifts,” I use his episode with Goliath as an example, but we have to be careful not to take the analogy too far.

In any case, David was certain he would be able to function successfully in a future endeavor only because of how God provided for him in similar past endeavors. He exhibited no fear in looking forward to the task at hand because of his history with God. But as far as we know, David had no special revelation from God to that point. As far as the Bible reveals, God did not promise David He would deliver him from the lion or the bear—or Goliath. But yet David was confident, and he proclaimed to Goliath, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted” (17:45).

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Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #2 Speaking in Tongues is a Needed Evidence that We Have the Holy Spirit

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With over 40,000 members, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas is the largest church in the United States. For better or for worse, Lakewood and its leader Joel Osteen are profoundly influential. One significant area of influence is in the realm of spiritual gifts. A search of the terms “spiritual gifts” on Lakewood’s website produced (at the top of the list) a downloadable booklet called Understanding the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, from Joel Osteen Ministries, and authored by Lisa Comes. The booklet explains how and why one should speak in tongues, and cites speaking in tongues as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (point 5, page 3). The view promoted in the booklet is not original with Lakewood, Osteen, or Comes—in fact, it is the prevailing view in Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations. But is it a biblical view? Is speaking in tongues needed evidence that we have the Holy Spirit?

First, as we considered in the previous article, Romans 8:9 emphatically notes that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” By contrast Osteen’s and Comes’s booklet cites Acts (2:17-19, 39), Luke (11:13), and John (7:37-39) to support the point that not every believer has the Holy Spirit. And it is true that Romans presents a very different picture of how one receives the Holy Spirit than do the Gospels and even the book of Acts. But rather than contradicting one another, these books consider different contexts—different times, and different ways in which God has worked over the ages (nothing contradictory at all). To illustrate, Joel Osteen has never (to my knowledge) advocated that believers today should present to the Lord two turtledoves or two young pigeons as is mandated in Leviticus 5:7. Presumably this is because Osteen recognizes that Leviticus was written about a different people and context than the church of today.

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Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #1 We Need A Second Work of Grace

The great Inigo Montoya famously said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

That line is apropos for many occasions, but it especially fits how we often understand spiritual gifts. Instead of recognizing spiritual gifts as tools God gives to help us get His work done, we often consider them to be mystical links between God and us—evidences or proofs, if you will, that He is really working. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised, after all we are in good company (recall Israel’s episode with the golden calf—their faith was pretty weak at the time too). But still, like Montoya says, we use the words without really understanding how He uses the words. Consequently, we make them into something they aren’t. In the series of articles to follow we take a look at ten common myths regarding spiritual gifts. Here is the first one:

Myth #1: We need a second work of grace in order to get a spiritual gift

The Bible is notably silent about receiving the Holy Spirit as a step separate from salvation—except in the book of Acts (more on that book in a moment). Romans 8:9, for example, says, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” We either have the Spirit or we don’t. We are either in Christ or we aren’t. Paul leaves no middle ground. In fact, Ephesians 1:13 tells us how and when we receive the Holy Spirit: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Paul adds that the Spirit is “given as a pledge [or downpayment] of our inheritance [eternal life], with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:14). At the moment of belief, the Holy Spirit is given to believers.

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Miraculous Gifts: If They Ceased, When?

This study of cessationism considers three essential questions. Focusing on the gift of tongues, Parts 1 and 2 addressed the first of these: What were the gifts in the New Testament, and how does that biblical description compare to what is happening in contemporary charismatic circles? When we approach the continuationist/cessationist debate by first defining the gifts biblically, it becomes apparent that modern charismatic practice does not match the New Testament phenomena.

The second essential question is the when question. If the miraculous gifts (biblically defined) are not occurring in the church today, then does the Bible provide indications to when those gifts ceased?

For the sake of space, this question will be addressed only briefly. Those interested in further study on this issue should read Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit by Thomas Edgar.

In interacting with the when question, six texts must be considered. Many of these texts are used by continuationists to argue for the ongoing nature of the charismatic gifts.

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Addressing the Charismatic Question, Part 2

This study of cessationism focuses on three essential questions. Focusing on the gift of tongues, Part 1 began to address the first of these: What were the gifts in the New Testament, and how does that biblical description compare to what is happening in contemporary charismatic circles?

Seven similarities provide strong evidence that the gift of tongues in Acts was the same gift of tongues in view in 1 Corinthians 12–14. In Acts and 1 Corinthians, tongues share the same source, recipients, substance, terminology and primary purpose. They also share the same connection to the other gifts and the same reaction from unbelievers.

Several additional exegetical comments might be made about the gift of tongues:

1. Some, not all

First Corinthians 12:8–11 and 27–31 make it unmistakably clear that not everyone received the gift of tongues (cf. 14:26). Note that there is no contextual or grammatical warrant for seeing 1 Corinthians 12 as one type of tongues (that only a few receive) and 1 Corinthians 14 as a different type (that everyone is to receive). Along those lines, Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14:5 (“Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues”) is almost identical to his earlier statement in 7:7 regarding singleness. (“Yet I wish that all men were even as myself”). Thus, Paul’s wish does not indicate that everyone in the Corinthian congregation actually spoke in tongues.

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Addressing the Charismatic Question

The following is adapted from seminars given at The Shepherds’ Conference with help from Voice magazine. Used by permission.

Historically speaking, evangelical Christians (from Martin Luther to Jonathan Edwards to Charles Spurgeon) have held to a cessationist position. They believed the miraculous spiritual gifts of the New Testament era ceased shortly after the first century. Contemporary cessationists include names like John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, Sam Waldron, and Richard Gaffin.

It is important to note, at the outset, that cessationists do not deny the possibility of miracles in the general sense of special acts of divine providence. Rather, cessationism limits its focus to the miraculous and revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit, contending that those specific gifts did not continue after the apostolic era came to an end.

With the birth of Pentecostalism in 1901, followed by the Charismatic Renewal in the 1960s and especially the Third Wave in the 1980s, the evangelical camp found itself divided in its view regarding charismatic gifts. A number of widely-read evangelical pastors and theologians (like Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, and C. J. Mahaney) have been outspoken about their continuationist views. As evangelical charismatics, they believe the miraculous gifts of the Spirit did not cease and are still in operation today. Other well-known leaders (such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald) have also expressed openness toward the idea that the miraculous gifts are still operational.

In assessing any theological position, it is vital to begin with the Word of God. If we are to rightly understand the gifts of the Spirit we must start by going to the Scriptures which He inspired.

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