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3 Misconceptions about Spiritual Gifts

A false understanding of spiritual gifts can easily lead us down faulty and dangerous spiritual paths. Thus, to ensure that we have a biblical understanding of spiritual gifts, it is important to know some of the common misconceptions we can fall into.

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Sep 02, 2022
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3 Misconceptions about Spiritual Gifts

During my final year of high school, I was invited to take a job aptitude exam to learn which career I was best suited for. The exam posed a variety of questions pertaining to my skills and competencies, questions such as, “Do you like to work with your hands?” “Are you detail-oriented,” and “Is helping others a priority for you?”

I forget which career was finally suggested for me, but it was distinctly not “Anglican Priest.” The idea that the Holy Spirit might call someone to ministry was simply never considered.

So, what does this have to do with spiritual gifts?

Sadly, many people turn to spiritual gift inventories to learn about their personal gifts. A multitude of such inventories can be found online, and they are all similar in nature. Simply answer a list of questions, and it will tell you what your spiritual gift is: exhortation, teaching, giving!

But in a similar fashion to the aptitude tests mentioned above, these inventories rarely consider God’s activity in someone’s life.

Although the questions are overlayed with religious or biblical language, the questions themselves focus on personal skills, abilities, and comforts. But is a personal ability the same as spiritual gifting?

Understanding the nature of spiritual gifts is essential to the Christian life. Paul writes, “I do not want you to be uninformed about spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:1).

A false understanding of spiritual gifts can easily lead us down faulty and dangerous spiritual paths. Thus, to ensure that we have a biblical understanding of spiritual gifts, it is important to know some of the common misconceptions we can fall into.

1. Spiritual Gifts Are about Our Skills

Spiritual gifts do not refer to what we are good at or a set of skills we have learned along the way. Spiritual gifts testify to what the Spirit does in and through us.

Paul teaches us that “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of workings, but the same God works all of them in all people” (1 Corinthians 12:4).

For Paul, the most important part of his understanding of spiritual gifts was the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit.

We see this emphasis in the variety of “gift lists” that Paul puts forward. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes,

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Similarly, Paul writes to the Romans that “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8).

Such lists are never meant to be exhaustive. That is, Paul is not articulating a defined set of aptitudes to which everyone must ascribe. Rather, Paul articulates a variety of ways that the Spirit works in people’s lives.

It is the Holy Spirit, which defines, which gifts are bestowed, and at which time. We may even find that our spiritual gifts may change over time or be given only for a season.

Even King Saul, for example, had the gift of prophecy for a time (1 Samuel 19:24). Ultimately, the essence of spiritual gifts lies in the work of the Spirit.

When discerning our spiritual gift, therefore, think not of what you like to do or what you may be good at, but rather open yourself to what the Spirit is doing in you.

Where is the Spirit being revealed? Where (and how) are you called to share the loving presence of Christ?

Biblically, spiritual gifts are how the Holy Spirit tangibly and visibly moves in our lives for the furtherance of the kingdom and the praise of the Triune God.

2. Spiritual Gifts Are Given to Special People

It is an error to think that spiritual gifts are divine merit badges. We do not earn spiritual gifts; they are given in grace. This is the exact misconception that Paul addresses in his letter to the Corinthians.

The people in Corinth were desiring ecstatic gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and miraculous healings to show their spiritual prowess over others. It was believed that only the most spiritual of the community were granted divine gifts.

Claiming a spiritual gift, therefore, was a way to “one-up” your fellow Christians. Rather than a testimony of the work of the Holy Spirit, the Corinthians turned the spiritual gifts into a system of spiritual ranking.

The Bible makes clear that all believers are given spiritual gifts. Paul writes, “It is the same God who activates all [the gifts] in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:6-7).

The bestowal of spiritual gifts is gloriously expansive. No person testifying that “Jesus is Lord” (verse 3) is without a spiritual gift. The Spirit works gifts in everyone, without exception.

3. Spiritual Gifts Are about My Holiness

Essential to a biblical understanding of spiritual gifts is the role of the Church. In fact, one might say that spiritual gifts are rightly given to the church, and not simply to an individual. Our personal spiritual gift is to be used in tandem with other gifts bestowed within the community of faith.

The biblical exhortation that one should not use the gift of tongues unless there is someone who can interpret it reflects this fact (1 Corinthians 14:5). Spiritual gifts are about the life and ministry of the church, not about our personal holiness.

When we think of spiritual gifts as an individual quality that we possess, we turn spiritual gifts into an exercise of our own piety. We become like the Corinthians, who saw the higher gifts as evidence of one’s spiritual superiority. Doing so makes spiritual gifts self-focused and self-centered.

Instead, spiritual gifts are to be viewed as tools for ministry within the context of Christ’s body. In Scripture, the discussion of spiritual gifts is always connected with a wider discussion on the nature of the church.

In Romans 12, for example, Paul provides the list of gifts as evidence that “we who are many are one body in Christ” (v. 6).

Similarly, Paul writes that gifts are given “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). This connection between spiritual gifts and the community of faith is essential for us to understand.

What Does This Mean?

As you discern your personal spiritual gifts, think not about your own personal skills and abilities. Rather, embrace the activity of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Ask yourself, “What is the Spirit doing in me?” or “how might the Holy Spirit be calling me to share the presence of Christ?” Your answers to that question may help you understand the spiritual gift God has blessed you with.

We must allow the Spirit to call us and teach us. More importantly, as we exercise our spiritual gifts, we must allow the Spirit to take center stage. After all, the gifts of the Spirit are given for the sake of the church and the glory of Christ.

For further reading:

Is There a Spiritual Gift List?

What Does it Look Like to Find Our Spiritual Gifts?

How Can I Identify My Spiritual Gifts?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/ampcool22


SWN authorThe Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada.  He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.comibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others.  He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca.  He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.

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