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The Church’s greatest threat

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Dennis Union Church under blue skies and blanket of snow on Saturday afternoon in winter, Cape Cod, Dennis, Massachusetts, February 16, 2014 (Credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism via Flickr)

These days you hear a lot about the problems the Church is facing from threats located outside of its walls. Unfortunately, far less is said about the more pertinent and persistent threats that wreak havoc from within. Often these problems can have the greatest negative impact on the health of a church because they go relatively unnoticed. And while there are numerous ways that such issues can creep into a congregation, the most damaging is when they come in the guise of God’s will. It is with that perspective in mind that we need to have a frank discussion about the manner in which spiritual gifts are viewed and used within far too many churches today.

Before we do that though, if you don’t know what your spiritual gifts are, I’d encourage you to take some time once you’re done reading this to take the free assessment our ministry provides. Knowing your gifts is an essential part of using them as God intends.

The passage of scripture most often used when discussing spiritual gifts is 1 Corinthians 12, specifically verses 12-26. Here we find Paul’s statement that every Christian has been gifted in a unique way and that it is vital that we use those gifts according to God’s calling as that is the only way the Body of Christ can function as the Lord intends. That is an important message and one that is rightfully used to encourage believers. However, we open ourselves up to some potentially devastating outcomes when we stop the conversation there.

You see, Paul reached that point after first spending several verses describing the nature of spiritual gifts in general. In verses 4-11 of this chapter he notes that every such gift comes from the Holy Spirit and that these gifts must be empowered by the Spirit in order to function correctly. The Greek word used in verse 11 to describe that power is energeo and it literally means “to energize” or “to be at work.” The basic idea is that our spiritual gifts can’t work as God intends unless they are consistently powered by the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.

Paul gives us a bit more insight into how that should look in Galatians 5. In this chapter, he contrasts two mistakes people often make in their approach to God with what it looks like to live reliant on the Holy Spirit. The first problem essentially boils down to being so reliant on yourself that you cut off or sever your relationship with Christ. The Greek word (katargeo) more literally translates as “to make idle.” Essentially, in this passage it means to hit the off-switch on your relationship with God. With regards to spiritual gifts, it’s the idea that we are trying to be that source of power rather than the Holy Spirit.

The second mistake is those who think they have a relationship with God but whose lives don’t reflect his presence. Paul goes so far as to warn that those who continue to commit the same kinds of sins that supposedly died with the old self should perhaps examine whether or not they are actually saved (Gal. 5:19-21). And while scripture is clear that it’s never for us to judge another person’s salvation, as only the individual and God can truly know that, Jesus did give us some basic guidelines when he talked about how a tree is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-19).

Essentially, if we’re walking with Christ the fruit of that relationship should be evident in our lives and Paul gives us a bit more insight into what that fruit looks like towards the end of Galatians 5. In verses 22-23 he writes that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These fruits are a vital part of living out the spiritual gifts that God has given us but they will only be present in our lives when we are walking with the Spirit.

After all, some of the spiritual gifts can be pretty rotten without the fruit of the Spirit. Discernment without gentleness, kindness, and love is essentially just judgment. Shepherding without patience simply frustrates everyone involved. Giving without faithfulness can make us like Ananias and Saphira (and that didn’t end well: Acts 5:1-11). Serving without joy and peace does little to advance the gospel or minister to other people. Leadership without gentleness and self-control turns people into tyrants. And the same is true for every one of the spiritual gifts.

If we let him, Satan will use for evil what God intends for good. And while the Lord can still redeem our mistakes and bring a measure of blessing out of them, the kingdom would be so much better off if he didn’t have to. So spend some time thinking and praying about whether your spiritual gifts are powered by you or the Holy Spirit today. Because unless it’s the latter, chances are good that you’re not having the kind of impact on God’s kingdom that he wants.