Not long ago, I started a new Bible study on the Holy Spirit with a group of ladies at my church. At one point, the friend next to me asked what I thought about spiritual gifts tests. My answer? “You probably don’t want to know.” But then we talked about it anyway.
I usually try to avoid answering this question. If the topic comes up in a group I may stay silent or just walk away. Why? Because I see some things in Scripture that don’t necessarily line up with today’s popular take on spiritual gifts and spiritual gifts tests. And I don’t want to start any doctrinal debates.
But after my conversation with Kimberly that day, I decided that encouraging others – and myself - to test our views by what God says in His Word is always a good thing. Maybe we can start a thoughtful, respectful conversation about spiritual gifts tests and how God wants to use them.
What are “spiritual gifts?”
Let’s take a step back and go to Scripture for a definition of spiritual gifts. Here’s how Paul defines and describes them in the 1 Corinthians:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, NIV)
Every believer - everyone who belongs to Jesus - is indwelled by the person of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11), who gives new life to our sin-dead spirits. It is only by His presence that we are “born again” (Titus 3:4-7). As Paul clearly states, a spiritual gift is a specific way the Holy Spirit chooses to reveal His presence through the life of an individual believer.
Spiritual gifts are evidence of God’s grace working through our lives to benefit others. Our gifts are not for us. God intends us to use them for the good of His church. My gift is for you. Your gift is for me. (See Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, Ephesians 4:11-13, and 1 Peter 4:11 for examples of specific spiritual gifts.)
What is a “spiritual gifts test?”
A “spiritual gifts test” is a manmade tool meant to help believers discern their spiritual gifts. The believer answers a series of questions designed to discover his or her specific gifts. When kept in the proper perspective, the test can be a helpful tool, but we must remember it is limited. How can a human tool effectively measure the infinite workings of the Spirit of Christ?
In their book, What’s So Spiritual about Your Gifts?, authors Henry and Mel Blackaby caution that a spiritual gifts test is limited by its nature:
“It can help identify how God has used you since you’ve become a Christian. But it shouldn’t be used as a guide for how God desires to use you in the future, for God’s purposes are based upon His strengths, not yours alone. He may choose to take you into areas of service in which you’re naturally weak, to reveal His strength and bring glory to Himself.”
At their best, spiritual gifts tests may identify spiritual gifts and natural talents and abilities. But at their worst, since they cannot distinguish between them, the tests could actually encourage believers to “serve” according to our natural talents rather than relying on the power and equipping of the Holy Spirit.
So, while I think spiritual gifts tests can be useful, we must remember their limitations and proceed with caution. The following three cautions can help us properly use this tool:
1. Spiritual gifts test can encourage us to put our purposes in place of God’s purposes.
Since spiritual gifts tests tend to reveal our own strengths and talents, we may use the assessment to find ways to “serve” that can be undertaken in our own power. We may hesitate to step out in ways that require the Spirit’s power, thus missing out on God’s greater purpose. Serving in our own strength brings us credit. Serving in God’s strength brings Him glory and honor.
2. Spiritual gifts tests can limit the Holy Spirit.
Even when the test does reveal a true spiritual gift, we may find ourselves only serving in ways that use that specific gift. We may forget that as a believer we have the entire person of the Holy Spirit residing within us. We have access to all of His power to follow and obey God in any way He leads. Yet we may hear God’s call but reject it because “that’s not in our area of gifting.” With the presence of the person of the Holy Spirit, God can do anything through our life He chooses to do.
3. Spiritual gifts tests can become an excuse.
It’s a big temptation to follow something concrete and “human” like a test rather than depending on the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s much easier to pull out that pat answer – “That’s not my gift” – than to lay aside our own plans and seek God’s will and direction. It also gives our “no” a “spiritual” reason.
If we aren’t careful, believers can easily fall into the trap of making spiritual gifts all about us instead of all about the Giver. We ask, “What can I do for God? How can I use my gifts and talents?” When instead, we should be asking, “How does God want to use the gifts He gave me?”
I have taken spiritual gifts tests in the past. But I have also followed God to work in areas that didn’t line up with the results of any test. And He did things that only He could do! I am so glad I didn’t rely on that test.
Kathy Howard is the author of 7 books including the new Bible study, “Lavish Grace: Poured Out, Poured Through, and Overflowing.” This unique 9-week study of Paul’s experiences with and teachings about grace, will help you recognize, rest in, and share the glorious grace of God. You can find more of Kathy’s work at www.kathyhoward.org.
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Publication date: February 3, 2017