Spiritual Gifts and the Lordship of Christ

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Tom Schreiner:

Spiritual gifts provide a fascinating topic of discussion.[1] Christians from different theological traditions have different opinions about the gifts. It is important to study what the Scriptures say, and it is important to understand the spiritual gifts, but we can have unity with brothers and sisters even if we are not on the same page regarding all the details of the gifts. However, there is one fundamental truth that we must affirm about the gifts, regardless of whether we hold a cessationist or continuationist view of the gifts as a whole: the lordship of Jesus Christ over spiritual gifts.

Paul introduces the topic of spiritual gifts with the foundational truth of Jesus’ lordship. “Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you used to be enticed and led astray by mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:1–3 CSB). The lordship of Christ is the criterion by which gifts are assessed. In other words, our gifts aren’t a manifestation of ourselves or of our own abilities but are intended to communicate the truth that Jesus is Lord.

Ecstatic spiritual experiences aren’t the center of our faith. When God gives us powerful experiences of his presence, we praise him for drawing near to us in such a gracious way. We should not and must not disregard such experiences with God.

At the same time, acknowledging Jesus as Lord in our hearts and in our lives is far more important than any stunning experience with the Lord. We are prone to think that our experiences point to our spiritual maturity or to our godliness, but obedience to the Lord is the true measure of our life before the Lord

Some people claim to have had amazing experiences, but they don’t live under the lordship of Christ in their everyday lives. A person may claim to have staggering gifts, but if they aren’t living in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, they are failing in the most important area. Jesus warned us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!” (Matt. 7:21–23).

Some Christians have a reputation for wonderful gifts, but then word gets out that they have been living contrary to the gospel in a significant way for years. We should question whether someone is exercising spiritual gifts in a way that is truly helpful if there is a pattern of hidden and blatant sin in his or her life. In a world where subjective experience is often used as the measure of our spiritual lives, Paul brings us back to the objective baseline of Christian experience—the lordship of Jesus.

Since Jesus is Lord, he can give the gifts as he wishes. Nowhere does Scripture teach that Christians have only one gift. Since Christ is Lord, he may give a person one gift, two gifts, or many gifts. Nothing in Scripture says that each person has only one gift, so we should leave this matter open, recognizing that God gives gifts sovereignly according to his will. He gives what he wills in order to accomplish his purposes.

We see another dimension of living under Christ’s lordship in 1 Peter 4:10–11: “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, let it be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, let it be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” If we are using our gifts to the glory of God, and we are living under Christ’s lordship, we use our gifts to serve others. We sense an awesome responsibility before God to exercise our gifts as he desires. We serve under God’s lordship when we are faithful in speaking so that we communicate the oracles of God. How amazing that God has given us the privilege to speak his word, which gives grace to others. Peter isn’t just talking here about preaching sermons, for we all share God’s word with others whether in small groups or one to one.

Finally, we don’t have the strength and ability to serve in a way that pleases God on our own. The effectiveness of our spiritual gifts doesn’t reside in us. We are conscious of our weakness and God’s great strength. God in his mercy will not let us feel too greatly the effectiveness of our gifts so that we don’t grow proud. He lets us feel weakness so that his strength shines through us. We recognize that we are unworthy servants, but at the same time, we are grateful servants—for God has chosen to use us to help others in grace. And thus, as we serve under Christ’s lordship, we give God the glory and praise in all that we do.


[1] Most of this article represents an excerpt from Thomas R. Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2018). Used by permission.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.