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Are the gifts of the Holy Spirit for Christians today?

Author: Noel Amos, 17 May 2024

When the Holy Spirit made his home inside Jesus’ followers at Pentecost, on top of receiving the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, they received spiritual gifts. From that day on, they could speak in tongues, prophesy, and perform miracles. They began their journey with the Holy Spirit and catalysed a Jesus-movement that changed the world. 

Wherever you are in your journey with the Holy Spirit, you’re invited to celebrate Pentecost with us. In our daily devotional series, The Pentecost Reflection 2024, we’ll explore what living with God’s Spirit looks like. He guides us, intercedes for us, and brings us freedom as we walk alongside him. 

Did the gifts cease or have they continued?

Around the time of the Reformation, a debate began over the gifts the apostles had received on the strange and remarkable day of Pentecost. Were they just for the apostles, or are they available to all Spirit-filled believers?

There are two sides to the debate: cessationism and continuationism, and each side claims they have the backing of Scripture. Cessationists believe that the miraculous gifts ceased at the end of the Apostolic Age, while continuationists say that the gifts are available to believers today. Let’s look at the biblical basis for each side.

Key passage: ‘When completeness comes … ’

A passage commonly cited by both sides is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. 

‘Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.’
(1 Corinthians 13.8–10, NIV)

But what did Paul mean by ‘completeness’ (verse 10)? Continuationists would say it refers to either the second coming of Christ or the death of a Christian. They believe Jesus’ followers will be perfected when they die and go to be with Christ, and no longer need the gifts of the Spirit. 

Or could he have been referring to the completion of the Bible? Cessationists suggest that the spiritual gifts ceased once the canon of Scripture was perfected. They point to Ephesians 2.20, where Paul says that the Church was built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, and their teaching is found in Scripture. Everything we need to live Christ-like lives is there, and if any additional revelation were to come through the miraculous gifts, like prophecy, it would undermine this authoritative teaching. 

Were the gifts just for the apostles’ ministry?

Others argue that Paul’s mention of ‘completeness’ meant the perfection of the apostles’ spiritual authority. The apostles were able to perform signs and wonders to affirm that the good news they were preaching was true, so when the apostles died, the gifts became obsolete. 

Acts 14.3 could be seen as a confirmation of this interpretation: ‘So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders’ (NIV). 

But what about Stephen, or Philip and his daughters, who were not apostles but performed miracles and prophesied (see Acts 6.8; 8.6–8; 21.9)? And why wouldn’t the Lord do the same things through his followers today? 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14.12, NIV). Wouldn’t ‘whoever believes’ mean all believers? 

Is it wrong to seek signs?

Something both sides typically agree on is that God still performs miracles today. The sick are healed, miraculous events still occur at God’s hand. But a cessationist would say that while there are healings, there are no healers. There are miracles, but no miracle workers. God still displays his power on the earth, just not through his people.

They might also appeal to Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”’ (Matthew 12.39, NIV).

Are Christians who ask for miraculous works to be done through their hands deceived? Are those who don’t ask missing out on an important part of the ministry of Christ?

The Holy Spirit himself is the ultimate gift

While Christians struggle to see eye to eye on the supernatural, what’s clear throughout Scripture is that we need the Holy Spirit even apart from his gifts. When Jesus introduces the Holy Spirit to the apostles in John 16, he doesn’t mention the gifts. Instead, he tells them about who the Holy Spirit is and what he’ll do. He’ll be their advocate, comforter, and helper. He’ll convict the world of sin, righteousness, and the coming judgement. He’ll relay to them everything he hears from Jesus and lead them into all truth (John 16.7–15). 

Jesus’ message is clear: we aren’t to value the gifts more than the giver. As Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, ‘If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13.1–2, NIV). 

Get to know the giver this week through the Pentecost Reflection. When you sign up, you’ll receive a devotional email each morning about the Holy Spirit, focusing on his role as our ever-present guide. 

Noël Amos is the Editor of Rooted, Bible Society’s devotional subscription journal

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