In his book, “Christianizing the Roman Empire A.D. 100-400”, Ramsay MacMullen undertakes to understand how Christianity, which the pagan Roman Empire considered to be a dangerous cult which it sought to destroy, came to be the official state religion of the empire within the space of 300 years.  He asks:

“What did Christianity present to its audience?  For plainly the process of conversion that interests me took place in people’s minds on the basis of what they knew, or thought they knew.”

And he concludes:

“The Christian church grew in strength and influence through the power of God demonstrated in manifestations of the Holy Spirit.  The defining moment of course came in A.D. 312 when the Roman emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity.  With Constantine as its patron and benefactor the Christian church at last enjoyed toleration rather than persecution, and financial benefits in the form of endowments of land, the use of public monies for the construction of basilicas and even tax exemptions.  Over time, as the church became more and more institutionalized, the demonstration of God’s power became less and less evident.  The church began to rely instead on political and military power to further its cause.  Eventually the unity of spirit which was the hallmark of the early church was lost as divisions arose over church doctrine, and the church of Jesus Christ splintered into numerous competing factions, each convinced it alone was the true church.”

Although the Christian church of the 21st Century, fractured and fractious as it seems, bears little outward resemblance to the unified, dedicated, Spirit-empowered body of believers to whom Christ first entrusted the Great Commission, God’s purpose for it has not changed.  For, as the Apostle Paul reminded the Christians at Rome in the 1st Century A.D.:

“God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29 NIV)

In other words, despite all protestations to the contrary, God’s plan for the church, the mission to which he has called it, and the gifts he has offered to the church to enable it to fulfill that mission, have remained unchanged throughout the centuries.   The mission – to demonstrate to all those living in the world and to all the heavenly spectators God’s purpose in Jesus Christ:

“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will… “(Ephesians 1:9-11 NIV)

His intent was that now, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10, 11 NIV)

And the gifts given to accomplish this:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NIV)

Everyone who accepts God’s gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ becomes a member of the body of Christ and also receives the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Each and every one is thus given direction and empowerment to fulfill our own God-ordained destiny, and when each has done so individually, then the church will have collectively fulfilled its own destiny.  This will occur because God has thus ordained it, whether or not the church collectively understands and embraces its destiny.  Remember Jesus Christ is the head of his body, the church, and he can and will direct and empower the members of his body to accomplish his Father’s purpose in him, even though the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing, much less why it is doing it.  It is not necessary for us to understand everything God is doing in the body of Christ.  It is enough that we begin to understand what God is doing in us, and that we respond to him positively, allowing him more and more latitude to work his will in us.

The Gift of The Holy Spirit

God’s desire is to work in each of us in exactly the same way he worked in Jesus Christ and has worked in the members of Christ’s body since the day the church was born.  That is to say God desires to work his will in us and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit.  He makes this possible by giving to each of us the gift of the Holy Spirit.  What a gift that is!  God has, in his Holy Spirit, given us a gift of unlimited power and scope.  This is the same Holy Spirit who:

  • Is instrumental in God’s creative work (Genesis 1:2; Job 26:13; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30)
  • Conceived the only begotten Son of God (Luke 1:30-35)
  • Descended upon Jesus at his baptism (Matthew 3:16)
  • Anointed Jesus for ministry (Luke 4:18, 19)
  • Raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11)
  • Came upon the church at the Day of Pentecost (Acts2:1-4)
  • Empowered the church of Jesus Christ for ministry (Acts 4:31; I Corinthians 2:5)

In the Old Testament we are occasionally told the Spirit of God came upon an individual, such as:

  • Moses (Numbers 11:25)
  • Joshua (Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9)
  • Gideon (Judges 6:34)
  • Samson (Judges 14:6; Judges 14:19; Judges 15:14)
  • Saul (I Samuel 10:6)
  • David (I Samuel 16:13)
  • Ezekiel (Ezekiel 11:5)
  • And others less well known

These individuals were all used mightily by God to accomplish his purpose – but they were few in number.  However, in the New Testament, we are told on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon all of the believers – not only came upon them, but also filled them.  They were baptized with the Holy Spirit and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  As Paul later explained to the Ephesian church, the baptism with the Holy Spirit sealed them and guaranteed them their inheritance:

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13, 14 NIV)

Having been baptized with the Holy Spirit, Paul admonished them to continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  This would allow the Holy Spirit to manifest in them both the fruit of the Spirit and spiritual gifts.

The Fruit of the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit is the manifestation in us of the nature and character of God, as opposed to our own sinful nature.  Only by allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us with God’s nature can we overcome our natural tendencies toward sin.  As Paul told the Galatian Church:

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:16-23 NIV)

Although our sinful nature makes it impossible for us to obey God’s law in our own strength, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, God’s nature in us changes us so we exhibit character and behavior which are in keeping with his law.   This change takes place in our spirit, or as Watchman Nee calls it, our inner man.  This inner man, our spirit, is contained within our outer man, or soul.  In order for our new Godly character and behavior to reach those around us, the Holy Spirit must get through our outer man.  The outer man must be broken to allow the release of the Spirit from within us.  Only then will our new nature be evident to others.  Only then can those around us share the benefits of the fruit of the Spirit growing within us.

Spiritual Gifts

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, not only are our character and our behavior towards God and our fellow man changed, but also we are empowered to exercise spiritual gifts.  Or more precisely we allow the Holy Spirit to exercise them in us and through us.  What the Bible calls “spiritual gifts” (Greek: pneumatika – spirituals) are simply manifestations, or demonstrations, of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Since God is infinite and omnipotent, these are by definition limitless, both in number and scope.

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are intended for a twofold purpose: the growth and the unity of the body of Christ.  Remember it is God’s ultimate purpose to bring all things in heaven and earth together under the headship of his Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:9-11).  The entire creation will be redeemed, beginning with mankind, the crowning achievement of God’s creative power.  As the Apostle Paul said:

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19-21 NIV)

So the entire creation is waiting for the body of Christ to be completed, joined to Jesus Christ, its head, as a bride to her husband.  Then, as the Apostle John tells us in the Book of Revelation:

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  (Revelation 21:1-5 NIV)

The growth and unity of the body of Christ are therefore seen to be essential since the redemption of the entire creation will not occur until the redemption of mankind is complete.  Let us examine then how spiritual gifts, manifestations of the Holy Spirit, work to bring about that growth and unity.  The Apostle Paul tells us:

“Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant…

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Now the body is not made up of one part, but of many…

But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (I Corinthians 12:1, 4-7, 12-14, 18-27; 14:12 NIV)

And Paul says God has gifted some individuals within the church for the purpose of training and leading the other members in the work God has chosen them for. As he says:

“He {God} gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)

The Distribution of Spiritual Gifts

The distribution of spiritual gifts within the body of Christ is at the discretion of the Holy Spirit.  He gives spiritual gifts to each and every member of the body as he sees fit to enable us individually and collectively to accomplish the work God has called us to.  No one is left out.  No one is useless or expendable.  Everyone has a part to play which is uniquely theirs and is required for the body of Christ to be whole and functioning as God intends it to be.  The Apostle Paul tells us:

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (I Corinthians 12:7-11 NIV)

And the Apostle Peter adds:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (I Peter 4:10 NIV)

So we see God intends for each and every one of us, as members of the body of Christ, to exercise spiritual gifts so the entire body can be built up, strengthened and unified.  What are these spiritual gifts? How do we know which gift or gifts the Holy Spirit wants to manifest in and through us?  Let’s begin with a listing of spiritual gifts.

Spiritual GiftsS

As we said earlier, any listing of spiritual gifts is by definition incomplete, since the ways in which the power of the Holy Spirit can be manifested are limitless.  There are, however, numerous spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible, and listing and discussing them will give us some understanding of the ways God might choose to manifest his power in us.

Over the years we have seen many different lists of spiritual gifts compiled by various authors, but two of the most comprehensive we found are contained in:  “Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow”, 5 by C. Peter Wagner and “Discover Your Spiritual Gift and Use It”, 6 by Rick Yohn.  Starting with a  combination of lists from these two books and adding one suggested by Dr. David Yonggi Cho and one I have observed I have noted at least 31.  But since the list will still be incomplete, we will leave it to you to add others as God reveals them to you.

In most cases, scripture references will be given to allow you to investigate these spiritual gifts for yourself.  Many of these references are quite explicit, while in some others the spiritual gift, though not explicitly mentioned, is strongly implied.  In all cases, the manifestation of these spiritual gifts can clearly be seen throughout the Bible, in the history of the Christian church and in the world around us today.  Let’s see now what these manifestations of the Holy Spirit include:

  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom
  • Faith
  • Healings
  • Miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Discerning of Spirits
  • Tongues
  • Interpretation
  • Apostleship
  • Teaching
  • Helps
  • Administration
  • Service
  • Exhortation
  • Giving
  • Leadership
  • Mercy
  • Evangelism
  • Pastor
  • Celibacy
  • Voluntary Poverty
  • Martyrdom
  • Hospitality
  • Missionary
  • Intercession
  • Exorcism
  • Craftsmanship
  • Music
  • Boldness
  • Writing

Once again, this list is incomplete, as the Holy Spirit’s power is limitless.

Counterfeit Gifts

The Bible repeatedly warns us not to accept every spiritual manifestation as being of God.  Satan (Hebrew: satan – adversary, accuser), too, is a spiritual being with supernatural powers, as are the fallen angels, or demons, under his command.  We are advised to be wary, as Satan is a master of deceit, who will attempt to seduce and destroy us by presenting himself as worthy of awe and worship by virtue of his imitation of the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian who is aware that Satan and his demonic spirits are actively seeking to deceive the unwary through the manifestation of supernatural powers which mimic the gifts of the Holy Spirit has cause to remain alert but has no cause for fear.  Satan has no power over those whom he cannot deceive.  In fact, the devils all fear those in whom the Spirit of God dwells and who are submitted to God’s will.  The Apostle James advises us:

“Submit yourselves, therefore, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  (James 4:7, 8 NIV)

And the Apostle Paul says:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10 NIV)

Having put on all the armor of God and wielding the sword of the Spirit, Paul tells us we should pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests and we should be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

The Bible teaches us Satan and his demons have such fear of the Spirit-empowered Body of Christ they are constantly seeking to thwart the accomplishment of the Lord’s work in and through the church by sowing seeds of fear, doubt, confusion and discord within the Body.  In addition to imitating spiritual gifts for this purpose, they also attempt to influence Spirit-filled believers to manifest their genuine spiritual gifts in inappropriate ways and times.  To safeguard against this, the Bible provides guidelines for the proper use of spiritual gifts to provide for the growth and unity of the church as God intends.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul makes it clear:

  • spiritual gifts are distributed in the church by the Holy Spirit as he sees fit
  • they are for the benefit of the entire church rather than the exaltation of individual members
  • they are always to be exercised in a decent and orderly manner

He also explains if their use is not governed by love they are of little or no value. (I Corinthians 13)

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.  For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.  But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.  He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.  He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” (I Corinthians 14:1-3 NIV)

What Paul means by prophesy is not so much to foretell future events but to share the good news about what Jesus has done for us. As the Apostle John wrote in the book of Revelation:

“…the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10 KJV)

So what does all this mean for us today. Simply that we continuously ask God to fill us afresh with his Holy Spirit and that we then allow the Spirit to work in us and through us to accomplish his purpose.