In this essay we turn from consideration of the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  To begin, it is by means of the Holy Spirit that God relates to the world.  This always has been true, with the exception of the brief period of Christ’s incarnation, when God also was present in the flesh.

During Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit came upon people in a way quite different from that instituted after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  Rather than dwelling in individual believers as he does today, the Spirit came upon people outwardly and endowed them with charismatic leadership, so that they could deal with a crisis (e.g. the judges).  Or he enabled them to do works of craftsmanship (e.g. on the Tabernacle; Ex. 31:3-4).  Or he gave supernatural revelations to prophets to enable them to speak on God’s behalf.

Ray Dunning (Faith Grace and Holiness, pp. 415-17) shows how the Holy Spirit functioned in the life and ministry of Jesus and in the early Church.  And as he does so, he demonstrates the close relationship between Christ and the Spirit.  In these pages, he analyzes the several so-called “Paraclete passages” in the Gospel of John.  The term “Paraclete” comes form a Greek word that John uses in his Gospel when speaking about the Holy Spirit.

Dunning lists five statements that show how the work of the Spirit always is thoroughly Christ-centered.  First, “the Spirit’s coming is dependent on Jesus’ going.”  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn. 16:7).

Second, “the meaning of the Spirit’s name (Paraclete) implies a continuation of the work of Christ.”  While Jesus was with the disciples, he was their strength and support.  But he taught them, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever, even the spirit of truth” (Jn. 14: 15-17a).

Third, “the reception of the Spirit is dependent on a prior knowledge of Jesus.  The world, Jesus said, cannot receive the promised Helper because it does not see or know him.  But “you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (Jn. 14:7).

Fourth, “Jesus identifies the Spirit’s coming with His own personal, abiding presence.”  That is, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as though he were Jesus’ own spirit, a fact that Paul confirms in 2 Cor. 3:17, where he wrote, “now the Lord is the Spirit.”

And fifth, “the Spirit’s work is decisively Christ-centered.”  In John 14:26, Jesus taught that the Father would send the Paraclete in Jesus’ name to “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  In John 15:26 Jesus said that the Paraclete would “bear witness to me.”

Thus we see that the entire salvation process is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now I want us to deal with the “gifts of the Spirit” outlined by Paul in his writings.  I used Ken Kinghorn’s, little book, Gifts of the Spirit, for much of the information in this essay.


In the book of Acts we clearly see that the earliest church manifested many spiritual gifts. Immediately after the New Testament period, the church continued to respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit in its midst.  For example, the Spirit inspired the Church to establish a canon of scripture and its creeds.

But as the church went about this it lost some of the spiritual vitality seen in the book of Acts, and the emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit began to decline.  By the fifth century, we find Augustine holding a rather typical attitude toward spiritual gifts that had developed over the centuries.  He barely mentioned them.  Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, is representative of the medieval church.  He essentially equated the spiritual gifts with inner virtues such as love and hope.

The Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century either neglected spiritual gifts altogether, or equated them with natural talents or gifts.  For example, John Calvin was convinced that supernatural gifts of the Spirit died with the apostles.  And in the eighteenth century, John Wesley was of the opinion that spiritual gifts died out by the time of the Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when the Holiness Movement was beginning to flower, a renewed interest in spiritual gifts arose.  And right at the turn of the twentieth century, the Pentecostal Movement broke out.

The Pentecostals greatly emphasized the gifts of the Spirit, especially healing and speaking in tongues.  And during the twentieth century the Pentecostal Movement has become a third world-wide, Christian expression alongside Roman Catholicism and the older branches of Protestantism.

About 1960 Pentecostal teaching began penetrating most so-called mainline denominations.  This development frequently is referred to as The Charismatic Movement, though many persons involved in the Charismatic movement do not hold to the classic Pentecostal doctrine that speaking in tongues is the necessary evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  It was this particular doctrine that created the most difficulty in mainline churches for thirty years or so.  But it isn’t much of an issue at the moment.  We will have more to say about the gift of tongues later.

The key scriptures are four passages in which lists of gifts appear: Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4‑11; 1 Cor. 12:28; and Eph. 4:11.  Of course the context around these passages is important, especially 1 Cor. 12-14.  Other less important, but nevertheless significant passages are: 1 Cor. 1:5-7; 2 Cor. 8:7; 1 Thess. 5:20; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6-7; Heb. 2:4: 1 Peter 4:10-11.

Now then I want to shift to what the Bible says in general about gifts of the Spirit.  And as we do that, we want to look at nine general principles revealed in the New Testament about the gifts of the Spirit.  First, the Scripture distinguishes between the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.  The gift of the spirit is God’s giving of his Spirit to dwell within us when we believe in Jesus.  The gifts of the Spirit are a supernatural ability or abilities given to us by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Second, the Scripture distinguishes between spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit.  The fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  These relate to what we are; the spiritual gifts relate to things we do.

Third, spiritual gifts are to be distinguished from natural aptitudes and abilities (or talents).  A gift of the Spirit is “a supernatural ability or capacity given by God to enable the Christian to minister and to serve” (Kinghorn, p. 22).

A careful study of the passages which contain lists of gifts yield other general principles (Kinghorn, pp. 26-30).  For example, fourth, the spiritual gifts are gifts, which means they are not something we earn.  God imparts them according to his grace; and thus they are impossible to earn.  Paul had this thought in mind when he wrote:  “Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he…gave gifts to men’” (Eph. 4:7-8).

Fifth, God decides who gets which spiritual gifts.  Writing about spiritual gifts, Paul stated that the Holy Spirit “apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11).  And the writer to the Hebrews declared, “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will.”  (Heb. 2:4).

Sixth, God wants every Christian to exercise spiritual gifts.  As Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).

Seventh, God gives varying gifts to various Christians.  Paul illustrated the variety of spiritual gifts this way:  “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:8-10).

Eighth, God provides the gifts for the purpose of ministry and service.  Looking again at 1 Cor. 12:7, note that it says that the manifestation of the Spirit is for “the common good.”  And Peter reinforced this point when he counseled: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good steward’s of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter. 4:10).

Ninth, personal ministry and service are part of the larger ministry of the church.  Paul declared to the Corinthians: “though we live in the world, we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:3-4).  Thus we see nine important, general scriptural principles regarding the gifts of the spirit.

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