This article will attempt to answer the following three basic questions:
- What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
- What is the purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
- How does a person receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
What Are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?
On page 59 of his book entitled The Layman’s Commentary on the Holy Spirit, John Rea, Th.D. states,
A spiritual gift is a supernatural capacity or power bestowed on a Christian by the Holy Spirit to enable him to exercise his function as a member of the Body of Christ. These gifts are not to be thought of as natural abilities nor as permanent possessions, but are supernatural and often sudden manifestations of the Spirit Himself. . . .
Likewise, in his book entitled Be Filled with the Spirit, Lehman Strauss notes on pages 41 and 44 that spiritual gifts differ from the natural talent and abilities with which people are born.
Rea says on page 59 of his book, “Spiritual gifts are not to be confused with spiritual graces or fruits of the Spirit – aspects of Christ’s character which every Christian is to cultivate. . . .” [For a list of the fruit of the Spirit and a brief explanation of each, please see the appendix to our article titled “Filling versus Indwelling by the Holy Spirit,” which can be accessed by clicking on the title of the article.]
There are several scripture passages that provide a list of the spiritual gifts given to Christians by the Holy Spirit. These lists differ, so it is necessary to consider all of them in trying to derive a complete list.
The following is a composite list of the spiritual gifts that are cited in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28; and Ephesians 4:11:
- Speaking different kinds of tongues
- Interpretation of tongues
- Discerning of spirits
- Healings and miracles
- Leadership or administration
- Mercy or help
- Ministry or service
- Words of wisdom
[Note: See Appendix for a brief explanation of each of these spiritual gifts.]
Many Christian scholars, including John F. Walvoord, Th.D., believe that a number of these gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer exhibited. On page 168 of his book entitled The Holy Spirit, Walvoord asserts,
Certain gifts are clearly the possession of the church today as exhibited in their exercise in gifted men throughout the present dispensation. . . . [O]ther spiritual gifts known by the early Christians . . . seem to have passed from the scene with the apostolic period. . . . Among these temporary gifts the following can be named: (1) the gift of apostleship, (2) the gift of prophecy, (3) the gift of miracles, (4) the gifts of healing, (5) the gift of tongues, (6) the gift of interpreting tongues, (7) the gift of discerning spirits.
Likewise, Lehman Strauss declares on page 45 of his book,
Not all the gifts are necessarily given in every succeeding generation. By this I mean that some of the gifts were never intended to be exercised permanently throughout the church age. There were, then, temporary gifts such as the apostle and prophet, the gifts of healing, working of miracles, discerning of spirits, and speaking in tongues.
It should be noted that most Pentecostal Christians and other charismatic Christians believe otherwise. We won’t attempt to address further either point of view, except with regard to the gift of speaking in tongues, which is probably the most controversial spiritual gift.
On page 91 of his book entitled What You Should Know about the Holy Spirit, J. W. Jepson argues,
[N]o verse of Scripture states in so many words that a believer is baptized [i.e., filled] with the Holy Spirit only if he or she has spoken with other tongues. But the general import of the Scriptures is that this is so.
The Acts of the Apostles serve as our pattern. In some instances in Scripture where believers were baptized [i.e., filled] with the Holy Spirit, no specific evidence is mentioned. Just the fact is reported. But whenever the Scriptures record specific accompanying phenomena, one occurrence is always mentioned – speaking with other tongues! Being the common variable, it is a highly significant correlation coefficient.
The primary flaw in Jepson’s argument is that in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-31; 14:1-5, the apostle Paul unambiguously indicates that all Spirit-filled Christians do not have the gift of speaking in tongues. In addition, John R. Rice, D.D., on page 234 of his book entitled The Power of Pentecost, makes the following argument:
[D]own through the centuries there have been many men greatly used of God in soul winning. These men, almost without exception or entirely without exception, claimed to have upon them the power of the Holy Spirit. . . . They were filled with the Holy Ghost. They themselves have said so; their works have proved it. Yet the most useful soul winners through the centuries have not talked with tongues.
Among the men that Rice goes on to cite in this regard are D. L. Moody, John Wesley, Charles H. Spurgeon, Billy Sunday, George W. Truett, and Billy Graham.
What Is the Purpose of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?
Lehman Strauss states on page 43 of his book, “In order to accomplish His work on earth, the ascended Lord gave gifts to men. It is part of the Holy Spirit’s function to distribute these gifts.”
On page 87 of his book entitled Baptism & Fullness, John R. W. Stott says, “[W]e might perhaps define spiritual gifts as ‘certain capacities, bestowed by God’s grace and power, which fit people for specific and corresponding service.’”
Rea, on page 60 of his book, states, “Charismatic gifts enable individual believers, when needs arise, to minister to other members of the Body of Christ as well as to people who are not saved, in ways beyond mere human capability and ingenuity.”
With regard to spiritual gifts, Hershel H. Hobbs explains on page 124 of his book entitled The Holy Spirit: Believer’s Guide,
Though in some cases these gifts may edify [i.e., instruct or improve spiritually] the individual, their primary purpose is to edify the body of believers and to enable it to do the work of the Lord. . . . So no gift of the Holy Spirit is to be used selfishly or for self-glory. Each is to glorify Christ.
On page 167 of his book, Walvoord asserts, “Spiritual gifts in themselves do not make great Christians. Their use in the proper way motivated by divine love, which is the fruit of the Spirit, is effective and bears fruit to the glory of God.”
And W.A. Criswell, Ph.D., D.D., on page 129 of his book entitled The Baptism, Filling & Gifts of the Holy Spirit, says in reference to the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, “Love in the use of the gifts of the Spirit is the fulfillment of every heavenly purpose, the remedy for every excess, and the protection against every error. Without love the gifts fail of their purpose.”
How Does a Person Receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?
On page 46 of his book, Criswell declares,
The choice of our gifts is made by the Holy Spirit. We can ask, we can pray, we can covet a gift . . . but the decision lies beyond us. . . . The gifts are not even bestowed as rewards. They are not indications of spiritual excellence or superiority. They are meted out to us “as the Spirit will.” They are not bestowed because we have sought them.
Even Christians who have spiritual gifts do not all have the same spiritual gifts (see Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; and Ephesians 4:11).
John Rea states on page 49 of his book,
Using the illustration of the human body, . . . Paul reminds us that its many members or parts do not all have the same ministry or manifestation. Likewise, in the Body of Christ and in the local Christian communities, we have charismatic gifts “that differ according to the grace given to us”. . . .
Lehman Strauss says on page 41 of his book, “One Christian might be given one gift, and another will be given two or three. But no Christian is given all the gifts.”
John R. W. Stott, on page 104 of his book, notes that “every Christian has at least one spiritual gift or capacity for service, however dormant and unused his gift may be.” Two scripture passages that Stott cites in this regard are Romans 12:3-6 and 1 Corinthians 12:11. [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:4-10 provides additional perspective.]
However, not every Christian scholar believes that spiritual gifts are given to all Christians. Some Christian scholars believe that spiritual gifts are given only to Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit. John R. Rice, D.D., in his book entitled The Power of Pentecost, asserts,
There are a number of evidences that only when filled with the Holy Spirit did Christians have . . . supernatural manifestations, the ministry gifts. And in the churches today we might have the same wonderful manifestations of the power of God – the gifts of the Holy Spirit to equip men for service, with prophecy and miracles and healings, as promised – if all God’s people were taught to seek God’s face and meet God’s requirements to be filled with the Holy Spirit in Bible fashion. But we believe that these ministry gifts are never given except as Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit.
W. A. Criswell argues otherwise. In reference to the Christians in the early churches, he states on page 53 of his book,
[T]he people who possessed these spiritual gifts . . . were by no means spiritually faultless. The gifts were mixed with human infirmity, and that sometime [sic] of the most reprehensible kind. These supernaturally gifted church members were not automatons, even though endowed by the Spirit. They carried with them all their human foibles and weaknesses. Inspiration is one thing, infallibility and sanctification yet another thing.
Walvoord is in agreement with Criswell. On page 165 of his book, Walvoord declares that the bestowal of spiritual gifts “is not a question of spirituality. A Christian unyielded to the Lord may posses great spiritual value, while one yielded may have relatively minor spiritual abilities.”
Although the Bible seems to support the belief that all Christians have one or more spiritual gifts, it is not clear as to whether or not Christians who are not filled with the Holy Spirit have the power to use the spiritual gift(s) that they have been given; i.e., the power to use their spiritual gift(s) may be given only to Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Explanations of Specific Gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Apostle: This describes a person who is “sent with a special message or commission.” [Unger’s Bible Dictionary, page 72]
- Evangelist: This is “anyone who proclaims the mercy and grace of God, especially as unfolded in the Gospel. . . . [Evangelists can be thought of] “as missionary preachers of the Gospel.” [Unger’s, page 329]
- Pastor: A person with this gift performs three functions: “1. The ministration [i.e., ministering] in divine service [which] includes the ordering of worship, administering the sacraments, and preaching the word. . . . 2. The responsibility of the pastoral care. . . . 3. [T]he spiritual government of the Church.” [Unger’s, page 829]
- Speaking different kinds of tongues: This gift “is to be considered from the standpoint, not of its private devotional value, but of its function to edify the other members of the congregation when followed by the . . . gift of interpretation of tongues.” [Rea, page 64] It is uncertain if the gift of tongues was intended to be used privately, as well as publicly when appropriate to do so in worship services with other Christians. It is also uncertain if “tongues” always refers to unfamiliar languages that are spoken by people in other areas of the world during their everyday communication, or if at least sometimes it refers to unique languages that are spoken only by those who have this gift. Acts 2:4-6 seems to be the only scripture passage that plainly supports the unfamiliar language point of view.
- Interpretation of tongues: This should be self-explanatory, in light of what was stated regarding speaking different kinds of tongues.
- Discerning of spirits: This gift pertains to the ability “to know immediately what is motivating a person or situation.” [Rea, page 63]
- Exhortation: This is “the ministry of speaking words of comfort and encouragement . . . under the guidance and anointing of the Paraclete [i.e., the Holy Spirit] Himself.” [Rea, page 50]
- Faith: This gift “is not saving faith, which a man exercises when . . . he trusts in Christ to redeem him. . . . [It] is a sudden surge of faith, usually in a crisis, to confidently believe without a doubt, that as we act or speak in Jesus’ Name [sic] it shall come to pass. . . .” [Rea, page 63]
- Giving: This involves “the exercise of private benevolence and sharing what one has.” [Rea, page 50]
- Healings and miracles: “The plurals indicate that all healings and all miracles are in each separate case a supernatural operation of the Spirit. . . . This principle explains why a Spirit-filled Christian cannot . . . administer healing to every sick person he see. . . . The ‘working of miracles’ covers those wonderful works which are not strictly healings.” [Rea, page 63-64]
- Knowledge: This pertains to “a supernatural revelation of facts past, present, or future which were not learned through the efforts of the natural mind.” [Rea, page 62]
- Leadership or administration: This gift “implies ability to rule or manage or administer in a church.” [Rea, page 50]
- Mercy or help: “Every Christian in the local church, whether a leader or not, may – and should – have this gift of compassion. . . . A person of a grudging or despondent mood . . . does not have the . . . endowment for showing mercy to others.” [Rea, page 50]
- Ministry or service: The Greek word that describes this gift “can refer either to the dispensing of the word of life . . . or to the administering of the temporal affairs of a local congregation. . . .” [Rea, page 49]
- Prophecy: This refers to “the ability to speak . . . under divine prompting something which the Spirit has revealed . . . . Prophesying . . . is directly proclaiming the mind of God, by the inspiration and prompting of the Holy Spirit, and not from one’s own thoughts.” [Rea, page 64; also, see footnote below regarding astrology]
- Teaching: This pertains to “not simply systematic instruction . . ., but a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the ability to make plain the meaning of the Word of God. . . .” [Rea, page 49]
- Words of wisdom: This refers to “speech filled with God’s wisdom, used under the impulse of the Holy Spirit . . . and the practical action in accord with it.” [Hobbs, page 124]
- Astrology is not a form of prophecy and therefore is not a gift of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 2:2 says that the Magi (wise men) who came to see the infant Jesus Christ learned of His birth from the appearance of a prominent star in the sky. Does this passage indicate that God used astrology to reveal to the wise men the birth of His Son, despite the fact that several verses in the Bible condemn practices like astrology (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10; Isaiah 8:19)?
On page 317 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason L. Archer declares,
First of all, we need to define astrology as a superstitious belief in the movement or the position of the planets and stars as forewarnings of the will of the gods (or the forces of fated), which the devotees of astrology may somehow cope with by taking some sort of evasive or preventive action. Or else, . . . astrology may indicate special potentialities in those born under a certain constellation, or signify good or bad luck for activities that might be engaged in during that particular day. In ancient pre-Christian times, this concern for astrology was accompanied by actual worship of the heavenly bodies in a ritualistic way.
In the case of the natal star of Christ, however, none of the above elements was involved. The star the Magi saw in the East constituted an announcement that the Christ child had been born. . . . [T]he star was not a forewarning but the announcement of an already accomplished fact.
[N]o worship of false gods or of deterministic powers of fate was involved in this pilgrimage of the Magi. They simply received God’s announcement through the star as requiring them to seek the newborn King, because they understood that He was destined to be Ruler over the entire world. . .