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That's a Good Question

The Holy Spirit's Work Today: Gifts, Apostles, and Prophets

September 26, 2023

Jon Delger


Nate Harney

JonHey everyone, welcome to That's a Good Question, a podcast of Peace Church. This is a place where we answer questions about the Christian faith in plain language. I'm Jon, I get to serve as one of the pastors at Peace Church, and I get to serve as the weekly host of this show. And we are excited about this new season. This year, that's a good question. We wanna reach people and help them grow in their knowledge of the Bible and walk with the Lord. And we think a great way to do that is by answering people's questions about the faith, and we think that the best medium to do that is a podcast where you can hear this while you're at work, while you're driving to work, wherever it's helpful for you. You'll also find video clips online for parts of this show, but I'm excited here today to talk with Pastor Nate. Hi, Pastor Nate.

NateHey, thanks for having me again.

JonAnd we get to talk about a lot of questions that have come in. Excited to do that. You ready to jump in? Oh, yeah. Let's do it. Let's do it. Cool. A lot of questions today about spiritual gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit. So let's jump into one of those. Here we go. First one. Are spiritual gifts evident in non-believers or are they only revealed if somebody accepts Jesus?

Question #1: Are spiritual gifts evident in non-believers or are they only revealed if somebody accepts Jesus?

NateWell, that's a question that I think you need to make a couple of quick distinguishing remarks. So, if you go through the list of spiritual gifts, some of them, I think, are definitely ones that you would only see in Christians. Some of them are ones, though, that you could see as common grace. We use that term for we're all made in the image of God, whether it be our creativity or our some kindness shown, or whether it be love showing. All who are made in the image of God have the capacity to reflect some of those parts of it. We call that common grace in the Christian faith. So yeah, is there, could a non-Christian be skilled in teaching? Absolutely. But in terms of what it means to teach the scriptures and to be able to draw out the timeless truth there and apply them in a way that's powerful and meaningful today, I think that would only come once you have salvation from Christ, once the Holy Spirit pours out the specific gift of teaching there. So there's definitely these skills that you can have, service, encouragement. I certainly know non-Christians who have been very encouraging, but once you get into spiritual gifts it's actually a different kind of encouragement. You're encouraging them in the Lord. You're encouraging them with the scriptures.

And so in one sense I'd almost think of it almost like a lowercase versus an uppercase. Like there are people that have encouraged me throughout my life, sports coaches, teachers, and I almost say like lowercase e encouragement where they say, hey, you're doing great, or I see your hard work. But for me, like true, true encouragement isn't even about how great I am. But it's somebody saying, hey, I see Christ working in you. I see the Holy Spirit growing you in the fruit of the Spirit. That's true encouragement to me. So if somebody was saying that to me, I'd say, I think they might have the gift of encouragement versus they're just doing the lower case e encouragement. And I think most of the spiritual gifts you could apply that general principle across the board. So it's not that someone who's not a Christian can't be encouraging or can't have skills and teaching but yes I would say to answer the question you only get spiritual gifts when you become a follower of Jesus because what Jon you and I preached on recently from Ephesians 4 it gives us picture that when Christ ascended victorious into heaven he sends the Spirit down and the Spirit equips us with these gifts so if you don't have if you're not filled with the Holy Spirit, then I don't think you have the spiritual gifts, right?

JonThat's what I was gonna go to so you and I both got the opportunity this past Sunday to get to preach from Ephesians 4 part of Ephesians 4 verses 7 to 16 and talk about spiritual gifts and yeah, it's it's quite clear that Gifts are the spiritual gifts or something given by Jesus through the Holy Spirit to believers people who put their faith in Jesus And the Holy Spirit then indwells them and these gifts come out. So yeah, I think what you just said was a super helpful distinction that yeah, unbelievers absolutely can have some of these talents or gifts, but it becomes a different thing when you become a Christian. It's given by the Holy Spirit. It's a different thing. It's used for a different purpose. Yeah, so to the person asking the question, I think one way to look at it is just to say, we're not really looking for spiritual gifts in an unbeliever. That's something that you're looking for specifically and uniquely in somebody who is a believer. But yes, unbelievers can have gifts that look similar.

NateYeah, absolutely.

JonYeah, that's good. Cool. Another one, speaking of Ephesians chapter 4, so there's some different lists of spiritual gifts in the scriptures. And in Ephesians 4, it lists a couple of leading and teaching gifts, and two of the gifts that are listed there are apostles and prophets. So, what do we think about that? Is that something that still happens today? Is that something that just happened back in the first century or even in the Old Testament? What do you think? You want to kick us off?

Question #2: Are there still apostles and prophets today?

NateWell, let's start with apostles. So, apostle is an interesting word, interesting biblical term. There's, there are a lot of different opinions about what exactly that Meant what it means today here at peace our general view of it would be that that was a biblical category of an apostle with somebody who walked with Jesus who who was face-to-face with Jesus and Was responsible for really setting the foundation building the foundation of the church. So the disciples, we would reference them as apostles, and then there's actually a part of scripture where Paul defends that he's an apostle, and some people could say, well, wait, he didn't walk with Jesus, he didn't have a face-to-face, but if you read Paul's conversion story on the road to Damascus, he's one of the few people that we read in the New Testament who has a true face-to-face with Jesus, and so Paul defends that. And then the question then becomes, so are there still apostles today? Is the gift or the calling of apostleship still present today?

Interesting thing, usually you have two kind of main camps in this, and it often boils down to if you're something called a cessationist or a continuationist. A cessationist generally believes that the sign gifts and even some of these gifts and these callings of apostleship or prophets, some of these positions, ceased after the foundation of the church, where a continuationist would say, no, they continue on today. Then there's kind of a whole spectrum of in between those things. There's kind of two very strong extreme camps. If somebody had to nail down what I am, I wouldn't call myself a cessationist because I think there's a lot that was happening in the New Testament in terms of sign gifts and some of those things that continue on today, and we can, I see that as something that was very particular to the early church, the founding of the church, and I'd see more the positions like teacher, pastor, as the ones that are more continuing on, something like an evangelist that aren't clarified as just essential for the very, very foundation of the church. They're not necessary for the continuation of the church.

JonRight. When we look at 2 Corinthians 11, like you mentioned, and we look at the beginning of the book of Acts, where they're replacing Judas' spot as one of the twelve. They're looking for somebody who's been with us from the beginning, who walked with Jesus. Yeah, there's some specifics given to that role of apostle, somebody who was part of the ministry of Jesus or met Jesus in person. And so I would say, yeah, that didn't continue. But people have maybe some of those gifts, like you said, leading, teaching, those are also listed in other parts of Scripture.

NateYeah, and there's some modern people who just say, oh, an apostle is just somebody who starts ministries or starts churches. And I think the question for them would be, Paul certainly didn't have to defend the fact that he started churches. I mean, most of the New Testament letters we get are written from Paul's perspective and a lot to churches that he played a primary role in helping get off the ground. But he defends his apostleship not saying, hey, I played a foundational role in a couple of local churches, but by really pointing back to him being face to face with Christ. And so I think that's that gives us the category for that. Now, Jon, I'll ask you the prophet piece of that. What would you say about like a modern-day prophet? What does that mean?

JonYeah, good question. Well, the foundational text on being a prophet is Deuteronomy 18. So going back early in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 18 talks about what a prophet is and actually it warns about how to identify a false prophet. It talks about if a prophet says something, it says this is a word from the Lord and it doesn't come true, then you're to stone that prophet because he's not a prophet. He's a false prophet. So, the definition given in Deuteronomy 18 is very crisp, clear, to the point. And I would say that that type of prophet is not continuing today. Now, for me, that means that we would just, somebody who has a gifting sort of in that area, I would just call them something different. I know that some people refer to people as prophets today, and I think they don't mean, I don't think that they mean like the Deuteronomy 18 type of prophet. I think they mean somebody who has maybe the Holy Spirit kind of leads them in a certain direction and they have maybe a sense of what the Lord is saying, or maybe sometimes they're talking about a pastor because the pastor preaches the Bible, which is God's word, so they get to say, thus saith the Lord, and they read scripture and then they explain what it means. So I would say that that prophet is probably not the best label for that role, that the Deuteronomy 18 true role of a prophet was for a specific time and place, and now we have pastors, teachers, leaders. The Holy Spirit might lead me to give you a specific type of encouragement, but I wouldn't call that a prophecy. Yeah, what do you think?

NateYeah, I would totally agree with that. And similar to the apostle role is the prophet was necessary for kind of establishing the word of God in the early church and before we had the church and throughout the Old Testament. But I see as the New Testament continues and as we see through church history, there's more of an emphasis on teaching God's established word, what we've seen the Holy Spirit inspired word and pastoring the people in the word. So that pastor teacher role I see emphasized more and more as the church gets established. My pushback more so than we get a lot of questions about the Apostle, the prophet role, and I get that, but I'm actually surprised that we don't talk about, we don't ask the question more, where are all the evangelists? Because that's one of those roles that...

JonUsually I hear people saying, oh, I'm not an evangelist. That's usually what I hear.

NateAnd even specifically, a lot of pastors, a lot of teachers saying, I am not an evangelist. And I actually think that's one of those categories that we de-emphasize. It might not be as splashy as the apostle or the prophet role that we like to think about and talk about and ask questions. And honestly, I think sometimes it's not as comfortable as the pastoral teaching role within the church, but my biggest question when I read that list of church leaders is, where are our modern evangelists? Because I think that's something we need evangelists until Jesus returns. And so I was actually just convicted as we've been focusing on Ephesians 4, that I find myself looking at and encouraging young men who I see as future teachers, as future shepherds, but I've been asking myself, like, why am I not more actively searching for the next generation of evangelists? And I think that's something that we can all probably grow in.

JonYeah, that's a good point. So you brought up the bigger categories of cessationists and continuous, so I'll share my kind of perspective on that as well. Like you said, we're not cessationists, but yeah, we believe the spiritual gifts continue, including some of the miraculous gifts and sign gifts. So we're continuationists in that sense, but we also want to be really careful and look at some of the things that people call the sign gifts today and just kind of be discerning and weigh that out and say, you know, can the Lord miraculously heal? Absolutely. Does he sometimes? Absolutely. Does he always? No. If you don't receive miraculous healing from the Lord, does it mean that you didn't have enough faith? No, it doesn't mean that. That's not the way that we look at that. So we're continuationists, but we try to be just careful and discerning in thinking about the miraculous.

NateYeah, when you're talking about these sign gifts, these gifts of the Spirit, that things like speaking in tongues is a big one that we often get asked about. I've used the illustration before is there certain topics that almost operate like a fire where it's a really good thing but there's something about it that if it gets out of control it can get destructive and dangerous really fast and we just we just have to name that we've seen these categories that we believe in we hold to that are biblical, things like speaking in tongues and some of the sign gifts that we see in the scriptures that we believe God can and does still use.

But for one reason or another we've seen people just totally mishandle and really abuse some of these categories for their own selfish gain, for their own notoriety. And I just think of example after example of people who have either claimed to be prophets or apostles and have kind of utilized some of these beautiful gifts of the Holy Spirit for personal gain, for personal attention. And so we are continuationists, but we always walk that road with a healthy, Holy Spirit guided wisdom, I'd say a cautious wisdom, just understanding that that category can be so easily abused that we always want to be seeking with discernment, the wisdom as we approach these unique categories that we see in the New Testament.

JonYeah, for example, just to get real practical, you and I and some of our other pastors have talked about what would we do if somebody, you know, stood up at church and said that they have a prophecy from the Lord, a word from the Lord, or if they sat up and said, you know, I'm going to speak in tongues now for everybody to hear, what would we do? And looking at the New Testament, looking at passages like 1 Corinthians 14 and 12 and surrounding, we've said that what we would probably do is we'd say, hey, brother or sister, if you believe you've got a word from the Lord, we want to hear that, but we also believe we have to exercise discernment. So we want you to deliver that to our elders. So would you, you know, step over into another room with our elders and share that word and they can be discerning and think about, is this a word from the Lord? Is it not? And then with tongues in specific, First Corinthians is clear that you've got to have an interpreter also, so we'd ask for an interpreter. And same thing, you know, we want to give our elders a chance to discern that word before the whole church hears it, make sure it's in line with scripture.

NateYeah, and I have an example of someone might say, well, that almost seems like, why aren't you guys just, you're just kind of mildly cessationist. You just don't want to say you're cessationist by that response because you're not encouraging it, you're not pushing it every Sunday, you're not asking for people to come forward and speak in tongues or to give a word from the Lord. But I think sometimes that perspective comes from someone who hasn't been in a true cessationist context. I remember one time I was at a conference where it was specifically on the topic of cessationism, put on by cessationists, and I was interested because I'm always trying to learn and I want to just seek whatever is biblical truth.

And there was a gentleman who raised his hand and he said, my brother is a missionary overseas, and he believes that he has spoken in a language that he didn't learn or study and shared the gospel with an unreached tribe. And that there was a time where it felt like miraculously, he was able to converse for the sake of sharing the gospel. And this person said to these cessationist teachers, how would you respond if your brother told you that that was his experience? And one of the leaders stood up and he said, well, I'd look at your brother and I'd say, you're either a liar or you're filled with demons right now. And so that's how extreme, like, hardcore cessationism is. That's something we want to be really careful because we would never want to attribute something that the Holy Spirit was doing to Satan, to demons, or just... Jesus gives some strong warnings about that. Absolutely. And just for our gut reaction to be, you're a liar, or that's not... But there's a difference between being totally cut off to any potential of the Holy Spirit working that way and only emphasizing that over the normative ways that we see the Spirit working in the church today through His inspired Word and through raising up equipped saints to do the work of the ministry that He's called us to. And so there's some people who say, hey, it's black or white, you've got to be hardcore in one camp or the other, but there's actually a large spectrum in between, and we land somewhere in between.

JonYeah, could God give this brother the ability to speak another language miraculously? Absolutely. And if he says it happened, our tendency would be to believe him, unless we have evidence not to. Could the Lord speak to you through a dream, or could he deliver to you a very specific word for me or for the church or something like that that we need to hear? Absolutely, he could do that. Again, we have to be discerning and weigh that out. The Holy Spirit wouldn't speak through somebody something that's contrary to Scripture, and so we'd always want to make sure that those things are lining up. But the Lord absolutely can speak through people today, can speak in visions and dreams, he can give people the gift of tongues. We just want to be discerning in how we hear that as a church and utilize those gifts.

Question #3: Why do we pray that pastors be filled with the Holy Spirit before they preach?

JonCool. One more question along this line. Why do we pray that pastors be filled with the Holy Spirit before they preach? So we do that here at Peace. We pray pretty much every Sunday that the pastor be filled with the Holy Spirit as he gets ready to preach. The rest of the question, they say, if they're truly believers, aren't they already filled with the Holy Spirit?

NateIt's a great question. There's a distinction that we make in the church between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Those are both biblical categories. It's very very clear When you look at scripture that when you become a follower of Jesus when you are given salvation You're given saving faith when grace comes on you and the Holy Spirit comes over you, you are filled, you are indwelled with the Holy Spirit for the first time, and that indwelling will never and can never go away. And so that is a beautiful thing because we are sealed in the Holy Spirit, that's a part of our salvation. But then there is also New Testament language about the filling of the Holy Spirit, that there are moments where the Holy Spirit fills in a unique or in a special way. That's not to say that before you're filled with the Spirit that you have no Spirit. We see that in the Old Testament, that instead of an indwelling, there's all these stories of the filling. I always think of, like, I go to judges and I think of Samson being filled with the Holy Spirit so that he has the strength to do these amazing physical feats. But, in the New Testament, we get indwelled, but maybe you can speak more about what are some of the New Testament categories for those moments where we're filled.

JonYeah, totally. So, we are, when you become a Christian, you are indwelled with the Holy Spirit. You are regenerated, you receive new life, and that comes by the Holy Spirit. And so every Christian, every believer in Jesus, has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of them. There is no second blessing. We don't believe in like you become a Christian and then you get the Holy Spirit later, that there's like a separate baptism of the Holy Spirit. We believe baptism of the Holy Spirit happens when you become a believer. That's the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But we also believe that the Holy Spirit in a special way can come and empower, animate an individual for a specific calling or time. That's just something I pray for personally for myself whenever I'm going into something tough. I pray, Holy Spirit, please be with me. Please fill me with your presence. Please help me to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Help me to hear your voice and follow it when I'm going into maybe an intense meeting or a leadership moment or especially preaching, which is how we use it the most. Yeah, we just, what we're asking is for the Holy Spirit to, in a special way, you know, free up our minds, our mouths, our hearts, just to use us in that moment. Give us the strength we need, give us the clarity of mind that we need, and help us to speak on His behalf.

NateTo answer the very particular question, why do we do it for our preachers as they're preparing to preach, is we believe that that moment is a moment where it's not just a person standing up to share their own thoughts about what they think about the world and about life and about God, but it's the preacher's responsibility to open up the Word of God, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit. So to me, it makes total sense when we're reading the Holy Spirit inspired words and trying to elaborate on what that means for us today, that we ask that the Holy Spirit be at work just as much, if not more than we are in that moment.

JonYeah. Yeah, exactly. Awesome.

Well, hey, thanks, Pastor Nate, for the conversation. Thanks everybody for listening. Great to be with you. You can always listen to That's a Good Question wherever you get podcasts from. Be sure to rate and review and share with your friends so we can reach more listeners to help them grow. As followers of Jesus, you can also submit questions reach more listeners to help them grow.

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