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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: When Do Believers Receive Their Spiritual Gifts?

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When Do Believers Receive Their Spiritual Gifts?

Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 12

There is a question among Bible-believers as to when Christians receive their spiritual gifts. At what point does the believer in Jesus Christ receive the spiritual gift that God has for them? What does Scripture say about this issue?

There Are Three Basic Views as to When Spiritual Gifts Are Received

The Bible does not specifically say when believers receive their spiritual gifts. There are basically three views among Christians as to when these gifts are given. They include: at birth, sometime during the Christian life, or at the time of salvation.

The options can be simply stated as follows.

Option 1: Spiritual Gifts Are Given to Believers at Birth

Some feel that spiritual gifts are given to each believer at birth. Since God certainly knows who will believe in Him and who will not the gifts are given when the person, who will eventually believe, is born. These gifts are then manifested after the person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ. However, the gifts have been with them since birth.

Option 2: Spiritual Gifts Are Given after Conversion to Christ

There is also the view that spiritual gifts are given believers sometime after they are converted to Christ. Those who hold this view point to examples where people received spiritual gifts by the laying on of hands. Paul wrote to Timothy.

So I ask you to make full use of the gift that God gave you when I placed my hands on you (2 Timothy 1:6 CEV).

This passage seems to indicate that Timothy did not have the gift until Paul laid his hands upon him.

In another place Paul wrote about the elders laying hands on Timothy and bestowing some gift.

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you (1 Timothy 4:14 ESV).

This has caused some people to believe that spiritual gifts are given to believers sometime after their conversion experience. However, the laying on of hands seems to be the exceptional way, not the normal way, in which gifts are received.

Option 3: Spiritual Gifts Are Given at the Time of Salvation

It seems that the best view as to when people receive their spiritual gifts is at the time they become Christians. There are a number of reasons as to why this is so. They can be summed up in the following manner.

Spiritual Gifts Are Given by the Holy Spirit

First, it is the Holy Spirit who gives spiritual gifts to believers. This would seem to preclude the idea that they were received at birth because we are born separated from the Lord by our sin. The Holy Spirit only comes into a person’s life when a person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, not before. Therefore it does not seem to make sense that the Holy Spirit would give an unbeliever a spiritual gift that could not be used until that person became a believer.

Gifts Are for the Upbuilding of the Entire Body of Christ

The purpose of the gifts is the building up of the church, the true believers in Jesus Christ. Paul emphasized this when he wrote to the church at Corinth. He said.

He also gave apostles, prophets, missionaries, as well as pastors and teachers as gifts {to his church}. Their purpose is to prepare God’s people, to serve, and to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11, 12 God’s Word).

This would seem to indicate that the gifts were immediately available to all believers. Otherwise a believer could not build up the church, the body of Jesus Christ, until they received their spiritual gift.

What about the Example of Timothy?

In the case of Timothy, the fact that Paul said that his gift was given by the laying on of hands may mean that the gift was confirmed by this act. In other words, the elders laid hands upon Timothy to identify with him as well as confirm the fact that they recognized a certain spiritual gift was given to him.

It is also possible that the Lord wanted to bestow some special gift upon Timothy which took place when the elders laid their hands upon him. Since we are not specifically told the reason for the laying on of hand we can only speculate.

However, the rule seems to be that each believer receives their spiritual gift the moment they trust Christ as Savior.

There Are No Ungifted Believers

The Bible further emphasizes that there are no ungifted believers. Peter made this clear as he wrote the following to the believers.

God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Manage them well so that God’s generosity can flow through you (1 Peter 4:10 NLT).

The English Standard Version puts it this way.

Each of you has been blessed with one of God’s many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well (1 Peter 4:10 CEV).

Everyone who has trusted Christ as their Savior has been given a spiritual gift. This being the case, then believers must receive their spiritual gifts immediately upon believing. Otherwise there would be ungifted believers.

There Is an Analogy with Natural Gifts

An analogy can be made with natural gifts. People are born with natural abilities. They only become apparent as they are used and developed. In the same way, those who are spiritual reborn have spiritual gifts the moment they are reborn. These gifts become apparent when the believer uses them. However, as is true with natural gifts, the gifts are already in existence before they are discovered and put to use.

Thus, it seems best to conclude that spiritual gifts are given to believers the moment they trust Christ as Savior. Yet, it may be some time before these gifts become evident in the life of a Christian.

Summary – Question 12
When Do Believers Receive Their Spiritual Gifts?

All those who believe in Jesus Christ receive spiritual gifts. There is no doubt about this. But when does it take place? When do they receive their gift?

Some believe it is at birth. Others assume it is sometime after a person believes in Jesus. A third view says that it takes place the moment a person believes. What is the best answer?

While the Bible does not specifically say when believers receive spiritual gifts, the best view seems to be upon conversion. There is no reason to believe the gifts would be received before conversion since the Holy Spirit does not reside in unbelievers. Since He is the one who gives the gifts, it seems unlikely that the gifts would be given before the Holy Spirit became part of the life of the believer.

Neither should we assume that the gifts are not given until sometime after the person believes in Jesus Christ. While there are passages that speak of people receiving spiritual gifts by the laying on of hands, this was not the normal way in which they were imparted. Furthermore, these passages likely speak of the confirmation of the gift rather than the giving of the gift itself.

The best answer thus seems to be that spiritual gifts are given to each believer the moment they trust Jesus Christ. For one thing, the Bible says that there are no ungifted believers. Consequently this seems to assume that Christians receive their spiritual gift immediately upon conversion.

In addition, the purpose of the gifts is to build up the body of Christ. This could not be accomplished if there were ungifted believers.

While believers receive their gifts the moment they trust Christ it may take some time before these gifts are manifest. Indeed, those who have been given the gift of teaching will not go out and immediately teach others upon their conversion. The gift will take time to develop. The same holds true with the other gifts which the Lord has given.

Thus, while the person has the spiritual gift upon belief in Jesus, it may not be immediately known.

What Is the Purpose of Spiritual Gifts? ← Prior Section
Do People Receive Either the Holy Spirit, or Spiritual Gifts, by the Laying on of Hands? Next Section →
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