We’ve come to the final post of the series and it’s time to wrap things up. This series has taken us through a lot of passages of Scripture, decades of history, several different viewpoints, and for a lot of us, some uncharted (maybe even scary) waters when it comes to the Holy Spirit. We’ve laid out the strengths and weaknesses of the cessationist case and the charismatic case and seen that you can be biblical and be in both camps. There are excesses and unbiblical positions out there that should be avoided, but there is space on both sides for honest biblical discussion.
What I haven’t been able to shake through this entire series is the feeling that I’m not depending on the Holy Spirit like I should be. Maybe you feel that too. When I read passages like 1 Corinthians 2:12–13, where Paul says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual,” or others like Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you,” I can’t help but feel convicted about how much of my life I try to do in the power of the flesh.
Romans 8:13 has long been one of my favorite verses. It’s one of the verses I remind myself of almost on a daily basis. If you’re looking for a fighter verse, memorize this one. Paul says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” But what does that mean in practice? How do you actually walk by the Spirit every day?
During Jesus’ last week with his disciples, he gave them some instructions on what to do after he was gone. As his disciples struggled to grasp the fact that he would be crucified, resurrection, and ascend into Heaven, it must have been a shock when Jesus told them that they were going to carry on the mission he had begun. In John 14:15-17, Jesus reassures them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” God had a plan for how he would carry out his mission.
Think of the Spirit are the person of the Trinity in charge of executing God’s plans. He inspired the words of Scripture, he brings new believers to life, he convicts us of sin, he reminds us of truth, he gives us gifts, he gives us things to say when we have the opportunity to share the Gospel. The Spirit is at the helm of accomplishing God’s will in the world. When the time came for Jesus to ascend into Heaven, look at what he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” He promised the disciples that the Spirit would empower them to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The same thing is true today.
Walking by the Spirit means doing things that God has called you to do, even when you know they are impossible under your own power. If you don’t see the work of the Spirit in your life, then you may not be attempting the things of God. Maybe the reason we feel a lack of spiritual power in our lives is that we are doing too many things that can be accomplished through the flesh. Maybe we don’t see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives because we haven’t completely waged war against the fruit of the flesh.
Make it your goal to go after the things that God cares about in the world and you will see the Spirit’s power. Try to put your sin to death - not just the little convenient sins - wage all-out war on your sin and do not walk by the flesh. You’ll see the power of the Spirit. Look for opportunities to encourage the ones around you who don’t have anybody else in their corner. Seek justice and stand up for the oppressed. Plead with God for revival in your neighborhood, company, fraternity house, friend group, and family. None of these things can be done by flesh alone. When we understand that God will accomplish his will in the world, not by might, not by power, but by his Spirit, then we will see the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Zech. 4:6).
What about the gifts of the Spirit?
In this context, the Holy Spirit gives gifts to the church to accomplish God’s purposes. We’ve looked at the lists of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4 and examined what each of the gifts might mean in the world today. Here are a few summary points about the gifts:
Gifts are given to Christians.
God gives everyone skills and aptitudes, but he only gives spiritual gifts to Christians. Because the Spirit comes into believers when they trust in Jesus Christ, the gifts only come after conversion. In the passages on the gifts, it’s clear that Paul is speaking to people in the context of the local church. We shouldn’t expect nonbelievers to have spiritual gifts in the same way that we should not expect them to pursue God’s plan for their lives. We aren’t entitled to the gifts; we’re empowered by the gifts as we go about God’s work in the world.
Gifts are given according to God’s wisdom.
You don’t get to pick your gifts. They don’t even have to make sense. 1 Corinthians begins with a long section about how God embarrasses the wisdom of the world by doing things in ways that are unexplainable to fleshly people. Paul says, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” When it comes to the gifts, God distributes them in the way he thinks is best. You’ve probably seen this to be true. Sometimes it is the most unlikely people who transform and blossom when they begin serving in your church. Sometimes God chooses the most unsuspecting person to give a word of knowledge to or to use to heal someone. There are moments when God chooses someone to have an impact far greater than their worldly talents could ever have produced. God knows best and he gives the right gifts to the right people at the right times.
Gifts are given for the work of the church.
Don't be surprised if you don’t see any gifts in your life when you’re not doing things that require spiritual gifting. Our gifts are not for us; they’re for the church. Sometimes you have to put yourself at the disposal of your church before God puts any gifts at your disposal. You may not feel gifted to serve in a particular area, but you might not know until you try. Seek wise counsel as you serve; sometimes God can bring wise counsel on where you would be a good fit for those he has gifted to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11).
Gifts are not a sign of maturity.
This may be the hardest point to accept. The system doesn’t work like the world. Spiritual gifts are not a reward for faithfulness or spiritual maturity. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why God would gift certain people the way he does, but the gifts are an extension of his grace; you can’t earn them. God gives gifts to bless the body, and sometimes its surprising which people can best bless the body.
Gifts build up the body.
The goal of all of the gifts is to bring everyone to maturity in Christ. This means we need to pray that we can use our gifts to bring unity in the church. If something we’re doing is causing unnecessary or unbiblical division, then we need to reexamine whether or not we’re really doing what we should be. The result of the gifts is that everybody matures. This should be our aim; ”speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Endeavor to do great things for Christ. Get out of your comfort zone, and start in your own heart. Ask God to accomplish his will through you in the world. You’ll be amazed how his Spirit will equip you for the work.
Check out the other posts in this series:
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.