Questions and Answers

Can something that I already practiced and experienced on a regular basis before I was born of the Spirit be a spiritual gift?

Question Continued:

The other day, I was reading The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee ( There was a section that really made me stop and think.

'Far too many of us in the past have reasoned as follows. Here is a delightfully good-natured man, with a clear brain, splendid managing powers and sound judgment. In our hearts we say, 'If that man could be a Christian, what an asset he would be to the Church! If only he were the Lord's, what a lot he would mean to the cause!' 'But think for a moment. Where did that man's good nature come from? Whence are those splendid managing powers and that good judgment? Not from the new birth, for he is not yet born again. We know we have all been born of the flesh; therefore we need a new birth. But the Lord Jesus had something to say about this in John 3:6: 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh.' Everything which comes not by new birth but by natural birth is flesh and will only bring glory to man, not God. That statement is not very palatable, but it is true.'

This got me to thinking about spiritual gifts. When people ask me what my spiritual gift is, I usually say that the pastor I previously lived with said he thought my gifts were Teaching and Mercy. He said that because those were the things he saw me doing.

But as I was reading the above passage by Watchman Nee, I began to have some serious doubts. Teaching (the ability and desire to communicate information understandably to others) and Mercy (concern for people who are hurting) were both part of my personality before I was a Christian. In other words, it seems that those things did not come from my new birth, but from my natural birth. In contrast, there are other things I've done since becoming a Christian, such as preaching, ministering prophetically, etc. that really were not a part of my "natural" personality at all. These were apparently things that came from my new birth, things that came spiritually. 

I'm starting to wonder if I should call things like Teaching and Mercy my "fleshly gifts" because I had experienced and practiced them before I received the Holy Spirit. What do you think? Can something that I already practiced on a regular basis before I was born of the Spirit be a spiritual gift? If it can, what exactly makes it spiritual? If not, if I can't determine my spiritual gifts by what I am good at and what I enjoy doing (because a lot of that ability and enjoyment could be fleshly), how do I determine my spiritual gifts? T.W., Indiana


Dear T.W., Indiana,

You have great insight and many good questions! I am very familiar with Watchman Nee from having read some of his books over 30 years ago. I think The Normal Christian Life and The Spiritual Man are my favorites.

It is true that when we are created, we are given many gifts from God; but they are not spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit, because we don't get the Holy Spirit (or His gifts) until we are born again. I Corinthians 2:14 says the natural man does not comprehend things of the Spirit, (KJV) and John 3:6 (NLT) says "Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven."

I have often observed there is much confusion as people try to ascribe their natural abilities (such as an ability to organize well) or talents (like singing or playing an instrument) to spiritual gifts. Everyone has some talents, abilities and natural gifts given to them by God who is their Creator. They can also receive training or pursue education in a particular topic, such as teaching or learning to speak well. But they are not the same as the supernatural spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. To be sure, they are God‑given abilities or strengths, but they are not spiritual gifts unless they were given to you when you were born again. 

So your conclusions are right on track! Let me elaborate a bit. Your descriptions of Teaching and Mercy are correct for the normal, natural man, but the spiritual gifts of Teaching and Mercy are described differently. They are: 

Description of Gift of Teaching
: The motivation and ability to research, clarify and present Biblical truth in a systematic and thorough manner. 

A natural man can teach secular subjects and be good at it, but it is not the spiritual gift of Teaching because he is not yet a Christian. Even a natural man can teach the Bible from an academic standpoint, but it is not the spiritual gift of Teaching. It sounds like you may have taught on different subjects before being born again, but it was not a spiritual gift. There are also many Christians who teach in the church (which is a wonderful service), yet they may or may not have the spiritual gift of Teaching. Some gifts from God are given naturally and some are supernatural gifts. What makes it a spiritual gift is that the Holy Spirit supernaturally gives it to a Christian to be used for God's glory.

Description of Gift of Mercy
: The unique ability to empathize with and minister to people who are hurting.

Mercy is a natural, normal concern for people who are hurting. However, when you receive the gift of Mercy, you feel more than a concern. You receive the ability to feel their pain, whether emotional, physical or mental. It is a much deeper feeling than you can possibly feel as a natural man because you are feeling with God's love, (Agape'), not your natural love.

Do you see the difference? 

Since you said you did some teaching and were a caring, merciful person before being born-again, then those are your "natural" gifts and temperament or personality. Part of the way you were created is as a good speaker with an ability to form language and thoughts prolifically, and those are good things. You can take your "natural" gifts (you called them "fleshly") and use them to glorify God because you are now a Christian; but they will probably still be "natural" gifts. You also might use your natural teaching abilities and teach the Bible, but it still might not be a spiritual gift. 

However, it is possible when you were born again that God also gave you a passion to teach the Bible.

The true test is of a spiritual gift is: 

Is it your spiritual passion?
Does it bring joy to you and others?
Is there fruit of the Spirit that is observable by others?

If that criteria and the definition of the gift of Teaching above fits you since becoming a Christian, then it sounds like you have what I call a "double portion" consisting of a natural gift, which includes some training and education, a temperament bent towards communication and the spiritual gift of Teaching. How exciting! I encourage you to use your spiritual gifts to bless others and not let them become static. 

In Christ, 

What is the difference between preaching and prophecy?

Dear T.W., Indiana,

That is a question that seems to come up every time I teach on the gifts in a class setting. The dictionary says preaching is a message given on a religious or moral subject to the church. It is usually a formally prepared communication. For me, it refers more to the style a speaker uses. It often operates with evangelism which is a ministry gift found in Eph. 4:11-12.

The actual word "preaching" is not listed as a spiritual gift in the Bible.

 There is a difference between the "grace" of Prophecy, which all believers have and should be exercising in their lives, and the "gift" of Prophecy, which is a special gift given to certain believers. The bottom line is whenever you are speaking about Jesus, you are prophesying, but it may not be a spiritual gift. Revelation 19:10: . . . "for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." It may be the overall "grace" God has given to each Christian to testify about Jesus. Ideally, all believers should know God's Word well enough to be able to challenge others to conform to His standards. Of course, we know not everyone does, but the command from God to share our faith and the potential to do so is there nevertheless.

However, the "gift" of Prophecy is distinguished from "grace" of Prophecy as being a strong motivation from within your inner being. When you have this gift, and you observe or hear something that does not line up with the Bible, you can hardly keep quiet. You feel you must correct the person or situation.

God gives us most of the spiritual gifts in three lists. The three lists are: 

1.   Motivational Gifts in Romans 12:6-8--categorized as a variety of gifts in I Corinthians 12:4.
      "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 

2.   Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4:11-12 and I Corinthians 2:28--categorized as different administrations in I Corinthians 12:5.
      "There are differences of administrations, but the same Lord."

3.   Manifestational Gifts in I Corinthians 12:8-10--categorized as different operations in I Corinthians 2:6.
      "There are diversities of operations, but the same God who works all things in all persons."

Prophecy shows up in all three lists. The definitions are a little different because the functions are different.

Definition #1:  Prophecy: A strong motivation to call people to conform to God's standards. As a Motivational gift, Romans 12:6 tells us this gift is exercised "According to the proportion of our faith." Many Christian leaders refer to the list of gifts in Romans as being motivational spiritual gifts, because I Peter 4:10 says "As every man has received the gift, employ it in serving one another . . ." Peter elaborates a little more about the vocal gifts in v. 11. "If any man speak, [let him speak] as the oracles of God . . ."

Because of the different ways the same gift may function, a person with the Motivational gift of Prophecy may never demonstrate this gift as defined in #2 and #3 and that's OK. God gives the gifts as He sees fit.

Definition #2:  As a Ministry gift, Prophecy is a formal role or office within the church. People exercising this gift are often called prophets (See Ephesians 4:11 and I Corinthians 12:28-29). The gifts in these passages are referred to as ministry gifts because Ephesians 4:12 says they are used "for the work of the ministry." A prophet is defined as an individual who is recognized by local, national or international churches as either foretelling or mightily speaking forth God's Word by calling people to conform to God's standards.

Definition #3:  However, specifically as a Manifestational gift, I think Prophecy exhibits itself as a spontaneous prophetic utterance. Wayne Grudem defines the gift of prophecy as "telling something that God has brought to mind." Fredrick Dale Bruner defines prophecy as being "spontaneous and direct spiritual communication . . . not to be confused with preaching or prepared remarks where the substance is obtained by more conventional or indirect means than immediate inspiration. The Spirit delivers His mind and heart spontaneously and directly to the assembly through His prophets." This is how I view the spontaneous prophetic utterances I have received myself or heard spoken from others demonstrating this gift.

Certainly throughout Acts, Peter and Paul displayed the gift of Prophecy in various ways. Though they both knew the Old Testament and God's nature, they spoke spontaneously from God's heart and mind whatever it was God wanted that particular audience or individual to hear, resulting in prophetic utterances. Yet the Apostles were also motivated by the Holy Spirit to formally write down the Word, and they were always using this gift of Prophecy in the work of the ministry. I hope this is clear and makes sense.

In Christ,

My Goal

I believe my calling is to help Christians identify and experience all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  By discovering and experiencing your gifts, you will encounter indescribable joy in your walk as God surprises you when you least expect it.

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