This is important because of the confusion regarding the definition of a spiritual gift. For example, in the spiritual gift survey we previously referenced, 20% of the respondents claimed they had spiritual gifts that aren’t actually spiritual gifts: “sense of humor, singing, health, life, happiness, patience, a job, a house, premonition, creativity, and clairvoyance.”
And since starting this spiritual gift series, questions have risen from readers and confirmed the confusion—some people don’t know what a spiritual gift is and what’s it’s not. For example, Are spiritual gifts different from the fruits of the Spirit? Patience appeared in the survey as a spiritual gift, but according to Galatians 5:22, patience is a fruit of the Spirit as well. Is patience both a gift and a fruit?
Or the question, Are talents the same as spiritual gifts? Creativity also appeared in the survey as a spiritual gift, but is creativity more of a natural talent? What’s the difference between a talent and a spiritual gift? Are they the same?
These kinds of questions signify curiosity and confusion, so let’s jump in. To start, here’s my preferred definition of a spiritual gift (C. Peter Wagner):
“A spiritual gift is a special attribute given by the Holy Spirit to every member of the Body of Christ, according to God’s grace, for use within the context of the Body.”
Now let’s discuss four things a spiritual gift is not, from Wagner’s book on the topic:
A talent is a particular ability that comes naturally. Talents can be improved through training, but exist in the person as a raw, natural aptitude. Talents are God-given because everyone is created by God and given certain talents.
However, spiritual gifts are not universally given. While every person does have a natural talent, not every person has a spiritual gift because not every person is a Christian. Only the Body of Christ has spiritual gifts. Now it is possible that a talent be used in conjunction with a spiritual gift.
My friend Doug is talented at fixing electrical machines, and he uses that talent to help others. But I would not say his spiritual gift is fixing machines; I’d say his spiritual gift is service and his talent is a function of his serving gift.
Fruits of the Spirit
Galatians 5:22-23 says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” There are several differences between the Fruit of the Spirit (FOS) and the Gifts of the Spirit (GOS):
- FOS are the nature of God in the individual (thanks Graham Cooke): God is love, God is peace, God is patient, etc. However, GOS are the function of the Holy Spirit in the individual.
- Every FOS is available to every Christian through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Not every GOS is available to every Christian.
- FOS are grown through the process of maturity, while GOS are given in an instant.
- FOS are the foundation and motivation of GOS.
- FOS are eternal, while GOS are temporal.
- FOS are more about being, while GOS are more about doing.
For these reasons, the fruits of the Spirit are superior to the gifts of the Spirit. Yes, gifts are part of God’s strategy to build a healthy Church, but without a healthy foundation—Jesus Christ and his nature operating in his followers—the gifts won’t be as effective as they can be.
Counterfeit gifts are abilities that appear as genuine spiritual gifts, but are empowered by the devil to bring glory to himself. This should not surprise us, as 2 Corinthians 11:14 says that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. Just as Pharaoh’s magicians reproduced the signs of God in Exodus and just as the prophets of Baal prophesied by Baal in Jeremiah 2:8, people today can operate in supernatural powers that resemble God-given spiritual gifts.
This is why the source of the power and the character of the person are so important. Don’t be wooed and fooled by flashy supernatural abilities. God isn’t the only source of supernatural power—the devil has some, too. Acts 16 tells the story of a slave girl who could tell the future; she made a lot of money for her owners.
But after meeting the Apostle Paul, her ability was gone. What happened? Paul had cast out the demon that enabled her to tell the future. What looked like personal prophecy was really satanic service. Don’t be fooled by the existence of power, but look for source and character.
Sometimes spiritual gifts can be stumbling blocks for the roles that Christians ought to fill. For instance, while evangelism—the ability to share your faith in Christ—is a spiritual gift that some possess, sharing your faith is a role that all Christians are called to fill. If an opportunity to share your faith arises and you don’t have the gift of evangelism, you can’t say, “Oh, I don’t have that gift, let someone else do it.”
Your identity as a Christian—not the identification of the evangelism gift—compels you to share your faith. The same goes with the service gift. If you see a need, don’t walk the other way, hoping that someone with the gift of service comes by. Likewise, we’re all called to walk in faith, although there is also a spiritual gift of faith.
Now that we’ve covered what spiritual gifts are not, let’s move on to reasons why there is confusion and inactivity regarding spiritual gifts.