Welcome to the final session in our Essential Engagement series. We are learning that our growth as disciples requires other people. It is always about “us and Jesus”, not just “me and Jesus”. In our last session, we found that this Essential Engagement requires a Commitment to Mission. Jesus has given us this mission to become and to make disciples, and He has attached authority, accountability, and reward to this mission.
In this session, then, we address the “how” question. This big mission of disciple-making requires a new kind of power, more power than we humans possess within ourselves. This mission requires divine power, the power of God’s Holy Spirit. We therefore examine the Presence of the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
1. The Presence of the Holy Spirit
As we learned in our Essential Truths series, the Holy Spirit is fully God, a Divine Person, co-equal with both Father and Son. Together, the Father, Son and Spirit are revealed as Trinity, One God in Three Persons.
1.1. In Our New Creation
The Holy Spirit appears in the creation story, “hovering over the waters,” (Genesis 1:2), and He is especially tied to the creation of the first man, as God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Genesis 2:7) As we pointed out in our earlier series, the ancient Hebrew language interweaves these ideas of “spirit”, “breath”, and “wind”.
As He was present in this first creation, the Holy spirit is also present in our new, spiritual creation, our new birth as restored people of God. Jesus makes this point explicitly in His conversation with a man, named Nicodemus. He says:
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8
Though our spiritual rebirth is not as plainly visible as our physical birth, it is nevertheless quite real and powerful, as real and powerful as the wind, though it too cannot be seen.
This same Holy Spirit who breathes new spiritual life into us, then remains with us and in us, empowering us to live a new life of obedience. Jesus makes this promise to His disciples:
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” John 14:15-17
When we make that decision to follow Jesus, to love Him and keep His commands, He responds with a promise, that the Holy Spirit Himself will live in us. He will act as our “advocate”, one who works for and along side us, as we work to follow through on our commitment to our Lord and His mission.
The apostle Paul confirms this same truth in his letter to the Romans, when he says:
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Romans 8:9-11
For those who follow Christ, a tremendously powerful Person is at work in us, even if we cannot see or measure His divine work. God’s Spirit is at work transforming our dying, sin-filled, flesh-bound existence into new, righteousness-filled, immortal, eternal, and abundant lives.
1.2. In Our New Mission
The Spirit’s work, then, in re-creating us extends also into our mission, since we now have a new purpose in our life. After Jesus’ resurrection and before He ascends to the Father, He prepares His disciples for what will follow. During one of those conversations, Jesus makes an astonishing promise:
“Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” Acts 1:6-8
The disciples thought that their wait would soon be over, but Jesus indicates that they are just getting started. This good news regarding Jesus, this gospel, had to be shared outside their local precincts, into the world that surrounded them. And Jesus promises this same Spirit to empower them in their mission.
Soon afterwards, God fulfills this promise in a spectacular way. It happened on the day of Pentecost, an annual, Jewish festival that celebrated the “first fruits” of the wheat harvest. (See Exodus 34:22; Numbers 28:26) Each year, many people from other nations would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival. And, in this particular year, God would display “first fruit” of an entirely different variety. In Acts we have this account:
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:2-4
The Spirit shows up and enables these disciples to declare God’s glory in languages that they had never studied before. God is declaring the fact that His message is for all the people, all nations, and all languages. In this stunning moment, we learn that we, His people will receive His Spirit to share God’s story with people around us, in our nation, in our world, in all of our languages.
2. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
2.1. The Same Spirit
The Father gives this gift of His Spirit to all who follow and obey the commands of His Son. We all share the same power of the same Spirit. However, He reveals His power differently in each of us, and we refer to these differing revelations of God’s power as “gifts of the Holy Spirit”. Paul describes these gifts in his letter to the Corinthians. He says:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
This description balances diversity and unity. While we see different manifestations of God’s power among us, there is only one Lord and One Spirit, and all this power is to be used for the “common good”.
2.2. A Diversity of Gifts
To give us an idea of the diversity of gifts, Paul then provides a sample list. He says:
“To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a 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 these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” 1 Corinthians 12:8-11
Here we find nine different gifs listed. Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, we find similar lists, although none of the lists are entirely identical. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; Romans 12:6-8, and Ephesians 4:11. The fact that each list differs reminds us that none of these lists are exhaustive. Paul is providing examples of spiritual gifts, but we should not assume that these are the only gifts or graces that God gives to His people.
So, we should not be alarmed if we cannot immediately find which of these gifts we have been given. None of us has been left out. We each have at least one gift, and probably more than one. As Paul makes clear, the Spirit gives powerful gifts “to each one” of us. (1 Corinthians 12:7). Each of us has been uniquely empowered to fill a role in God’s mission.
2.3. Gifts Working Together
And, since each of us are important, we must all work together, as a body, to accomplish God’s purposes. As Paul reminds the Corinthians:
“Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:15-20
All gifts are necessary, and everyone must exercise his or her gifts appropriately so the body can do what God has called us to do collectively, as His people.
2.4. Identifying our Gifts
How then do we identify the spiritual gifts that God has given to us? What unique role has He prepared us to fill? We recommend that you consider the following factors.
1. Consider Gifts in the New Testament
In a few places, both Peter and Paul provide lists of spiritual gifts that are active in the church. These are not meant to be exhaustive lists, but they can get us started. We have listed these gifts in a Spiritual Gift Assessment worksheet, available on this website.
As you work through these lists, we ask you to consider whether you may have them. Maybe you have observed them in yourself, or someone has noticed this gift in you. And, don’t worry if none of them describes you exactly. Again, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. As we work through the remainder of the assessment, it will become clear that you too have been given a “manifestation” of the Spirit!
2. God-Given Passions
Throughout our entire Essentials series, we have seen how passionately God loves and cares for His people. As His children, He pours a part of that passion into each of us. We all see different needs, different hurts, and different possibilities. So, ask yourself what keeps you up at night?
- Lost souls?
- Victims of oppression?
- Those trapped in addiction?
- The errors and lies in our culture?
- The beauty of God’s story?
- Some other concern?
These are all God-given passions that He will fill with His Spirit. Those passions are a clue to your spiritual gifting.
3. Life Experiences
All of us have had a unique life, filled with a rich, diversity of experiences, some more pleasant than others. And all these experiences can inform our part in God’s plans, even the painful experiences. In God’s power, even our failures are redeemed and used for His glory.
- Your recovery can inspire someone else to recover.
- Your marriage or parenting adventure can help someone navigate their own difficult journey.
- Your business background can help a well-meaning body of Christ get organized.
- Your own period of doubt and questions can help some other seeking soul.
Whatever circumstances you have worked through in your lives, God can use those experiences to encourage others.
4. Prayer and Conversation with Others
As you reflect on your passions and your experiences, make sure that you dialog with God about them. As we learned in our Essential Disciplines series, the Holy Spirit is at work in our prayers. As we pray, He forms our desires in accordance with God’s desires. (Romans 8:26-27) And be sure to pray about this with others. Listen to their advice and counsel as you pray together regarding your role in God’s kingdom. God listens and responds to these cries of the heart.
To help walk you through this process, we have prepared a Spiritual Gift Assessment worksheet, available on this website. We encourage you to complete this assessment and discuss it with others that you trust.
So, now we see how God has given us the authority, accountability, rewards, and power to engage in this mission Be One and to Make One. We just need to cross the line, to decide to get off the couch and do what our Lord commands us to do. And when we cross this line, we will discover the true, abundant, and eternal life that He promises us. So, we pray, therefore, that God will lead you even deeper in your relationship with Him.
- Complete the Spiritual Gift Assessment worksheet, available on this website, and then discuss it with others that you trust,
- How can you develop and use your spiritual gifts more effectively?