Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Having considered the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to evangelism and conversion, we move to His active ministry in the life of believers. This chapter is divided into three major divisions:

  1. We will examine the active ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers;
  2. We will examine the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and
  3. We will discuss whether all of the gifts which were operative in the New Testament church are permanent ministries for the church age.


After conversion, the Spirit continues to have an active ministry in the life of believers. Here, we will investigate how the Holy Spirit empowers the believer in his battle with the "flesh," using some New Testament expressions and texts that give us specific information on how this takes place:

  1. The Holy Spirit "sets His desire against the flesh" (Galatians 5:16-17);
  2. The Holy Spirit empowers the believer to obey God (Romans 8:4-11; Galatians 5:16);
  3. The Holy Spirit imparts spiritual truth and wisdom to the believer (1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 John 2:20); and
  4. The Holy Spirit produces Christ-like character in the believer (Galatians 5:22-23).

1.1 The Holy Spirit "Sets His Desire Against the Flesh" (Galatians 5:16-17)

The Biblical expression, "sets His desire," describes a phase of the Holy Spirit's work within the believer. The word "desire" is the New American Standard Bible's translation of the Greek epithumia. It means "strong desire," whether good or evil. When used of the Holy Spirit it refers to good desire, and it follows that this is the desire for the will of God to be accomplished. Notice the tension or struggle this creates:

"... walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit [sets His desire] against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please" (Galatians 5:16-17).

To summarize, this phase of the Spirit's work is to create a resistance to the desires of the flesh (tendencies to sin remaining from our unregenerate state). Part of His "strong desire" against the flesh is convicting or convincing the believer that a given desire of the flesh is indeed sin (John 16:8). As the flesh resists, this produces a kind of stalemate. In effect, the flesh's desire prevents you (the believer) from doing "the things that you please," as a new creation in Christ. Were it not for the Holy Spirit resisting the evil in me, I would find myself in precisely the condition Paul describes in Romans 7:14-24: wanting desperately to do good, but not being able to do it.

1.2 The Holy Spirit Empowers the Believer to Obey God (Romans 8:4-11; Galatians 5:16)

The Holy Spirit empowers the believer to obey God, including:

  1. walking in the Spirit;
  2. being filled with the Spirit;
  3. empowering by the Spirit;
  4. setting the mind on the Spirit;
  5. being led by the Spirit; and
  6. interceding by the Spirit.

1.2.1 Walking in the Spirit

The believer is commanded to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). The "stalemate" between the Spirit and the flesh can be broken by "walking in the Spirit," that is, depending consciously on the Holy Spirit to energize my resolve and actions. Thus, I will defy the "lusts of the flesh," and "fulfill the requirement of the law" (do God's will). The metaphor "walk" is Paul's term for living; thus walking by the Spirit is living in conscious reliance on Him to enable me as I choose to do what is right.

1.2.2 Being filled with the Spirit

The Bible commands believers to be "filled with (controlled or influenced by) the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). Ephesians 5:18-21 implies that the filling of the Spirit is a way of life, not a single, mystical experience. Men, like the seven administrators of the early Jerusalem church (Acts 6:3) and Barnabas (Acts 11:24), were full of the Spirit.

At conversion the believer is indwelt (i.e. baptized) by the Spirit; during his life he needs to be controlled by the same Spirit. At Pentecost, the disciples were "filled" in connection with being baptized (Acts 2:4; cf. the experience of Paul, Acts 9:17). Though the "filling" by the Spirit is commanded, baptism is not; that is, baptism is to be a single once-for-all experience event in the life of a believer, while filling is to be his way of life under the control of the Spirit.

The filling ministry of the Spirit can be divided into two categories:

  1. the general filling ministry; and
  2. the special filling ministry.

The general filling ministry, which relates to control and spiritual growth and maturation, and into the special fillings, which relate to special movings of the Spirit. Peter was filled with the Spirit when he spoke (Acts 4:8; cf. 4:31), but surely he was already full of the Spirit before he spoke. We can assume that he was living a Spirit-filled life when in critical times he was filled in a unique and special way with the Spirit.

1.2.3 Empowering by the Spirit

The believer is engaged in a battle: the flesh against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. It takes the indwelling Spirit of God to provide the victory (Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:16-17). The Spirit is the secret to victory. This was true in Old Testament times as well, for Zechariah 4:6 reads, "'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts." It is the Spirit who produces in us the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22f.; cf. Ephesians 5:9; Philippians 1:11).

1.2.4 Setting the mind on the Spirit

Another phrase related to this empowering of the Holy Spirit is a "mind set on the Spirit" (Romans 8:5-6). This is the
believer's determination to let the Holy Spirit do His work.

1.2.5 Being led by the Spirit

Being "led by the Spirit" (Romans 8:14), according to the context, involves "putting to death the deeds of the body." That is, saying "no" to sin, and "yes" to the Holy Spirit's guidance. The early church enjoyed the leadership of the Spirit; the Spirit:

  1. disciplined (Acts 5:9);
  2. directed (Acts 8:29);
  3. appointed (Acts 13:2);
  4. made decisions (Acts 15:28); and
  5. prohibited (Acts 16:6f).

1.2.6 Interceding by the Spirit

He also intercedes for believers before the Father (Romans 8:26). The Spirit of God does a blessed work in the life of each believer, and believers are cautioned not to:

  1. grieve the Spirit through careless sinning (Ephesians 4:30);
  2. tempt the Spirit by lying (Acts 5:9);
  3. quench the Spirit by restraining His ministries (1 Thessalonians 5:19);
  4. insult the Spirit by minimizing the atoning work of the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:29); and
  5. resist the Spirit by refusing to obey His directives (Acts 7:51).

1.3 The Holy Spirit Imparts Spiritual Truth and Wisdom to the Believer (1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 John 2:20)

Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide them into truth (John 14:26; 16:13). The Holy Spirit teaches the believer from the Word of God by illuminating, or making plain, the Scriptures to him.

All believers will know the truth when they hear it because they "have an anointing from the Holy One" (1 John 2:20). They have the Spirit and, therefore, they do not need some additional special revelation or mystical insight (1 John 2:27).

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 the Holy Spirit "reveals" the things of God, and enables the believer (called "he who is spiritual") to "appraise all things" (1 Corinthians 2:15). The result is that we are able to know the truth or will of God that centers in the Scriptures.

Some add to the Holy Spirit's ministry guidance in human decision making. However, there appears to be no Biblical evidence of that kind of guidance apart from this work in revealing and making plain the Word of God. This raises the question of whether feelings and impulses come from the Holy Spirit independent of His use of the Word of God. We find no such clear Biblical evidence for this. The exception is Acts 16:6-10 where the Holy Spirit intervenes directly in the travel plans of the apostle Paul. But even this event falls during the apostolic period (before the Scriptures were complete), and cannot be given as the sole support for the normal or regular way in which the Holy Spirit ministers to believers today.

1.4 The Holy Spirit Produces Christ-Like Character in the Believer (Galatians 5:22-23)

This familiar passage on the "fruit of the Spirit" directly follows the passage on walking by the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-21. Previously we said that walking by the Spirit is the way the believer obeys God instead of the desires of his flesh. It appears here that the results of this walk are:

  1. love;
  2. joy;
  3. peace;
  4. patience;
  5. kindness;
  6. goodness;
  7. faithfulness;
  8. gentleness; and
  9. self-control.

This dependence on the Spirit is the means by which the "fruit" is cultivated and brought to maturity in the believer. When we "walk by the Spirit" we allow the Spirit to change our character traits and mold us into the image of Christ.

1.5 Summary

The active ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers is summarized in the following table and picture:

Activity Description of the Activity Scripture Reference
Filling Believers are commanded to be "filled with the Spirit." The filling ministry of the Spirit can be divided into the general filling relating to spiritual growth and maturation and to special capacities given by the Spirit for special tasks for God. Ephesians 5:18; cf. Acts 4:8; 4:31; 6:3; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9
Guiding Believers are commanded to walk in the Spirit and be led by the Spirit. The Spirit keeps the believer from enslavement to legalism and also provides discipline and direction for the Christian life. Galatians 5:16, 25; cf. Acts 8:29; 13:2; 15:7-9; 16:6; Romans 8:14
Empowering The indwelling Spirit provides victory in the Christian life, development of Christian fruit, and the ability to win against the works of Satan. Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:17-18, 22-23
Teaching Jesus promised that when the Spirit came he would lead believers into truth. The Spirit illuminates the mind of the believer to the revelation of God's will through his Word. John 14:26; 16:13; 1 John 2:20, 27; 1 Corinthians 2:15

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The Holy Spirit sovereignly gives spiritual gifts to believers for the edification of the church, and for the benefit of all believers (1 Corinthians 12:4, 7-11; cf. Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:10f.). Whether or not some of these gifts are still in use today is a source of disagreement among Christians.

The charismatic movement began at the turn of the twentieth century among people who called themselves "pentecostalists," and it continues today among an even broader group known generally as the "charismatics." It is characterized by the belief that all, or at least most, of the spiritual gifts listed by Paul in the New Testament are still given today. Only unbelief and spiritual coldness prevent them from being manifested among all believers. {Note: "Charismatic" comes from the Greek term for "gift" in the New Testament, charisma (1 Corinthians 12:4). Another term is pneumatikos, translated "spiritual gift" in 1 Corinthians 12:1. The narrow use of this Biblical term today (used only to label a certain segment of believers) is unfortunate, because, in its true sense, charismatic is descriptive of all Christians who recognize and practice their spiritual gifts.}

On the other hand, certain evangelicals believe that some of the New Testament gifts (typically tongues, miracles, healing) were temporary, and functioned only during the earliest years of the church. Their purpose was to authenticate the ministry of the apostles while the church still lacked the completed Scriptures.

What is true is that the Holy Spirit gives each believer a gift or gifts, and that every gift is for the church's overall benefit. We will give a brief survey and description of some of the representative gifts.

2.1 A Brief Survey of Some of the Spiritual Gifts

A brief survey of some of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament is provided in the following table:

Gift Description Result Example
(Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians14:29-32)
Speaking truth directly revealed from God. Understanding mystery (1 Corinthians 13:2) Timothy (1 Timothy 4:14), Daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9)
Service, Helping
(Romans 12:7)
Aiding others to do God's work. Giving practical assistance to member of the church. Serving the church and the needy (Acts 6:1) Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16)
(Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11)
Communicating the truth and applications of the Scripture. Understanding the Word of God (Acts 18:26) Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:26), Apollos (Acts 18:27-28), Paul (Acts 18:11)
(Romans 12:8)
Urging one to pursue proper conduct or to console. Encouragement (Acts 9:27) Barnabas (Acts 4:36)
(Romans 12:8)
Liberally and cheerfully imparting substance to God's work. Meeting physical needs (Acts 9:36) Dorcas (Acts 9:36)
(Romans 12:8)
Organizing and administering the work of the ministry. Order (Titus 1:5) Titus (Titus 1:5)
Showing Mercy
(Romans 12:8)
Giving undeserved aid to others. Sympathy, compassion toward undeserving Barnabas (Acts 9:27)
(1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11)
Being an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ and speaking authoritatively about faith and
Sets forth God's precepts for the church (1 Corinthians 14:37) Paul (Galatians 1:1), Peter (1 Peter 1:1)
(Ephesians 4:11)
Presenting the gospel with clarity and with a burden for the unsaved. Understanding the Gospel Philip (Acts 21:8)
Pastor / Teacher
(Romans 12:7; Ephesians 4:11)
Shepherding and teaching the church. Care and godly instruction (Acts 20:28-31) Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12)
The Message of Wisdom
(1 Corinthians 12:8)
Perceiving and presenting the truth of God.
Applying God's Word or wisdom to specific situations.
The ability to grasp and apply the revelation given John (1 John 1:1-3)
The Message of Knowledge
(1 Corinthians 12:8)
Understanding and exhibiting wisdom from God. Revelation from God about people,
circumstances, or Biblical truth.
Truth understood in its spiritual sense (1 Corinthians 2:6-12) Paul (Colossians 2:2-3)
(1 Corinthians 12:9)
Trusting God implicitly to perform unusual deeds. Accomplishment of great tasks Stephen (Acts 6:5)
(1 Corinthians 12:9)
Being able to cure diseases. Complete cures (Acts 3:6-7) Peter and John (Acts 3:6-7), Paul (Acts 20:9-12)
(1 Corinthians 12:10)
Being able to perform works of power. People fear God (Acts 5:9-11) Paul (Acts 13:8-11)
(1 Corinthians 12:10)
Distinguishing the power by which a teacher or prophet speaks. Exposure of false prophets (1 John 4:1) Believers at Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:29)
(1 Corinthians 12:10)
Speaking in a language not understood by the speaker. Praise to God which is understood by those persons knowing the language spoken (Acts 2:1-12).
Thanksgiving to God which may be understood if someone interprets the language spoken (1 Corinthians 14:5,16, 27-28).
The disciples
(1 Corinthians 12:10)
Making "tongues" understandable. Confirmation of the foreign language (1 Corinthians 14:27-28)

2.2 Categories of Gifts

Spiritual gifts may be divided into three categories:

  1. office gifts;
  2. functional gifts; and
  3. validation gifts.

2.2.1 Office gifts

Ephesians 4:11 lists:

  1. apostles;
  2. prophets;
  3. evangelists;
  4. pastors; and
  5. teachers.

This list involves people who function in a certain capacity or office. We may find more than one of these gifts in an individual. For instance, Paul himself worked miracles (Acts 13:11), performed physical healing (Acts 28:8), prophesied (2 Corinthians 12:1), spoke in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18), evangelized (Acts 13:16-43), and taught (Acts 15:35), all of which are manifestations of spiritual gifts.

2.2.2 Functional gifts

Because they pertain to a specific ministry we term the following "functional" gifts:

  1. teaching;
  2. evangelism;
  3. administration;
  4. exhortation;
  5. helping; and
  6. mercy.


  1. Survey of Theology I, Lesson 13, Moody Bible Institute, 1990, by William H. Baker.
  2. Lectures in Systematic Theology, Chapter XXVII, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992 Edition, by Henry C. Thiessen.
  3. A Theology of the Holy Spirit, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970, by Dale Bruner.
  4. The Church in God's Program, Chapter 7, Moody Press, 1972, by Robert Saucy.
  5. Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine, p. 71-74, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992, by H. Wayne House.
  6. How can our church learn to speak in tongues?, Biblical Studies Foundation, 1997, Internet Edition.
  7. How does the gift of prophecy fit with Hebrews 1:1 as it seems the role of prophets ended with the coming of Christ?, Biblical Studies Foundation, 1997, Internet Edition.
  8. What do you think about the ‘signs and wonders’ we are seeing today?, Biblical Studies Foundation, 1997, Internet Edition.
  9. How does one support cessationism in light of Acts 2:17?, Biblical Studies Foundation, 1997, Internet Edition.

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