For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NIV)

God’s grace to us is more than only forgiveness. Paul wrote, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom. 5:10). The much more of the Christian life is living in the constant reality of the new life of Christ, which includes God’s peace, joy, fullness of life, and all the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

The word charisma is the New Testament word meaning a “grace gift,” and it is the word used in Romans 6:23 above for “the gift of God,” or “the charisma of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The word has a broad use in the New Testament and is not limited to “spiritual gifts” as some think it to be. All that God does in our lives, all the blessings we receive are included in the charisma of God.

Its fullest use is in 1 Corinthians 12 and there it is best translated simply as “gifts.” The apostle is explaining to the Christians in Corinth why different believers seemed to have different gifts. In the superstitious pagan culture they had come from, there was the belief that different gifts came from different gods – they would say that a good orator, for example, was inspired by the god Hermes – which is exactly what happened to Paul when he and Barnabas in Lystra (Acts 14:12). So Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 12 that all of these different gifts were given by the same Spirit of God.

There are several different terms Paul used in this chapter to describe what we usually call a “spiritual gift,” and charisma is only one of them.

  • Pneumatikon, 12:1, “spiritual things” or “spiritual gifts” from the context. Used for “spiritual matters” in (Rom. 15:27 and 1 Cor. 2:13).
  • Charismaton, 12:4, “grace gifts,” plural of charisma
  • Diakonion, 12:5, “administrations” or “ministries”
  • Energematon, 12:6, “workings”
  • Phanerosis, 12:7, “manifestation” or “appearance”

So the apostle calls spiritual gifts by five different words in this single chapter: “spiritual matters,” “grace gifts,” “ministries,” “workings,” and “manifestations.” All of these are helpful and each is essential to understand what spiritual gifts are. But it seems that the word charisma captured more fully the other meanings, and it is the word used at the end of 1 Corinthians 12, and in Romans 12:6, and 1 Peter 4:10.

Charisma means a grace gift that we believers receive freely from God. It cannot be earned or merited. As a grace gift it is part of the great grace of God to the church of Jesus Christ. Spiritual gifts cannot and should not be separated from all that God does in our lives by His Spirit. Just as He gives peace that we cannot earn, so He also gives gifts of service that we cannot earn. We may develop these gifts and use them wisely, but they are clearly gifts – unearned treasures.

Charisma means that they minister the whole life of God to the whole church of God. The church is commanded to earnestly desire the greater gifts (1 Cor 12:31), but that is not a command to the individual, who receives from the Spirit what the Spirit deems proper to bestow (1 Cor. 12:7). Paul wrote, “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom. 12:5-6).

Charisma means that they express God’s love for the whole church and for the whole Christian. The gifts are not to be seen or used selfishly. Some gifts are greater than other gifts, but no Christian is greater than another Christian. No individual should be exalted above another in the church based on himself alone. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43). The greater gifts are those that impact the entire body of Christ, namely preaching and teaching, and the church should be more concerned about these greater gifts than those that only impact a few. But to be healthy and effective, the church needs a variety of gifts.

Charisma means a grace gift that reveals who God is. “Manifestation” means that each spiritual gift reveals the character, the love, and the holiness of God. Whether someone is preaching or someone is helping and serving a special need, in each case the heart of God is being revealed. It is particularly described in Romans 6:23 as eternal life in Christ Jesus, and it is always life in Him. God does not bestow any other kind of life on the believer other than life in Christ, “so that in everything [Christ] might have the supremacy” (Col. 1:18).

Charisma means that God’s work is singular in our lives and in our world. The broad use of this word in the New Testament helps us to see these spiritual matters in their proper perspective. We tend to compartmentalize these things, creating an artificial distance between our inner personal peace and our spiritual gifts. We need to keep in mind that all that God does in our lives can be described as the charismata of God. Though there are different administrations and different workings the purpose of God is singular – to redeem us from sin and reconcile us to Himself through His grace. The giving of life to the believer and the bestowing of some spiritual gift on the same believer are inseparable works of God. We should not see them otherwise.

No physician can treat one organ of a body without realizing that that organ is connected to the whole body. The physician’s purpose must be larger than just repairing that single organ. His goal must be to restore the whole person to complete health. And whether we speak of a single Christian life or the entire church of God, our purpose and goals should be singular – that the entire Christian and the entire church would be fully redeemed and brought to life by the Lord. This is the way spiritual gifts should work.

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