November 2007 - Vol. 13

Gifts and Graces

Part II: Gifts and 
Graces We Can Expect

by Steve Clark

One Day Clearly, painting by John Robinson 


Gifts are the result of the Holy Spirit working in us
Scripture speaks about gifts and graces that come from God, to use the traditional English translations. The two words seem to be rough synonyms, although some teachers distinguish between them. They are used to speak about what God does inside of us when he takes us into relationship with himself and fills us with his Spirit. They are called gifts or graces (favors), because they are not something we can earn or acquire by our own efforts, like the skill attested by a medical degree, but are the result of the Holy Spirit working in us “as he wills.”

On the other hand, gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit are not like modern birthday gifts but are more like birthday gifts used to be. I remember that when I was a child, I received toys or something similar from most people, but I could always count on my aunt, who was a somewhat old-fashioned person, to provide me with some clothing or something else “useful.” My parents seemed happier with her gift than I was.

God’s gifts, at least for the most part, are not given to us to enjoy or use for whatever we want. I once visited a park that had belonged to a duke in England. They showed us where “the lion” had been kept, a place surrounded by a strong fence. Some tribal chief in Africa had apparently sent the duke a lion as a gift. The gift, however, had a mind of its own, so there were only a very limited number of things the duke could do with him. God’s gifts are more like having a lion than having a gift certificate — they have “a mind of their own,” so to speak. We can only make use of them if we cooperate with the way they function.

The word gifts can also be misleading in another way. When we think of a gift, we think of something we can take and carry off and still make use of when the giver is gone. But the gifts of the Spirit, especially the charismatic gifts or spiritual gifts, do not function apart from the giver himself. They are ways to receive the action of the Spirit working in and through us to accomplish some purpose that we can only serve.

Manifestations of the Spirit
On the other hand, a gift of the Spirit is not exactly the same thing as a particular action of the Spirit or a working of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul discussed “spiritual things”(a phrase the RSV translates as “spiritual gifts”) like the gifts of tongues, prophecy, healing, and miracles, which he described as “manifestations of the Spirit” (verse 7). He discussed them in order to put them into a context that would allow the Corinthians to understand how to respond to them well.

In verses 4-6 he began to speak directly of these gifts: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.” Paul here uses three terms: gifts, services, and workings. The last word is difficult to translate but is sometimes rendered “operation” or “inspiration.” It is used to describe the fact that God at times works through us (operates through us) to get something to happen.

These three words all refer to the same set of things, but they have three somewhat different meanings. When people are “healers,” God works through them to heal, and so the healing that occurs is a work of God. At the same time, by praying for people, healers are performing a service. But also they have been given a gift that enables them to receive the workings of God that allow them to perform their service.

Having a “gift” can be distinguished from experiencing or cooperating with a “working,” as being a prophet or having the gift to be a prophet can be distinguished from giving a prophecy. The working is God’s action, God’s doing something through us. The gift is God’s having enabled us to receive his working on a regular basis. God seems willing to work through a great variety of people to heal at different times. But if we speak of someone as having the gift of healing, we mean more than that. We mean that that person can somehow tap into the working of God in a regular way and so can get more regular results than someone who just prays over another person and sees a healing.

We can, then, see the gifts and graces of the Spirit as equipping us or “programming” us, making us “spiritual receptors.” To use an analogy, the internet can send music. But if we do not have an application or program on our computer that is capable of receiving what is sent, we will never hear that music. When the Holy Spirit gives us gifts, he does something like program us—that is, change us spiritually inside—so that we can receive what he does, his “workings,” in an ongoing way.

Part III will continue in next month’s issue.

[Steve Clark is President of the Sword of the Spirit. Part I of this series appeared in the October 2007 Issue. This article is adapted from the book Charismatic Spirituality: The Work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Practice, copyright © 2004 by Stephen B. Clark and published by Servant Books, a division of Saint Anthony Messenger Press. Used with permission.] 

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