One of the most important roles that the Holy Spirit has in the life of a Christian is related to God’s mission. God’s mission of transforming and redeeming the world includes the spreading of the good news about Jesus, including his life, death, and resurrection. Christopher J. H. Wright, in The Mission of God, writes about how the whole world is the goal of God’s mission (cf. Acts 1:8), the scope of God’s mission (Ps. 24:1), and the arena of God’s mission (Matt. 28:18-20). If you look closely at Acts 1:8, you’ll notice that the early church’s activity of spreading the message about Jesus is deeply connected to the Holy Spirit:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere–in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Act 1:8 NLT)
According to Jesus’ words, the Holy Spirit gives power to the church in order for the Church to spread the message about Jesus all over the world!
Therefore, if the Holy Spirit is involved in the proclamation of the good news about Jesus, and, as we read in the last issue, the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to people, what relationship exists between the spiritual gifts and God’s mission? In this article, we’ll explore how spiritual gifts and evangelism (sharing our faith with others) are related. Spiritual gifts are sometimes not seen as being connected to the missional activity of sharing Jesus’ story and message, but the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that one of the primary activities that the Holy Spirit is involved in is related to empowering the Church to spread the news about King Jesus and his kingdom.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS EMPOWER THE PROCLAMATION OF GOD’S PRESENCE & POWER TO THE SURROUNDING WORLD
In the last article, we looked at Michael Bird’s definition of a spiritual gift as “an empowerment from God for God’s people through the Spirit for spiritual work in the church.” While this is a good starting point for understanding spiritual gifts, it’s by no means a complete definition because the focus is primarily upon inside the Church. Yet Acts 1:8 states that the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to spread the message of Jesus.
This leads me to conclude that a more balanced definition of spiritual gifts is to explain them as empowerments from God for God’s people through the Spirit for spiritual work in both the church and the world. It’s both/and rather than either/or.
In fact, one of the gifts that’s given to the Church is the evangelist (Eph. 4:11). Evangelists are people who are especially gifted by the Spirit to spread the message of Jesus. Throughout church history we read of people who were especially effective at proclaiming the message of Jesus, including notables such as St. Francis of Assisi, George Whitefield, John Wesley, and the recent Billy Graham. Because teaching (1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:7) and speaking in general (1 Pet. 4:11) can be empowered by the Holy Spirit and are considered spiritual gifts, it’s safe to say that the Holy Spirit can (and does!) help us as we share our faith in Jesus with others.
A few years ago I was in eastern Africa doing missions work. One of the opportunities we were given was to go to the local city markets and preach about Jesus in front of the public crowds. Despite having taken a number of preaching classes in seminary, I found this to be absolutely terrifying! Yet I also knew that it was something God wanted us to do because that was one of the reasons we were there.
As I stood next to the Kenyan man who was introducing me to the nearly 1,000 people that had gathered in the public square, I began to pray and ask God for his help because I was extremely nervous and had absolutely no idea what I was going to say. I mean, I found out I was going to be doing this about fifteen minutes before I was going to be introduced!
The only way to describe what happened is to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit filled me up (Eph. 5:18) and empowered me to tell people about Jesus, just like Acts 1:8 promised! A week later, on the same trip, I was invited to speak at a large event that was said to have nearly 10,000 people in attendance and, again, the Holy Spirit empowered my words. As thousands of people responded to the message of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection, I could only marvel at the grace of God. I was (and am) 100%convinced that the only reason why there was fruit from what I shared was because the Holy Spirit was involved.
The great news is that the same Holy Spirit that filled Jesus and the apostles lives inside of every single follower of Jesus! While you and I may be afraid of the different opportunities we have, one thing we can trust is that the Holy Spirit is with us, and he is absolutely involved in spreading the message of Jesus.
Perhaps you are like the Apostle Paul was when he was sharing the message of Jesus in Corinth and you are afraid. Might Jesus’ words then encourage you now? Jesus told Paul,
“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:9-10 ESV)
Jesus is present with the Church through God’s Holy Spirit. You do not need to fear sharing how Jesus has worked in your life because you can trust that the Holy Spirit both dwells in you and also empowers you for God’s mission.
Now I don’t want to give you the impression that spiritual gifts, in regards to evangelism, are primarily about speaking, teaching, or preaching. Those are just one aspect of how the Holy Spirit may gift you to share your faith. Other ways include doing things that are empowered by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of inviting people into a transformational relationship with Jesus, to which we now look.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS DEMONSTRATE GOD’S PRESENCE & POWER TO THE SURROUNDING WORLD
There are a number of spiritual gifts that are means by which people come into contact with the grace of God. One example would be what Paul refers to as “gifts of healings,” the literal translation of 1 Cor. 12:9. These empowerments of the Holy Spirit are used to communicate God’s love, grace, and mercy and point to the sovereign kingship of Jesus.
Additionally, expressions of mercy, miracles, words of wisdom and knowledge, and encouraging are all listed as activities that can be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Each of these gifts, when expressed and ministered to people outside of a relationship with Jesus, should point people to God. After all, Jesus miraculous healings were motivated by compassion for the sick and oppressed, for both individuals and for large crowds (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 20:34).
When the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to participate in these activities, God’s presence and power are displayed in a way that may be the very work that softens a person’s heart to respond to the message of Jesus. These miracles do not guarantee that people respond positively to Jesus, for many who saw Jesus’ miracles also rejected him. Yet there are numerous examples in the New Testament of God doing miracles for needy and broken people and those people responding to those works by trusting in God.
In our next article I will begin to address the more controversial spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, the interpretation of tongues, and the gift of prophecy. While you wait for those articles, I’d like to encourage you to remember that all followers of Jesus have received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. All followers of Jesus have been given the task of spreading the message and story of Jesus and the reason why we know that we can be effective as Jesus’ witnesses is because we have the Holy Spirit’s presence and power.