Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Where Did All These Pentecostals and Charismatics Come From?

Where in the world did all these Pentecostals and charismatics come from? In the explosive growth and geographical extension of Pentecostal and charismatic groups, we are witnessing one of the most if not the most stunning episodes of Christian expansion ever. In the not-too-distant future Pentecostals will likely make up the majority of Christians worldwide.

A Nigerian pentecostal churchYet Pentecostals and charismatics remain mysterious even to other Protestants, despite the fact that the origins of the contemporary Pentecostal movement are well known. A cluster of events around the turn of the 20th century shaped Pentecostalism’s distinctive character and launched it as one juggernaut of a Christian movement.

The Start: Topeka

In October 1900, 29-year-old Agnes Ozmen matriculated at the freshly founded Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. Former Methodist, now Holiness pastor Charles Fox Parham directed students to read the book of Acts with heightened alertness to every mention of the Spirit. Consensus emerged on two points: (1) outward manifestations always accompany the Spirit’s activity, and (2) speaking in tongues is the outward sign, the proof of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

A watch night service was announced for New Year’s Eve. Sometime in the wee hours of January 1, 1901, Parham placed his hands on Miss Ozmen at her request, praying that she would receive baptism by the Holy Spirit. Witnesses report that Miss Ozmen, for the next three days, spoke and wrote only in Chinese. Parallel with the event reported in Acts 2 at the feast of Pentecost, the miraculous “tongue” reportedly spoken at Topeka was a known, extant human language foreign to the speaker. Only rarely amid the subsequent spread of the movement did reports of such technically “Pentecostal” tongues arise. Famously, in the summer of 1960, Rabbi Jacob Rabinowitz discovered Irishman John Gruver speaking (unbeknownst to Gruver) Hebrew during an Assemblies of God worship service in Pasadena. But the vast bulk of Pentecostal tongues have been, ironically, not Pentecostal, but Corinthian—unknown tongues, heavenly languages.

Theologically, the events at Topeka retain the strongest claim as the scene of the birth of Pentecostalism. The consensus regarding the tongues and the Spirit resulting from the Parham-prompted Bible study combined with the watch night prayers, and Ozmen’s tongues epitomizes early Pentecostal identity. Interpretation of these events gave birth to new doctrine that turned Holiness believers into the first self-consciously Pentecostal followers of Jesus Christ. Here’s what they believe: speaking in tongues is the normative external sign of the baptism with the Holy Spirit that is the spiritual birthright of every Christian.

Holiness Cradle

Such a reading and application of the book of Acts was long in the making. A century and half earlier, John Wesley had taught that a second work of grace post-conversion was possible, desirable, and pursuable by converts to Jesus Christ. The Methodist movement Wesley inspired gave birth to the Keswick Convention and conferences and the Wesleyan-Holiness and Higher Life movements out of which Pentecostalism sprang.

These Holiness churches emphasized the importance of Holy Spirit-produced second and even third works of grace. One group, for example, identified regeneration, sanctification, and baptism in the Spirit as three constituent outpourings of the Spirit proper to the normal Christian life. Holiness Christians wrangled among themselves about the number, nature, significance, and proper sequencing of such experiences.

A distinctive and quite technical language developed among these Holiness Christians. Terms such as “second blessing,” “entire sanctification,” “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” or “baptism by the Holy Spirit” became identity markers amid a proliferating movement giving birth to countless independent churches as well as full-blown denominations like the Pilgrim Holiness Church and the Church of the Nazarene.

All these Holiness groups insisted that the miraculous gifts reported in the New Testament continue beyond the apostolic age into the present-day church. Though some Holiness believers chafe at this reality, early Pentecostals were essentially Holiness Christians with one additional feature—the insistence that speaking in tongues is the normative outward sign of the normative baptism by and in the Holy Spirit.

Azusa Street

The second pivotal event occurred when African American Holiness-turned-Pentecostal pastor William J. Seymour made his way to Azusa Street in Los Angeles to preach. Seymour, a former student of Parham and son of a slave, witnessed the outbreak of a revival that would not abate for three years. This multi-racial, multi-class eruption of miraculous gifts (charismata) pumped out Pentecostal evangelists, missionaries, and ministers.

The spiritual lineage of almost all early leaders among Pentecostals who soon dispersed throughout North America and beyond trace back to this extraordinary time in greater Los Angeles. The defining theological distinctive of Pentecostalism was distilled at Topeka. The launching pad of what would become global Pentecostal advance was situated on Azusa Street.

Organizing and Theologizing

Now we consider a third decisive development. From the beginning many Pentecostal churches began as independent entities and chose to remain so. But hundreds of Pentecostal denominations arose as well, including this one: “The founding fathers and mothers of the Assemblies of God met in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on April 2-12, 1914, to promote unity and doctrinal stability, establish legal standing, coordinate the mission enterprise, and establish a ministerial training school.” It would be difficult to exaggerate the significance of this event. Of the some 280 million Pentecostals worldwide, more than 67 million belong to the Assemblies of God.

Two words capture the heart of theological conviction underlying both Pentecostalism and the Holiness movement from which it sprang—continuity and restoration. Against “cessationists” who insist that the miraculous gifts reported in the New Testament (tongues, healings, prophecies) ceased with the close of the apostolic age, Pentecostals contend for their continuance. The relationship between then and now is one not of disjunction but continuity. Thus, where the miraculous gifts are absent, Christians should seek to restore them.

But do Pentecostals care about anything else? Yes, and like so many other Protestants, they’re willing to fight with and separate from one another over all sorts of things. This 1947 observation by Canadian Pentecostal pastor H. H. Barber provides a helpful window into the theological and ecclesiological diversity of Pentecostalism:

In the city of Winnipeg are people who claim to be Pentecostal who are hyper-Calvinist [i.e., they hold to a strict doctrine of predestination], some who are strong Arminians [i.e., they hold that man has free will]; some who look upon the doctrine of the Trinity as a pagan superstition [the so-called “Jesus Only” groups], others who are staunchly Trinitarian; some who believe in baptismal regeneration, others who deny any regenerative virtue of baptism. Some cherish a rabid type of independence; others are loyal to the requirement of ordered denominational affiliation.

When push came to shove, some Pentecostal churches and denominations have proved themselves protective of orthodox and evangelical Christianity. The emergence of “Jesus Only” deniers of the Trinity within the Assemblies of God precipitated a schism and resulted in The Statement of Fundamental Truths (1916), one-third of which was dedicated to affirming the most ancient and fundamental confession of Christian believers. Today the official website of the Assemblies of God (USA) gratefully identifies itself with Martin Luther, John Wesley, and the First Great Awakening. Not just tongues, not even just the Trinity, but insistence upon the inerrancy and authority of the Bible and justification by grace alone through faith alone typically belongs to the irreducible minimum Pentecostal confession.

Such continuities between Pentecostals with older streams within the Christian tradition should not surprise us. Early Pentecostals believers did not materialize out of thin air but came forth from Holiness churches who themselves emerged from Anglican, evangelical, and fundamentalist communities of faith. We do well to recall that Pentecostalism arose from a Wesleyan-style watch night service during which the particular petition raised to God followed two months of meticulous individual and communal Bible study. These facts speak to the diverse, deep, and complex Christian rootedness of Pentecostal origins.

Pentecostals and Prosperity

The roots of the so-called prosperity gospel and health-and-wealth gospel that grew up out of Pentecostal soil trace back to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Early Pentecostal encouragement to look for material gain from the hand of God issued forth not from McMansion dwellers and Mercedes drivers but from impoverished preachers who knew what it was to go to bed hungry. The bearers of real material poverty seldom glamorize its sufferings and often bring alertness to certain biblical teachings. Does not God place his children in a garden paradise and take them to a promised land where he makes their crops, livestock, and jewelry heap up and overflow? Does he not promise ultimately to set his adopted children down at a messianic feast in a New Jerusalem traversed along streets of gold? Was not Jesus the Great Physician? Does not God himself make us expect and yearn for the end of crying and pain and death?

By the 1980s the conviction that God wills the physical health and the material wealth of every follower of Jesus Christ essentially supplanted preaching about much of anything else within many Pentecostal churches. The means for accessing such benefits was also identified—”name it and claim it.” From the ecclesial soil of Pentecostalism grew first the prosperity gospel and then the Word of Faith movement. Many academic Pentecostals decried such displacement of the heart of the gospel, and older, more confessionally rooted Pentecostals often avoided the worst excesses of these sub-movements. But the majority of the Pentecostal world flourishes in essentially independent communities of faith, allowing the prosperity gospel and its Word of Faith counterpart to spread with little real resistance. Can orthodox and evangelical Christianity survive where a robust prosperity gospel takes hold? On this point Pentecostals disagree among themselves. But even as Bible-believing Christians rightly criticize this development within Pentecostalism, they would do well to give serious attention to the impressive array of passages in both testaments to which these communities point.

Charismatics of a Different Sort

So what about the charismatics? Aren’t they the same? Yes and no. Pentecostals are charismatics in that they pursue and report experience of the charismatic gifts. But the modern global charismatic movement exploded in the 1970s among Roman Catholics and within Protestant denominations as “the gifts” prized by Pentecostals appeared among them. The Vineyard Church is widely viewed as the first charismatic denomination. The charismatic movement emerged apart for Pentecostalism, but these communities cross-pollinated with their gift-practicing siblings in significant ways. Some charismatics adopted the prosperity gospel, Oral Roberts being the most spectacular example of such merging of and bridging between Pentecostalism and charismatic renewal.

The modern charismatic movement provided an unexpected and fairly astonishing validation of Pentecostal theology as practice of the gifts spread within the established, non-restorationist Christian world. But these new charismatics also posed a challenge to Pentecostals, who seemed to have something of a corner on both teaching and experience where the gifts were concerned. Significantly, the new charismatics rarely treated tongues or any other outward manifestation as the necessary sign of Spirit baptism, making them immediately more compatible with others inside and outside their denominations who did not manifest the gifts.

Options for Orthodox Onlookers

What should those of us who do not speak in tongues and do not witness regular healing miracles make of these growing movements? Where “Jesus Only” denial of the Trinity or the quest for health and wealth supplants the gospel itself, our duty seems clear. We must declare, “That is not Christian.” Like Paul, love sometimes demands divisive dogmatism: “If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him” (Galatians 1:8).

But what about Pentecostals and charismatics who confess the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Jesus Christ in ancient, classic, orthodox fashion? What of those who cherish the Reformation solas, heartily affirming justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone? Surely a kind of theological and relational Golden Rule is in order: do unto them what you would have them to do unto you. We can love them without affirming convictions and practices with which we disagree. In the same way divergence over baptism and church governance results in a real separation between, for example, Southern Baptists and Presbyterians, without either community suspecting that the other languishes outside the body of Christ.

Ought not orthodox and evangelical confession achieve a core level of recognition and trust between diverse Protestant communions? Ought not such confession elicit and nurture considered patience towards one another? Again, like Paul, love sometimes demands from us dogmatic patience and refusal to separate: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). Discernment is the great burden of the church, but we must shoulder this responsibility with the seriousness demanded by the unity of the church and the purity of the gospel.

How Do We Hear God?

There’s a fair bit of nonsense out there about how we hear from God. Some of it is superspiritual claptrap that devalues the Scriptures (as when people say things like, “Yes, that was a very nice talk, but I don’t want information, I want revelation“). Some of it is plain arrogance (“God has told me this Bible passage, which the world’s great minds have been studying and discussing for 20 centuries, actually means this“). Some of it is Gnostic bunk (“Yes, I used to think like that, but then God took me into his confidence about so-and-so”). Some of it doesn’t make any sense at all (like the preacher I heard who referred to “the inner audible voice of God”). And some of it is downright destructive (“God has told me the reason you’re sick/divorced/infertile/unemployed is because of this thing you did wrong”). Speaking as a pastor in a charismatic church, I understand the impulse to avoid such rubbish by avoiding “hearing from God” language altogether.


But we serve a speaking God who talks to his people throughout the Bible. We are sons and daughters of a loving Father, who wants relationship with his children. We are the bride of Christ, and husbands and wives talk to each other. We aren’t employed as slaves or servants but welcomed as friends, and friends talk to each other. We are the sheep of our great shepherd, and sheep know their Master’s voice. We are a body in which people prophesy, speak words of wisdom and knowledge, and use other spiritual gifts to edify each other. We may get ourselves into muddle and silliness sometimes, but as Christians, we are those who hear the voice of God. The question is, of course, how?

Start with Jesus

We start with Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews talks about Jesus as God’s climactic and definitive act of speech—in years gone by, he says, God spoke to our ancestors in all sorts of ways, but now he has spoken to us by a Son (Heb. 1:1-2). In other words, we primarily hear the voice of God by encountering the person of Jesus. In itself, that perspective may not sound like it helps us very much, because it just bumps the problem from “hearing God” to “encountering Jesus.” But it actually helps us enormously, because it makes Jesus, rather than subjective thoughts or impressions we might have about whatever-it-is, the central reality when it comes to hearing from God. Essentially, we hear from God by reading about Jesus and listening to his words in Scripture, by praying and living in the ways he taught us, by remembering him in the Lord’s Supper, and by being united with him through faith and baptism. In other words, we hear from God in exactly the same ways faithful Christians have for 2,000 years.

I’ve deliberately started this way because many, including me, come from church backgrounds that prize variety over regularity, novelty over fidelity, the individual over the corporate. Those who understand the centrality of Jesus will be far more secure, and far less likely to be bamboozled, in contexts where people are hearing from God in ways that are more subjective, personal, and difficult to assess.

That said, the New Testament paints a picture of a community where people not only heard from God through Scripture, prayer, and the sacraments, but also through prophecy, other languages, words of wisdom and knowledge, and so on. Sometimes people were worshiping and fasting, and “the Holy Spirit said” something; sometimes they were trying to resolve a dispute, and “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit” to come to a particular conclusion; sometimes they were on mission, and “the Spirit of Jesus didn’t allow them” to go one way and sent them another. Angels appeared regularly. Ordinary people, not just apostles, prophesied. Some predicted global events before they happened. Others spoke in earthly languages they’d never learned. Several had visions. And all of this happened, Peter explained on the day of Pentecost, because this sort of thing would happen in “the last days” (Acts 2:14-21)—in other words, the time between the ascension and the return of Christ. God is the one who speaks, so when his Spirit is poured out, everyone starts hearing from God.

From the point of view of Acts, this is normal Christianity. Hearing from God about things, even when major decisions (or people’s lives) are in the balance, is quite ordinary. These days, people who think that way can be regarded as charismatic loonies. But not in the New Testament. A church is praying together, and God speaks to them. A missionary decision has to be made, and a man pops up in a vision and sends Paul and Silas to Greece. Prophets predict famines, and the capture of their leaders. The gift of the Spirit completely changes the decision-making process in the early church. At the start of Acts, everyone is drawing lots to make decisions—but after Pentecost, nobody is. Rolling God’s dice has been replaced by hearing God’s voice.

This is the bit that confuses, or even scares, people today. If we are still in the last days, and if our lives and our churches today are supposed to look like the book of Acts, with people prophesying, seeing visions and so on, then what checks and balances are in place to stop it from going wrong? What can we do to ensure we’re hearing from God, and not making stuff up?

Five Things

First, we can check what we’re hearing against what the Holy Spirit has revealed in Scripture. If someone “feels led” to leave his wife and run off with someone else, then we know he’s been deceived simply because the Spirit won’t contradict what he’s said in the Bible. Second, we can check it against what we know of Jesus. Is it arrogant, lustful, greedy, divisive? Then it’s not the word of God. You’d be amazed how many bogus “words from God” can be debunked simply by running them through these two filters.

Third, talk to leaders about it. Leaders are not priests, and they are certainly not infallible, but the New Testament describes them as those who guide and teach the church. Paul heard from God pretty clearly, but he still talked a lot about the responsibility of leaders to correct those who were talking rubbish. If you’re a leader, his instructions are fairly simple: don’t quench the Spirit; don’t despise prophecies; test everything; hold fast to the good (1 Thess. 5:19-21).

Fourth, Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 14 about prophecy being “weighed” or “judged” by the church. This means the local church, together, needs to exercise discernment and wisdom when people prophesy: is this person trustworthy, is this word from God, and, if it is, how “weighty” is it? Finally, we simply consider the effect (or “fruit”) of what we think God is saying. Both Moses and Paul offer us some great common sense. Does the word cause people to rebel against God and serve idols? Then it’s not from God (Deut. 13:1-3). Does it fail to come true? Then it’s not from God (Deut. 18:21-22). Does it cause people to see Jesus as Lord? Then it’s from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Does it edify Christians and cause unbelievers to worship God? Then it’s from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 14:3, 24-25). When God speaks, it will come true, glorify Jesus, prompt worship, encourage people, and build up the church. If those things aren’t happening, it’s not from God.

A few weeks back, Derek Rishmawy wrote a great article here on the principle of abusus non tollit usum: “abuse does not take away use.” In few areas of the Christian life is this point more important than in hearing from God. Yes, there are countless examples out there of silliness, nonsense, and oddity. But despite those examples, we need to remember that the New Testament church is an eschatological, Spirit-filled, prophetic, voice-of-God-hearing people—and we get to be part of it. God speaks, and we hear. What a privilege!

You Asked: What Is the Unforgivable Sin?

Editors’ note: Send your theological, biblical, and practical ministry questions to ask@thegospelcoalition.org along with your full name, city, and state. We’ll pass them along to The Gospel Coalition’s Council members and other friends for an answer we can share.

Chris P. from China asks:

I’ve wrestled with this for a long time: what is the unforgivable sin that Jesus talks about?

We posed the question to Jonathan Pennington, associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary in Louisville, and author of Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Baker Academic, 2009) and Reading the Gospels Wisely (Baker Academic, 2012).


I still remember well, as a young Christian, listening to The Bible Answer Man radio show. I don’t remember much of what was said, but I distinctly recall the occasional poor troubled souls who’d call in hoping for consolation, despair in their voice, fearful they’d committed the unforgivable sin—blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

Little did I know at the time, those late 2oth-century callers were only the latest in 2,000 years to worry about whether they’d indeed committed the blasphemy of the Spirit. We know this was an issue in the early church, and different branches of the church had different opinions. For many, it was understood that a falling away under persecution, for example, was this kind of unforgivable sin. And we know different portions of the church split over whether a relapsed Christian could re-enter the church.

Fast forwarding, we read in John Bunyan’s famous and influential tale his own wrestling with this issue. Indeed, in the last 300 years, probably the largest group of people who’d be anxious about this kind of question came from Puritan stock. We know of many stories including a most tragic one where an English Puritan name John Child actually took his own life, convinced in despair and melancholy he’d committed this unforgivable, unpardonable sin.

Texts and Their Reception

The “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” language comes directly from the Gospels and is found in parallel accounts in Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29, and Luke 12:10. Beyond this threefold witness, it also appears in roughly the same form in the Didache (11:7), and it’s the 44th saying in the Gospel of Thomas. In all these cases the literary context varies slightly, but there’s a consistency in emphasizing the one greatest and unforgivable sin—the “speaking against” or “blaspheming” of the Holy Spirit.

Ambrose and the Didache understand the unforgivable sin to be opposing the Spirit’s work—not just in Jesus’ day, but continuing through his Spirit-inspired prophets in the contemporary church. Many in the church connected this saying with the “sin unto death” of 1 John 5:16, understood as an unforgivable post-conversion relapse, while others interpreted it more generally as a rejection of the gospel. Augustine, who dedicated at least one whole sermon to this topic, is typical and influential in arguing the blasphemy isn’t a specific act but a state of enmity and impenitence lasting unto death. It’s a hardness of heart that, if not repented of in this life, will prove to be unforgiven. In this sense, then, the blasphemy is understood simply as unbelief that persists throughout life.

Space doesn’t permit a fuller exploration of the nuances of these views nor, more importantly, a thorough examination of each of the Gospel passages in their literary and historical context—something essential for the wisest reading of these texts. This would include a sensitive reading that allows each Gospel writer to make his own nuanced interpretive application of the famous blasphemy saying. (For example, Luke’s witness to this saying seems most generic and less contextualized than Matthew’s and Mark’s.)

Nevertheless, we can highlight here what seems to be the overall meaning as well as note some common misinterpretations. On the latter score, it’s important to emphasize that however one interprets the blasphemy saying, it cannot be construed as the same thing as “grieving” or “quenching” the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). These instructions from Paul aren’t warnings of unbelief to Christ’s hard-hearted opponents (as in the Gospel accounts) but exhortations to Spirit-imbued believers to continue in Spirit-empowerment, not giving themselves over to bitterness and conflict. Paul makes it clear: Christians must resist prohibiting the mysterious work of God in the assembly of God’s people.

Another misinterpretation would be to understand the blasphemy too generically as meaning that anyone who at any point rejects Christ openly can’t be a true Christian later. While we may initially read these texts this way (especially in Luke’s least-explained version), the New Testament’s own retelling of key events belies this interpretation. Specifically, we see contrary evidence in both Peter and Paul. Paul’s conversion story wasn’t simply one of ignorance and then acceptance of Christ but rather one of hardened opposition to Christ and his followers preceding his conversion (Acts 9:1-19). Such open rejection of Jesus apparently wasn’t an unforgivable sin. Even more shocking, Peter himself—after following Jesus for some time—denies him openly (three times!), yet is restored not only to forgiveness but leadership in the early church (John 18:15-27; 21:15-19). Without question, this sin on Peter’s part, though equal parts serious and incontrovertible, cannot be construed as an unforgivable blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

Final Choice

So what does the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit really mean, and how does it apply to us today? In short, I suggest it’s a specific, active, and final choice to declare the person and work of Jesus as being demonic in origin. The specificity of this charge is clearest in the most detailed version of the event we have, retold by Matthew (12:22-37). There it’s clear that, after a contracted series of interactions with Jesus, the Pharisees have made a final, declarative decision that Jesus is not from God and must be killed (12:14 is the turning point of Matthew’s narrative on this score). As a result, they have no choice but to openly interpret Jesus’ good works of healing and teaching as Satanic in origin. Jesus, in a showing of his incredible wisdom, reveals the terrible inconsistency of their logic (12:25-29). Instead, he argues, these godly works come from God’s Spirit. Therefore, to call the Spirit’s work through Jesus demonic is the greatest, unforgivable sin (12:31-32).

Augustine’s view that the unforgivable sin is a state of unrepentant enmity toward God isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t deal with the specificity to which the Gospel texts speak. It’s certainly a truism and a valid reading/application of these texts to argue that a state of unbelieving enmity toward Christ results in no forgiveness. But the first reading of the blasphemy of the Spirit in the Gospel texts is much more specific: it’s a hardened evaluation of Jesus’ work as being demonic in origin.

Matthew’s additional material in 12:33-37 both makes this reading clear and also shows interpreters have regularly misunderstood how 12:33-37 relates to 12:22-32. Despite our New Testament editions’ paragraph break at 12:33, these following verses aren’t a new, unrelated section but the culmination of Jesus’ conflict with his opponents and the explanation of what this blasphemy is. Continuing in his argument, Jesus forces the Pharisees to face their own position and make a choice—either declare that he’s a good tree or a bad one (12:33). It makes no sense to say he’s a bad tree (demonic in origin) producing good fruit (healings). This statement, which is regularly conflated with Matthew’s other uses of the tree analogy (3:10; 7:15-20), is actually the same argument he’s just made about the illogicality of his opponents’ position (12:25-29). Again, the blasphemy against the Spirit is saying that Jesus’ good works (by the Spirit) are the fruit of a bad (demonic) tree.

This in turn also explains the equally troubling saying in 12:36-37: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Rather than being a general statement indicating all of us will be faced at the pearly gates with an embarrassing video recording of all the stupid things we said in life, these verses directly address and complete the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit argument. Jesus is warning his opponents that these careless words (that Jesus’ work is demonic in origin) will result in their condemnation—another way of saying they won’t be forgiven for this hardened position of opposition to him.

His Smiling, Welcoming Face

So when troubled souls come to us anxious about having committed the unpardonable sin, what shall we say?

It’s important to emphasize in the first instance that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a specific, hardened opposition to Jesus that entails deeming his work as demonic in origin. I doubt many of our parishioners will find themselves in such a position. It is not, again, any failure to obey a perceived leading of the Spirit in our lives.

This isn’t to minimize the pinch and pain of these strong words of Jesus. It’s a valid extension to warn people of a persistent hardness of heart in opposition to Jesus. But this is a message not for the tender conscience or the stumbling believer, but rather for the pseudo-religious who stands over against Jesus in smugness. The Peters and Pauls and millions of other believers through history have failed and fallen and have yet found Jesus’ smiling, welcoming face of forgiveness.

Are You Praying for Revival?

Since finishing Iain Murray’s superb biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones last week, I’ve been pondering the topic of revival. The life and ministry of the Welsh pastor leaves me no option. As Murray, who also authored Revival and Revivalism, observes: ”True zeal for revival is nothing other than zeal for the glory of God in the conversion of many.” Or, as Tim Keller explained at TGC13, revivals are “seasons in which the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit are intensified.” (For more on gospel revival, see chapters 4 and 6 in Center Church or A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge.)

While such statements may sound harmless enough, are they true? Some evangelicals today are certainly uneasy with revival talk. Revival is God’s concern, they insist, not ours. Are they wrong?

TGC Council members Kevin DeYoung, Bryan Chapell, and Richard Phillips recently sat down to tackle this knotty topic. ”In a true revival, you’re not adding human manipulative techniques to a biblical ministry,” Phillips explains. Rather, you’re “doing biblical ministry, fortified by prayer, and the Holy Spirit is giving you a great harvest.”

Moreover, Chapell points out, “True revival is often very disruptive to the traditional church.” As a result, many churches “want revival until it comes.” On the other hand, DeYoung adds, some don’t desire to see revival unless it occurs in their church.

To be sure, the history of revivalism is shot through with examples of well-meaning people seeking to engineer what only God can do. As Lloyd-Jones warned:

Pray for revival? Yes, go on, but do not try to create it, do not attempt to produce it; it is only given by Christ himself. The last church to be visited by a revival is the church trying to make it.

Watch the full eight-minute video to hear these pastors discuss the temptation to manufacture, the danger of giving up, the problem with measuring success in revival terms, and more.

Revival from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

When You Can’t Even Pray

We are not strong but weak. How are we weak? Well, how aren’t we weak? Brokenness, unmet needs, emptiness, confusion, weariness, unbelief, fear, dullness, depression, bewilderment, sin—we can be so overwhelmed with the crushing weight of this existence that we don’t even know how to pray. The very enormity of our struggles silences us. We don’t know what to pray for, as Paul says in Romans 8:26. We may be paralyzed in helpless indecision. We may be too distressed to utter a coherent prayer at all. We are weak.

Christians are not always on top of things. Where in the Bible are we taught to expect unruffled composure and unbroken victory? Sometimes life is so troubling, we feel defeated even in prayer. And if we cannot pray, we are really in trouble. At that very moment when we most need to draw upon God’s promises through prayer—what if we fail at that vital point of connection, when it really counts? Will our weakness bungle the purpose of God? Under normal conditions we tell ourselves that, when all else fails, we can fall back on prayer. But what if we do come to the end of ourselves and our own devices only to discover we don’t even know what to pray, we don’t understand how to connect the Bible with our experience, and God himself seems far away? What then? What encouragement can we look to beyond our own radical weakness?

When we’re reduced to helplessness, the Holy Spirit will help us. Have you ever thought of the Holy Spirit as a gracious person who steps in with the offer: “May I help? May I bear that burden with you? You’re in anguish over your children. You feel forsaken by God. You don’t know how to negotiate that important decision. You’re lonely. You’re tempted. You’re sinful. You need to pray. May I help?” The Holy Spirit does not reproach us. In fact, he “gives generously to all without making them feel foolish or guilty” (James 1:5, Phillips).

But how does the Holy Spirit help us? Now we enter into deep mystery. The Spirit helps us, Paul explains, by interceding for us. When we are too defeated and confused to pray, when the familiar phrases just don’t seem adequate anymore, when all we can do is groan, the Spirit makes his own appeal on our behalf.

Prayer is more profound than folding our hands and closing our eyes and mouthing well-worn phrases. James Montgomery’s (1771-1854) hymn has long recognized this:

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,

unuttered or expressed,

the motion of a hidden fire

that trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,

the falling of a tear,

the upward glancing of an eye

when none but God is near.

This, too, is prayer, both urgent and profound. And it’s in mo­ments like these, when the heart moves even beyond words, that the “the Spirit himself”—the Spirit personally and directly, in imme­diacy and nearness—helps by interceding for us “with groanings too deep for words.”

Ole Kristian Hallesby (1879-1961) was a Norwegian theologian who stood for biblical truth in an age of doctrinal erosion. He also resisted the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II and suffered for it in a concentration camp. He understood the depth of prayer. In his book on the subject he wrote this:

I have witnessed the death-struggle of some of my Christian friends. Pain has coursed through their bodies and souls. But this was not their worst experience. I have seen them gaze at me anxiously and ask, “What will become of me when I am no longer able to think a sustained thought, nor pray to God?”

If they only realized what they were doing, the people who postpone conversion until they become ill! My friend, in the death-struggle your physical and mental energies will all be taxed to their utmost by your suffering and pain. Remember that and repent now, the acceptable time.

When I stand at the bedside of friends who are struggling with death, it is blessed to be able to say to them, “Do not worry about the prayers that you cannot pray. You yourself are a prayer to God at this moment. All that is within you cries out to Him. And He hears all the pleas that your suffering soul and body are making to Him with groanings which cannot be uttered. But if you should have an occasional restful moment, thank God that you already have been reconciled to Him, and that you are now resting in the everlasting arms.”1

Editors’ note: This excerpt is adapted from Ortlund’s new book, Supernatural Living for Natural People: The Life-Giving Message of Romans 8 (Christian Focus, 2013). 

1 Cf. H. C. G. Moule, Romans (London, 1893), 232.

4 Lessons I’m Learning as a Soon-to-Be Dad

Within two years of marriage, my wife and I found out that she was pregnant with our first child. While joyful about the news, we were flooded with questions and concerns. The initial shock exhausted us as we began to anticipate the many necessary skills we do not have. As they say, you’re never really “ready” to be a parent. As a husband, it’s no small thing to learn to live with and lead my wife, but she can do most things for herself. It’s quite another challenge to steward the life of a baby who can do almost nothing on his or her own. 

For us, this first pregnancy has been fun, tiring, exciting, terrifying, and everything in between. As a man, the revelation that I am called by God to lead my family is weighty. In fact, Paul tells Timothy that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). I do not take these implications lightly. It is an absolute privilege for God to entrust a family to me.

Here are four things that I’m learning and hope to continue to learn with the Trinity as my blueprint.

1. God created this life.

The verse that came to mind when my wife happily surprised me with the news was Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Amazing! As a go-getter, problem solver, and perpetual thinker, I needed to hear this word. In some spheres of life, these pioneering traits are good and beneficial. But I must remember that I cannot control his or her life any more than I can determine the rising and setting of the sun. A pastor friend—who has raised both a pastor and also a prodigal son—recommended that I simply be faithful to God in my character as a man, husband, and father while leaving the reins in God’s hands. This child is ultimately God’s, not mine. This is piercing to my pride but a treasure chest of truth. I need the constant reminder of God’s sovereignty to both humble and also comfort me.

2. The Father shows me how to be a father.

I have been reading insightful articles and books on parenting in an attempt to lay some groundwork. But I will find no greater illustration than the Father’s love for his children. He is willing to sacrifice greatly for their good (John 3:16-17) and train and discipline them for righteousness (Heb. 12:5-11). My own father did a phenomenal job of showing me what covenantal love looks like. He was consistently tender, compassionate, and even corrective much like God the Father is with each of his own. Indeed, everything done by the Father is for our greater good (Rom. 8:28), whether we recognize it or not. As I point my child to him who freely gives all things (James 1:5), I want to reflect those pure intentions as much as I can.

3. The Son shows me how to be a husband.

My wife now needs me in ways that she hasn’t before. I want to serve my now-pregnant wife properly, so I shared concerns about my lack of knowledge with a few older women in my family. I received nearly the exact same response: I can’t be Mr. Fix It. I have no clue what she is going through, and I shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Instead, I must look to Jesus’s love for his bride, the church. He says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29). Though it is Jesus’s yoke that my wife must take upon her, the more I look like him, the better I can help her. I will more fully represent him the more willing I am to lay down my own life for her, just as he did on the cross (Eph. 5:25).

4. The Holy Spirit is my guide.

I have the tendency to become self-reliant and bitter when things spin out of my control. A friend with four wonderful kids recently suggested that I drown my family in prayer. The purpose, he said, is two-fold: to give this situation to God and to remind myself to desperately depend on the Spirit. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit for a reason, and I should not ignore him.

This was perhaps the greatest instruction of all. How could I possibly seek the aforementioned characteristics without the supernatural work of the Spirit? The beautiful news is that I, filled with and empowered by the Spirit, can escape the temptation to dodge responsibility (1 Cor. 10:13) while being constantly reminded of God’s perfect will for me and my family (John 14:26). Without him forging my path, I am helpless.

That’s what I’ve been learning so far in this new stage of life. For all the dads out there far more experienced than I am, what tips would you add?

Why Did God Use Spurgeon?

There is one thing on which many Christians today agree–we need genuine revival. Faced with rising violence, economic recession, and a growing sense of despair, we recognize that our fundamental challenge is not political or social; it is spiritual. And because such challenges require divine insight and strength, we can benefit from reviewing the landscape of Christian history to learn from previous generations. Of the many persons and movements one might consider, Charles Haddon Spurgeon is especially instructive since his legacy demonstrates precisely what is most needed today.

When the 19-year-old Spurgeon received a call to the New Park Street Church in April 1854, the church was fledgling and less than healthy; but within ten months the congregation grew to such a size that it was forced to move to Exeter Hall. Before long even Exeter Hall was inadequate, which caused another move, this time to Surrey Gardens Music Hall, where Spurgeon preached to more than 9,000 men and women each Sunday. The ministry continued to flourish, so much that on October 7, 1857, the Prince of Preachers addressed a record crowd of 23,654 in the famous Crystal Palace. Something extraordinary was happening.

More than Talent

It was March 1861 when Spurgeon’s congregation finally moved to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he would preach the next 31 years and personally see more than 14,000 men and women profess faith in Christ. While there, he started an orphanage, the Pastor’s College, and eventually produced an avalanche of published sermons that would circle the globe. Such fruitfulness naturally raises the question: “Why did God use C. H. Spurgeon in such a profound way?”

The exceptional nature of Charles Spurgeon’s gifts is undeniable (as his sermons demonstrate). However, in response to this question, Spurgeon provides a different answer:

If we had the Spirit sealing our ministry with power, it would signify very little about talent. Men might be poor and uneducated, their words might be broken and ungrammatical; but if the might of the Spirit attended them, the humblest evangelist would be more successful than the most learned divine, or the most eloquent of preachers.

After reading this quote, I imagined Spurgeon mounting the Metropolitan’s pulpit, where he customarily repeated to himself, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe. . . .” Such has been my own practice over the last decade of preaching, following Spurgeon’s example (the only part of Spurgeon that I can effectively emulate). Herein is a lesson. Mental strength and eloquence of speech (for those of you who possess them) may gather large crowds and earn you recognition, but only the power of the Spirit can reach into a human soul to bring transformation. And this, my friends, is what our nation and world needs the most: genuine gospel transformation.

The Reality of Revival

Spurgeon’s ministry was devoted to revival; he would settle for nothing less. In his own words, “Death and condemnation to a church that is not yearning after the Spirit, and crying and groaning until the Spirit has wrought mightily in their midst.” In order for this to happen, however, Spurgeon realized that the Spirit needed to first engage his own soul. Therefore, in his sermon titled “My Prayer,” he remarks:

The prayer before us, “Quicken Thou me in Thy way,” deals with the believer’s frequent need. . . . You yourselves know, in your own souls, that your spirit is most apt to become sluggish and that you have need frequently to put up this prayer, “Quicken Thou me.” If there is a prayer in the book which well becomes my lips, it is just this.

After first seeking personal renewal of God’s Spirit, Spurgeon then prayed for his church. In a message titled “One Antidote for Many Ills,” he says:

This morning’s sermon, then, will be especially addressed to my own church, on the absolute necessity of true religion in our midst, and of revival from all apathy and indifference. We may ask God for multitudes of other things, but amongst them all, let this be our chief prayer: “Lord, revive us; Lord, revive us!”

Examples of this sort of prayer are numerous. The point is simple: pursuing revival was a priority for Spurgeon. And what was the outcome of his request? During the years when Spurgeon prayed, Protestant churches in London enjoyed a 60 percent increase in attendance, exceeding the population growth of the city. At the samt time the Spirit moved powerfully in America, especially in the winter of 1857 and 1858 through the noontime prayer meetings of Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York. As both sides of the Atlantic welcomed waves of revival, Spurgeon noted in 1859, “At this time, the converts are more numerous than heretofore, and the zeal of the church groweth exceedingly.”

Revival in Our Day

As our friends, coworkers, neighbors, and loved ones descend into deeper levels of despair, the church is poised to direct the world’s attention to the gospel of Christ in whom we find the light of spiritual revival. Here is how Spurgeon articulated the vision:

We must confess that, just now, we have not the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we could wish. . . . We seek not for extraordinary excitements, those spurious attendants of genuine revivals, but we do seek for the pouring out of the Spirit of God. . . . The Spirit is blowing upon our churches now with his genial breath, but it is a soft evening gale. Oh, that there would come a rushing mighty wind, that should carry everything before it! This is the lack of the times, the great want of our country. May this come as a blessing from the Most High!

The revival that Spurgeon describes may very well be on our horizon, unobservable to the naked eye; but through the eyes of faith, against the backdrop of ages past, we may see enough of its glow to believe that it exists. Whether it remains off in the distance, or if it should come near, time will tell. In the meantime, why would we not give ourselves to prayer and proclamation in the hope of seeing genuine revival in our day?

Hinge Books in the Story of Redemption: Darrell Bock on Luke-Acts

With 52 chapters between his Gospel and Acts, the Gentile physician Luke wrote almost 30 percent of your New Testament. That’s more than John, Paul, or anyone else, for that matter. Add to that the fact that Luke and Acts function as crucial “hinge books” in the story of redemptive history, and it’s easy to see the significance of the latest installment in Zondervan’s Biblical Theology of the New Testament series.

Written by Darrell Bock, The Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized for All Nations also relates to The Gospel Coalition 2013 national conference (April 6 to 10) theme, ”His Mission: Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.” We’re excited to gather in Orlando to hear eight plenary addresses and one panel reintroducing us to Jesus as recounted by Luke.

I corresponded with Bock, research professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, about the significance of Luke-Acts, whether Jesus and Paul agreed about the gospel, distinctive themes, and more.


Among evangelicals, what do you think is the most commonly misinterpreted passage in Luke? What about in Acts? 

I think it’s better to say these books are often underappreciated, even though Luke (as the author of Luke-Acts) writes more of the New Testament than any other writer, including Paul. Frequently overlooked in both books is the idea that the gospel is about new life that the Spirit of God gives us. This theme begins in Luke 3:16 and appears in many texts in one way or another (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5; all of Acts 2; 10:44-48; 11:15-18; 13:23-24). For Luke, the sign of the arrival of Messiah and the new era is the arrival of the Spirit sent to indwell and enable the new community to be faithful to God and carry out his mission.

According to Luke, did Jesus preach the same gospel as Paul? How do we make sense of the apparent differences between the two?

Yes, I think he did, but this is because we often fail to clearly define Paul’s gospel. Paul spoke of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Romans 1-8 tells the full story, which we often stop telling with justification. When we make the gospel only about the cross and forgiveness and justification, we fail to tell why it’s good news for what all of that provides—namely, a new life lived in the power of and response to the living God, one that’s part of the complete reconciliation of creation God will one day bring about.

So for Paul the point of the gospel is that forgiveness of sins leads to the provision of an enabled life in God’s Spirit. Just read Romans 6-8 for that part of the gospel. For Paul, this new life is a crucial part of the gospel story. This also means the gospel of the cross and the gospel of the kingdom, often pitted against each other, actually fit together. Just thinking Jewishly gets us here. This is the new covenant, not only to forgive sins but also to put the law of God inside of people—what Ezekiel pictures as being washed and cleansed so the Spirit can indwell a clean vessel.

What major biblical themes are uniquely picked up and developed—or perhaps even brought to a climax—in Luke and Acts?

There are several. How God regards the poor and those in need. How God respects women and those on the fringe. How God was always looking to include Gentiles in his plan. How we should live ethically so that repentance involves not only God but also how we treat others (see Luke 1:16-17 for starters). How the program of God points to the Christ as the bringer of the enabling Spirit. How the coming of the Spirit begins a new phase in God’s program for which the disciples had to wait in order to be ready to carry out God’s mission. How God’s mission was accomplished by simple people simply being faithful to God. How God’s people cared for one another and worked for an appropriate unity with each other. These are but a few of the key themes.

What are the chief lessons and applications from Acts for a New Testament ecclesiology?

The key application most churches today need to give attention to involves how to engage in mission. Appreciate what the gospel is about. It’s about a new kind of enabled life from God rooted in his grace and forgiveness. Here’s the answer to man’s problems far more than, say, politics. Without a new heart, people in society don’t change.

Just look at Ephesus in Acts 19. The different way believers lived and cared about others was the visible testimony to the fact God had changed them, and the church encouraged people to engage and share the gospel in ways that pointed to the new way Jesus brings. Acts stresses how God directs the key moves that allowed Gentiles to become equal members in the new community. This shows how each person in Christ is important to God and his church. God acts to bring people to himself, but he often works through us as his agents. So faithfulness is a virtue modeled and emphasized throughout the book.

Do Not Neglect the Holy Spirit in Parenting

“You have nothing to worry about with your kids,she told me one day, “because you’re doing everything right.” These words from a pastor’s wife were meant to encourage but actually provoked more questions than answers. The women was well-meaning. She was saying there was no earthly way our kids could fail because my wife and I had been raised so well, we are grounded so deeply in our faith, and we subscribe to the “right” parenting techniques.

It was a lot of pressure. Our first daughter, Grace, had just turned 1. By all accounts we were doing a credible job. She was a good kid. The parental prophecy from our friend was often repeated in that first year of parenting. Dan and Angela are such great parents, aren’t they?

Fast forward two years and everything changed. Grace was in the throes of rebellion. Terrible 2s turned into terrible 3s. Even though our parenting paradigm had not changed, and we were subscribing to all of those same “right” methods, the same well-meaning women pulled my wife aside and issued an apocalyptic warning about Grace. If we didn’t “get her under control,” she’d end up profligate child. Then she named some infamous rebels we both knew well. Others told us that Grace was “going to end up in jail if we didn’t do something, that she was “one of the worst kids we’ve seen.” So in a matter of a few years we moved from parenting savants to parenting dunces.

In the years since, we’ve moved on. Looking back, that early criticism, while hurtful and often misguided, had elements of truth we adopted. We’ve matured and discovered additional techniques that have helped Grace grow into a delightful, radiant 6-year old girl.

While the advice we were given may be extreme and not normative for most parents, it does fit with a child-training paradigm that often seems more man-centered than Spirit-led.


Train Up a Child

If you were to survey evangelical parents and ask them to quote their foundational child-raising Scripture, the answer would likely be Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

This verse has become the basis for Christian parenting because we’ve been told, for generations now, that it is both a promise and a command. We think it’s a promise because it seems to guarantee success. The formula is rather simple: Do things God’s way and your kids will turn out right.

It’s also assumed to be a command. If your kids don’t turn out right, you must have disobeyed Scripture at some point. This has to be the case, because Scripture doesn’t lie, right?

Here’s the problem with this interpretation. It’s neither biblically accurate nor helpful. Worse yet, it has led to all kinds of unnecessary guilt on the part of Christian parents and perhaps led them to adopt a man-centered, results-oriented system for raising children.

Proverbs 22:6 is great wisdom. It’s in the inspired canon of Scripture. Still, the basic principles for biblical interpretation tell us to consider the genre. The proverbs are the best collection of wisdom anywhere in the world. They are thoughts from the Almighty on how to live and glorify God in the most practical areas of life. Ultimately they point us to Jesus Christ, the only one who perfectly illustrated the wise life. He is the wisdom of God personified (1 Cor. 1:24, 30; Col. 2:3).

While Proverbs are wisdom, they are not promises. Consider other well-known proverbs, such as Proverbs 15:1, which reminds us that a “gentle answer” turns away anger. This is generally true, but not always. I imagine that if I take my gentle answer to the gritty urban streets near where I live, my gentle answer might stir up wrath. Or consider Proverbs 17:17, which says a “friend loves at all times.” Generally speaking, you can count on your friends to love at all times. But then there are times when a friend betrays. Consider David’s words in Psalm 41:9: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”

You could easily point out quite a few other instances where Proverbs taken as promises fall short of expectations. Which bring us back to Proverbs 22:6. To interpret this as biblical wisdom is, well, wise. Generally speaking, if you follow biblical parenting and discipleship models in the Scriptures, you’ll raise children who turn out well. But as a promise, this verse falls woefully short.

If Proverbs 22:6 were a promise (and by extension) a command, you have serious theological problems. God often referred to himself as the “parent” of the nation of Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Jer. 3:19). And yet, you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to observe that Israel was a most rebellious child. Was God, therefore, a bad parent? Was Jesus a bad “parent” because Judas, one of his disciples, rejected him?

This illustrates the folly of such a formula-driven application of Proverbs 22:6. It reduces the Scriptures to a sanctified formula, a more spiritual-sounding version of Dr. Phil. This man-centeredness eliminates the only agent for human change: the Holy Spirit.

Enter the Holy Spirit

A better parenting paradigm is faithfulness-driven rather than results-led. Our role as parents is not to “produce” children who exhibit certain behavior criteria, but to be mere instruments in the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the heart of our children. We highly value and adhere to the wisdom of Proverbs, Deuteronomy, Hebrews, and other child-training passages in the Scriptures and realize only God transforms the hearts of our children.

Our first priority then becomes salvation, so the regenerating work of the Spirit can begin, both making the parenting job easier and also pointing toward lasting change. We look for signs of inner heart change rather than focusing primarily on external conformity.

I’ve seen this at work in my daughter, Grace. We believe she came to faith in Christ at the age of 5, not simply because she mouthed the “right words” in Awana or Sunday school, but because we have begun to witness the fruit of the Spirit’s work in her life. We often see this after she rebels. She has often approached us, many hours and even days after receiving discipline, and has expressed genuine remorse. We’ve also seen an increased hunger for spiritual content and recognition of theological ideas such as salvation, regeneration, and other aspects of the gospel message.

Recognition of the Holy Spirit’s pre-eminent role in changing hearts reshapes our parenting priorities. Removing the unnecessary weight of producing results helps us see our kids, not as a reflection of who we are, but as a unique creation in the image of the Creator. Instead of pushing our kids to abide by our standards as a way of conforming and producing their own righteousness, we might offer the disciplined life as gracious obedience to the Spirit, who empowers them to live the life of Christ.

Questions About Spiritual Gifts: What is the purpose of spiritual gifts?

Understanding the purpose of spiritual gifts goes a long way in helping us think more clearly about their use.  Clearly, spiritual gifts are not given for self-promotion or self-profiting.

Spiritual gifts are given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7, 14:12, 26). Literally, spiritual gifts (charismata) are given for profitability (1 Corinthians 12:7). The context in 1 Corinthians 12 and the statements in 1 Corinthians 14:12 and 26 (add to this the parallel ideas in Ephesians 4:11-16), help us to see that profitability refers not to self, but to others. Thus, the ESV translated the idea of profitability as “the common good.”

Unfortunately, much of what we see on television and hear about on the internet concern self-promoting, self-profiting spectacles. Generally, such spectacles are associated with the Health & Wealth “gospel”; however, that is NO gospel. In fact, the peddlers of such wares are described by Peter as false prophets/teachers: waterless springs and mists driven by a storm (2 Peter 2:1-22). Many of these so called preachers have been exposed as using their “gifts” for self-promotion and profit.

On the other hand, the Bible helps us to see that the gifts, ministries and workings of the Spirit are given to us for the benefit of others – the body (1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:12, 26). Obviously, we do derive benefit and blessing when we serve others, but the using of gifts shifts our focus away from ourselves and toward others (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

Since gifts are for the building up of the body, then the Spirit grants gifts as and when the body needs them. This means that while there are some gifts the body needs continually (teaching, administration, etc.), there may be other gifts that are granted temporarily, as needed (i.e., faith, healings, workings of power, etc.).

Since gifts are given for the benefit of the entire body, it is foolish to boast about our gifts and to promote ourselves for personal gain. How can you be proud about something that has been given to you by the Spirit for the profitability of others? It makes no sense does it.

Let us, then, repent of laziness, trust in Christ, and embrace the Spirit’s work in order that we may serve one another in love. Such service glorifies God (1 Peter 4:10-11).

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is in me – 1 Corinthians 15:10.