The Work of the Spirit | pt. 3

In the last post, we looked at “God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit.” In this post, we will be looking at…

Grace Gifts

Next, we need to understand that God the Spirit gives “grace gifts.”[1] God’s abundant grace that we see demonstrated all throughout redemptive history issues in grace gifts.[2] God expresses His grace concretely in the rich number of grace gifts He bestows upon the Church for its upbuilding.[3] Schreiner observes this and says, “I would define spiritual gifts as gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit which are designed for the edification of the church.”[4]

The Spirit was vital at the beginning of the church and He continues to be on through to the consummation. He brought the birth of the Church, He hovered over the Church like He hovered over the water at the beginning. The Spirit does not bring charismatic chaos but the creation of order. That was the Spirit’s work at the beginning and it is the Spirit’s work today. There is no biblical warrant for believing in some big discontinuity between the work of the Spirit then and the work of the Spirit now in the last days. Actually, Scripture says, “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). We are in those latter days today and we still need the empowering presence of the Spirit.

The hodgepodge, unlearned, and often unimpressive group of Jesus followers did not see the messianic movement die. Instead, the people of the way (Acts 9:2) actually exploded in growth, this group of people that followed a crucified and cursed man who claimed to be God, this group of people who had no leader on earth. How did this group survive let alone thrive?

Because Jesus did not leave His disciples without what they needed. Jesus sent the Helper.

Jesus said, that it was better that He go. That seems shocking. As it should. And as it did for the first disciples. We are left asking, how could it be better that Jesus’ bodily presence not be with us?

Thankfully Jesus answers that question. He tells us that He will not leave us as orphans. He gives us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (See John 14).

The Grace Gifts Continue Today

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8[5]). Will we? Will we receive power?

That seems farfetched. At least it does for many of us. Should it, though? Or should we believe that we will, or at least can, receive power from the Holy Spirit?

I believe there are many reasons to believe the grace gifts continue today. I believe it makes sense for us to think that we can still receive power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to the nations. I further believe that is good news because I believe we need the Spirit’s help.

Hermeneutics. The first reason to believe in the continuation of the grace gifts is hermeneutical. As Andrew Wilson has said in his helpful little book, Spirit and Sacrament, “Instructions to Christians should be followed, unless these is a clear reason from the context why they should not be.”[6] I would add to that, that we should believe what the Bible says will happen unless there are clear reasons to think the Bible is not being literal.

One of the passages we should consider is where Paul clearly says, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor 14:39). That is a clear command but it is very often disregarded. A fundamental hermeneutical principle is to interpret unclear passages in light of clearer passages. And Paul seems pretty clear that we should not “forbid speaking in tongues.” It is also interesting that many are quick to quote the next verse that says, “all things should be done decently and in order” (v. 40) and I agree. But, I believe we should practice both verse 39 and 40.

Also, important for us to consider is 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22. It seems “Believers are to be open to the disclosure of God’s will through fellow Christians exercising the gift of prophecy.”[7] Apparently the Thessalonians were not doing this and so Paul addresses them. Paul does not want them to quench the Spirit by despising prophecies (1 Thess 5:19-20). He wants them to test prophecies while they hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil (vv. 21-22). Further, not only does Scripture say not to quench the Spirit (v. 19) it also tells us to not grieve the Spirit (Eph 4:30) but rather we are to pray in the Spirit (Jude 20), walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:25), and be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). These are not five options; these are five commands the Bible gives us. 

It is also important that we consider the quintessential passage on unity amongst diversity. Many churches and Christians point to 1 Corinthians 12 regarding the importance of unity. But are we being faithful to Scripture? Are we highlighting the need for unity and not rightly acknowledging the reality of the context? If unity is for all people, in all places, and at all times could it be, if that moral admonishment continues for us today, that the various gifts listed there might continue too? Paul lists various gifts, like healing, prophecy, tongues 12:9-10), and we see that God has arranged the church body with different gifts just as He wanted (v. 18). First Corinthians 12:28 says that God has placed various gifts in the church body, gifts like “gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues,” so how can we say that He no longer places those gifts in the body? Especially perplexing, how can we say He may give the gift of guidance but not the gift of tongues, perhaps the gift of helping but not the gift of healing? Hermeneutically, where does this come from?  

Hermeneutically, we also never see the redaction of the power of faith. In the Bible, especially the Gospels, we see the power of faith through the Spirit and this is never repealed. I believe the Spirit-wrought power of a faith-filled righteous prayer (Jas 5:15, 16) is not rescinded by Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible say that the faith-filled righteous prayer will no longer “work.” If anything, it is emphasized throughout and even substantiated in history through the lives of such people as George Muller. Jesus pointed us to the power of the faith of the smallest kind; even faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain (Matt 17:20).

My point is to say that in James 5 we see another command to pray for a gift from the Holy Spirit and we are told to do so in faith. We are encouraged to pray because it is super powerful because, after all, Elijah was a person just like us, and yet God worked in a powerful way through him. 

Some might object, “Yes, God answers prayers and even answers wildly audacious prayers, but that is not the same thing as proving that the gifts of the Spirit continue.” I will happily concede that point. It must be admitted, however, that this passage in James has a lot of parallels with the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians that Paul seems to assume will be in operation until the return of Christ. We have the possible gift of faith as well as the gift of healing and we also have an encouraging example that is given of Elijah who is, I would argue, the second most miraculously gifted figure in the Old Testament behind Moses. It seems at least odd and perhaps misleading for James, under the inspiration of the Spirit, to say that “he was a man of like nature,” to indicate what was possible for him is possible for us, when really what was possible for him is not truly possible for us; if it were true that the Spirit does not continue to do similar miraculous works today.

But perhaps, James is not jesting. Perhaps, what was possible for Elijah, and Paul, and Peter, and George Muller is possible for us through the gifts of the Spirit. Of course, that is not to say that we will have the same experience or gifting, none of the individuals I just listed had the same experiences or giftings, but they were each specially empowered. I believe it is still possible. I also believe that as Scripture itself says, we should eagerly desire the gracious gifts of the Spirit, though not for the experience of it, but for the good of the corporate body of Christ. 

_____

[1] I say “grace gifts” because I believe that is an accurate translation of what we are discussing. I also believe it is important, at times, for us to consider something afresh and employ different terms, especially when they are more accurate, is helpful. Also, when we realize that prophecy and tongues are grace gifts we should be more careful when we consider them. They are unmerited gifts from the Lord after all. The terms “sign gifts” or “apostolic gifts” are sub-biblical. They are modern ways of speaking about the grace gifts and are not thoroughly biblical. These terms are shorthand for a host of theological assumptions or beliefs. Carson says that “χάρισμα (charisma) should not be turned into a technical term by the charismatic movement, neither should it receive such treatment from other voices in the field” (Carson, Showing the Spirit, 21).

[2] Fee says, “Χάρις issues in a χάρισμα” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 33).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts, (Location 195, ch. 2).

[5] If we are not doing the work the Lord has called us to do then we should not expect to see the Spirit’s empowering. The Spirit’s empowering presence seems to especially accompany those who are being the witnesses that they are called to be.

[6] Andrew Wilson, Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018).

[7] Colin Nicholl’s note on 1 Thess. 5:20-21 in The ESV Study Bible, 2311.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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