The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, has a unique role in the life of a Christian. In cooperation with the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ, he convicts non-believers of sin (John 16:7-11), regenerates them (John 3:1-8), and makes them new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). The Holy Spirit continues to work in the life of believers. Giving people spiritual gifts is one way he does this.
The gifts the Holy Spirit gives believers to equip and edify the Church include teaching, encouraging, serving, giving, evangelizing, and speaking in tongues (more below). Some Christians believe God temporarily gave certain gifts to establish the Church. Others think all gifts are available today.
What spiritual gifts does the New Testament mention? How do the lists compare to each other? Does everyone have a spiritual gift? Can a person choose their spiritual gift? Can a person develop a spiritual gift? Why do some people think certain gifts are no longer operational? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
What Spiritual Gifts Does the New Testament Mention?
The New Testament contains seven passages that list spiritual gifts. The most extensive lists are in 1 Corinthians and Romans, yet those in Ephesians and 1 Peter are still important. Some spiritual gifts appear more than others. For example, prophecy (or prophets) appears four times, while mercy is mentioned once (see comparison charts below). Yet, more frequency doesn’t mean greater importance.
The first chart below compares the four passages in 1 Corinthians that mention spiritual gifts. The charts list the gifts in the order they appear in the passages. The second comparison chart lists passages in Romans, Ephesians, and 1 Peter. All seven passages combined comprise the New Testament’s teachings about the various kinds of spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives Christians.
|1 Cor. 12:8-10||1 Cor. 12:28-30||1 Cor. 13:1-3||1 Cor. 13:8-9|
|Utterance of wisdom||Apostles||Tongues||Prophecy|
|Utterance of knowledge||Prophets||Prophecy||Tongues|
|Gifts of healing||Miracles||Faith|
|Working of miracles||Gifts of healing||Giving|
|Distinguishing between spirits||Administering|
|Various kinds of tongues||Various kinds of tongues|
|Interpretation of tongues||Interpretation of tongues|
Paul emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is the source of every spiritual gift. “There are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:4). He adds that “it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:6). Later, he says again, “all these are empowered by one and the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:11a). This fact promotes unity because every gift has the same source and purpose, which is to serve the Church.
|Romans 12:6-8||Ephesians 4:11||1 Peter 4:10-11|
Theologian Sinclair Ferguson writes, “When we exercise the gifts which Christ has given us we are really saying to our fellow Christians and others: See how much the Lord Jesus Christ loves you and cares for you; He has sent me to serve you in this way; He is using my hands and feet, my lips and ears, to show His love. It is a tragic mistake if we think that the message is: See what a superb Christian I am; see the wonderful gifts I have… Gifts are for service, not self-advancement.” 
Does everyone have a spiritual gift?
God gives every Christian a spiritual gift. Paul writes that the Holy Spirit “apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor.12b, emphasis added). When people respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells them. One result of the Spirit’s indwelling a person is endowing them with a spiritual gift, though it’s common for people to have more than one.
Can a person choose their spiritual gift?
Paul clarifies that God decides what gift each person receives when he writes that the Holy Spirit “apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11b, ESV, emphasis added). Another translation reads, “as he determines” (NIV). However, spiritual gifts are often directly connected to a person’s talents, aptitudes, and abilities.
Can a person develop a spiritual gift?
Possessing and using spiritual gifts often includes a maturation process, and people should look to develop and grow in their areas of giftedness. For example, if a person has the gift of teaching, they should look to grow as a public communicator of the Bible. Identifying a gift is a call to refine a gift for maximum effectiveness for the Church.
Author Donald Whitney writes, “God has given you a spiritual gift, and it is not the same as a natural ability. That natural talent, rightly sanctified for God’s use, often points toward the identity of your spiritual gift. But you should find out the special gift God has given you while you’re serving as diligently as you can without that definite information. In fact, in addition to the study of Scripture, the best way to discover and confirm which spiritual gift is yours is through serving.” 
Miraculous and Ministering Gifts Compared
Some believe that God gave the so-called “miraculous gifts,” also referred to as “sign gifts,” to establish the Church in the first century. Then, after the foundational era of the Church, the miraculous gifts ceased and were no longer available or applicable in the Church. This theological position is called “cessationism” because it holds that God discontinued dispensing miraculous gifts.
In contrast, the “continuationism” position argues that the Holy Spirit gave believers the miraculous gift after the first century. Advocates suggest that God gave every gift to establish and sustain the Church. Therefore, according to this view, all spiritual gifts remain available to believers today and operational in the body of Christ.
|Miraculous gifts were only for the first century||Miraculous gifts are for all centuries|
|Ministering gifts are for all centuries||Ministering gifts are for all centuries|
|Example: speaking in tongues has ceased||Example: speaking in tongues has not ceased|
|Emphasized in Reformed churches and some Baptist denominations||Emphasized in Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God, the Church of God, Foursquare churches, Apostolic churches, and Vineyard churches|
|Found in some Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches||Found in some Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches|
|Non-existant in Pentecostal denominations by definition||Rare in Reformed, Catholic, and Orthodox churches|
List of miraculous gifts or sign gifts
- The office of Apostle (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:28-29)
- Working of miracles (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:10); cessationists believe God does miracles, but that it’s no longer a spiritual gift the Holy Spirit gives people
- Gifts of healing (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:9); cessationists believe God heals, but that it’s no longer a spiritual gift the Holy Spirit gives people
- Speaking in tongues (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:10)
- Prophecy (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:10)
- Words of wisdom (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:8)
- Words of knowledge (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:8)
- Interpreting tongues (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:10)
- Distinguishing between spirits (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:10)
List of ministering gifts or speaking and serving gifts
- Preaching (e.g. Rom. 12:6)
- Teaching (e.g. Rom. 12:7)
- Encouraging (e.g. Rom. 12:8)
- Helping (e.g. Rom. 12:7)
- Administration (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:28)
- Giving (e.g. Rom. 12:8)
- Mercy (e.g. Rom. 12:8)
- Faith (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:9)
- Spiritual discernment (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:10)
- Evangelism (e.g. Eph. 4:11)
- Shepherding (e.g. Eph. 4:11)
Advocates of cessationism observe that the miracles recorded in the Bible often happen in clusters and accompany a new era that God is establishing. For example, Moses’ ministry contained a lot of miracles because God was establishing a new era for his people, freeing them from slavery in Egypt. Likewise, the establishment of the Church marked a new era in God’s plan, and miraculous gifts helped inaugurate it.
Advocates of continuationism argue that God’s supernatural activity isn’t limited to the first phase in a new era of his plan for the world. Though not all continuationists are part of Pentecostal denominations and churches, many cite the movement’s recovery of miraculous gifts in the early 20th century as an important landmark for modern churches.
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