In the many years before I was a Christian, I used to hear believers talk about their “spiritual gifts”. They would describe their ability to sing or teach or perform a certain task, and for the life of me, these abilities merely sounded like “natural talents”. I came to the conclusion those wacky Christians just had a language all their own and a strong desire to see everything as a gift from God (when it could more easily be described in natural terms). When I became Christian myself, I began to recognize a number of abilities emerging or blossoming in my own life. Were these just latent talents, or was there something to this “spiritual gifting” stuff? Maybe it was time to take a second look at the issue of “spiritual gifts” and compare them to what I used to think of as “natural talents”.

Even before I started to look at the differences between “gifts” and “talents”, I recognized they all came from the same source. If we accept the premise that an all-powerful God is the creator of all matter and life, it is reasonable to conclude our abilities (even if we are inclined to attribute them to genetics or environment), must ultimately come from the source of genetics and environment: the God who created everything in the first place. We can squabble over whether something is a talent or a gift, but we need to be careful, as thoughtful Christians, not to exchange the two words as if they had identical meaning. They don’t.

Everyone has some sort of innate talent. You may not think that you are particularly talented, but if you take a closer look at yourself, you’ll discover there is some ability you possess in more abundance than others. Sure, there may be someone out there who is even better at this particular ability, but that’s not the point; you also have an increased ability in this area relative to your other skills and aptitudes. Maybe you’re a better athlete than musician, or maybe you’re a better artist than mathematician. You know where you are talented and where you are not. But how do you know if this particular ability you’re considering is a “natural talent” or a “spiritual gift”? Well, maybe we should start by looking at what the Bible has to say about spiritual gifts. Paul describes spiritual gifts in three places:

1 Corinthians 12:7-11
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

Romans 12:3-8
For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Ephesians 4:10-12
He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;