Creation and New Creation: And How They Relate to Spiritual Gifts

A third way to understand Spiritual Gifts

The issue of Spiritual Gifts is one that can easily divide a church, and therefore it must be handled very carefully.

On one side (particularly those in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements), we have churches that see certain charismata (free gifts) as supernatural gifts that demonstrate God’s extra level of grace to the recipient. For Pentecostals especially, the gift of tongues is seen as a “second blessing” and evidence of the “second baptism” of the Holy Spirit.

On the other side, we have those who insist that these more “miraculous” gifts (tongues, healings, prophecy) were “Signs of the Apostles.” God gave the Apostles special gifts so that people could recognize them as the authoritative Apostles of Jesus Christ. The vindication of their authority laid the foundation for the church through their inspired writings. After the Apostles died and their writings were gathered as the New Testament, the place of signs and wonders had past. Therefore, we should not seek them today.

I think there is a third way to understand this. It has to do with Creation and New Creation.

In the beginning, God made humans in His image. Throughout history, we see humans gifted to do wonderful things that imaged God’s creativity, love, and dominion over the creation. For instance, Bezalel, Oholiab, and other men were “filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts” (Exodus 31:1-11). God’s gifts of poetry and song were given to various people, as well as the gifts to interpret dreams and to prophesy. So, God’s gifts to humans (so that they can do the work of being “Eikons”) are freely given to his people at various times and in varying degrees. This is the normal state of affairs in God’s good creation. We've grown accustomed to calling human "skills, abilities, and knowledge" (like crafts, poetry, medicine, etc.) as "natural," while we call certain more flashy gifts as "supernatural." No dichotomy like this is found in the Bible, not in the original Created Order, nor in the New Creation in Christ.

One of the great prophesies concerning the New Creation was given by Joel:
And it shall come to pass afterward,
____that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
____your old men shall dream dreams,
____and your young men shall see visions.
Even upon the menservants and maidservants
____in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (Joel 2:28-29)
Joel says that when the New Creation begins, God’s spirit will be poured out like never before. When Jesus began his ministry, we read that “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Luke 4:14). This power heals and casts out demons (Luke 4:31-41). Jesus proclaims that “if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28). A new day had begun to dawn in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But this power not only does these amazing feats, but it also does what we would not normally call "supernatural." This power anointed Jesus to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:15-22). Overcoming injustice is not normally seen as "supernatural," but it is just as much a part of the New Creation as casting out demons.

Jesus then sent his disciples out, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” and told them, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (Matt. 10:7-8). And the power of the Holy Spirit did not end with the Apostles, for when the Spirit was poured out on the church at Pentecost, Peter saw that it was Joel’s prophecy being fulfilled (Acts 2:16-21).

In the original Creation, God empowered humans to do that which should come “natural” to them. God gives "free gifts" to his people so that they can fulfill their call and purpose - to be Image-Bearers. These gifts do not transcend our natural existence, so to call these gifts "supernatural" is a misnomer. Certainly they come from the Supernatural One, but they are natural to being human.

In other words, Spiritual Gifts should be seen as belonging to the natural order of God’s good creation. In the words of Albert Wolters (Creation Regained: Biblical Basics of a Reformational Worldview), the more ‘miraculous’ gifts…
“are gifts of the Spirit as genuinely as love, joy, and peace are, but they do not add anything to what God had intended for his earthly creation from the beginning. They are therefore ‘natural.’ They are like faith, only someone regenerated by the Spirit can have faith (true faith, that is, faith in Jesus Christ) but this regeneration does not make faith foreign to the Creator’s original purpose. And just as faith as a general human function is not unknown outside the body of Christ (though it is always misdirected there), so the charismatic gifts are not unknown outside the body of Christ (though they are misguided and abused there).”
So, in the New Creation, we find that all the "free gifts" from God are meant to edify the church and to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. So, the gift of tongues, if used in accordance to how the Bible says they must be used, will do this. And the gift of administration (to pick one of the less flashy gifts) can also do this. Wolters writes,
“All human talents and abilities can flourish and blossom under the regenerating and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit to the glory and service of God. When opened up by the Spirit they are all charismatic gifts. This applies to social tact, to a way with children, to a knack for communicating, to mechanical skill, or whatever. There may be degrees of importance or splendor in the gifts, but all alike qualify as ‘charismatic’ and ‘spiritual’ if they are directed to Christ’s redemption, sanctification, and reconciliation.”

Not everyone has been given all of the Holy Spirit's gifts. Not everybody has the ability to be a math whiz (I jokingly tell people, "I went into ministry because I understood there would be no math"); not everybody is a poet; not everybody is mechanical. Neither is everybody given the gift of tongues or healings or prophesy.

The point is this: All of these gifts need to be seen as a part of God’s intention for the Original Creation, and all the more in the New Creation that came in Jesus Christ.


The Old Geezer said...

interesting blog

Mike M said...

I see "gifts" as different than "talents." We are all called to use our talents to the fullest. Certain amongst us are blessed with "gifts;" or more amazing graces. For example (I am an ER physician), I have the talent to revive patients who are in cardiac arrest. Then again, I have been used by God as a vessel to resurrect patients (2so far) from the dead. That is the "gift" of healing. So the "gifts of the Spirit" were not wasted on the apostles but are available to all, even now.

Bob Robinson said...

Mike M,
As I understand the Bible, I don't see a difference between your work as an E.R. Physician and your experiences of praying over patients and your seeing God do miraculous things through you. As I understand it, these are not separate things, but things of the same kind, only the difference is in degree.

I believe that many of the people trained in medicine are given the "gift of healing," but that only a few doctors are seeking to do it with the goal of glorifying God by healing in the name of Jesus Christ. If more were doing so, they'd experience broader, more amazing, results - as you have experienced.

In other words, the Spiritual Gifts are not something that we can point to and say, "Wow, that is totally unnatural to the point of being supernatural." Rather, because God's intention, in both the Creation and the New Creation, is for humans to reflect him as his image-bearers, he bestows on us these amazing abilities that are sparks of the divine - not that we ourselves are divine, just merely bearing witness to the divine. And this Image-Bearing witness is found in reviving patients from cardiac arrest as much as it is in seeing somebody come back to life after they have died. Certainly the latter is more "WOW!"-worthy, but we fail to glorify God as we should if we demean the former by saying that it is somehow less-glorifying to God, since, after all, we did it "naturally."

What do you think?

Great Googly Moogly! said...

"Certainly they come from the Supernatural One, but they are natural to being human.

In other words, Spiritual Gifts should be seen as belonging to the natural order of God’s good creation."

Very well said.

I can understand the concept of "natural" gifts given by the Spirit to humanity as "image-bearers" in the original creation and the operation of these gifts by faith to the glory of God by "believers" throughout redemptive history (as well as the operation of these gifts not to the glory of God by "unbelievers" throughout redemptive history). I can accept that as "image-bearers" (whether Christian or not) every human being has been "gifted" by the Spirit to be able to live out aspects of his/her calling as image-bearers.

But isn't it true that it is only in Jesus Christ, the True Man, that we (as Christians who are joined to Him by the Spirit as New Creations) fully employ these gifts? And isn't there a sense in which the Spirit grants to the Body new (or special) gifts in accordance with His purposes to "build up" and edify the Body in love?

I'm not necessarily saying that these would be "supernatural" gifts because even with the idea of the New Creation we can speak of what would be "natural" to the New Creation; but isn't there a sense in which after the ascension of Christ and His and the Father's sending of the Spirit that the "gifts of the Spirit" have become new...something that was not necessarily "natural" to us as individual believers in the paradigm of the "old creation" before the sending of the Spirit?

In other words, with the sending of the Spirit and His indwelling and joining to Christ those who've been "born again" by faith, wouldn't you agree that there has been an ontological change in those individuals? My point is that since the Bible speaks of Christ as being the True Man (the only fully "human being" that has ever lived) and that our destiny as image-beareres is found in Him (being joined to Him by the Spirit), isn't there a real sense that those outside of Christ are not fully human and thus, not truly operating in the gifts of the Spirit?

Would you agree that there is an ontological difference between the Christian and the non-christian? And if there is, what (if any) are the implications with regard to the gifts "spiritual gifts"?

Always thought-provoking stuff. Thanks Bob.