In order to better understand who we are made to be and what we are to do in our work, it is essential for Christians to discern their gifts. Each Christian’s specific calling is related to the Holy Spirit’s work in creation, personal regeneration, and empowerment for one’s work in the church and in the world.
In the next few weeks, I will address the work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible and explore the implications for our daily work.
Specifically looking at the Old Testament, the work of the Holy Spirit can be divided into three basic areas:
- Cosmic—referring to the Spirit’s role in creation
- Individual—referring to the Spirit’s role in regeneration and sanctification of individuals
- Theocratic—referring to the Spirit’s role in empowering Israel
I will take a deeper look at each of these three in turn, and what they mean for our vocations today. We’ll tackle the first two areas today, but first, let’s look at the role of the Holy Spirit in empowering our gifts.
Where the Spirit Is, There Is Power
In some ancient languages, the words for “spirit,” breath,” and “wind” are identical. This is the case in both Hebrew and Greek. The Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma could both mean “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind,” depending on the context. The Old Testament uses two Hebrew words for “breath” or “wind”:
- Ruach, which refers to heavy breathing, or breathing through the nose with violence. Exodus 15:8 uses ruach to refer to a “blast” of the nostrils.
- Neshamah, which refers to quiet breathing.
Ruach means wind in Exodus 10:19—an exceedingly strong west wind. It is sometimes used to refer to strong emotions, as in Genesis 26:35. Here ruach describes the bitterness of spirit between the Hittite wives of Esau towards Isaac and Rebekah.
Where “Spirit of the Lord” is used in Isaiah 40:7, Ruach Yahweh could mean Spirit of the Lord or wind of the Lord. In both cases the idea is power. When the Spirit is present, there is power. He gives gifts and he can empower those gifts.
Our gifts are from the Spirit and can be empowered by the Spirit to accomplish the purpose for which they are given.
Cosmic: The Spirit’s Work in Creation
There are a number of biblical passages alluding to this topic, including Genesis 1:2, Job 26:13 and 33:4, and Psalm 104:30, 33:6, and 139:7. The general thrust of these verses is that the Spirit completes or refines the work of creation.
Job 26:13 says, “by his breath the heavens are cleared” (or made beautiful). Job 33:4 adds, “the Spirit of God made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Another instance is Psalm 104:30: “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground.”
It is important to note the Spirit is involved in creating men and women made in the image of God. This means that the created—or natural—gifts that humans are given are gifts from or of the Holy Spirit, as well as from the Father and the Son.
This helps prevent us from deprecating the gifts we are given in creation and over-exalting the “spiritual” gifts given in redemption. Both gifts in creation and redemption are from or of the Holy Spirit. The latter is not higher than the former; redemption is not necessarily greater than creation with respect to our gifts. Some gifts, as is seen in the New Testament, are “super” natural above and beyond the created gifts—but most of the gifts listed in the New Testament are a redirection, the unfolding, or the empowerment of created—or natural—gifts.
This means that we should generally not divorce natural and “spiritual” gifts. We can look at the gifts we have expressed throughout our lives as an indication of where we are to serve both in the church and in the world.
For instance, one of the gifts mentioned in Romans 12:8 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 is administration. In my hundreds of vocational interviews, I have never known anyone who was disorganized in every area suddenly become the chief administrator of a church—or corporation. Many people can discern their gifts both before and after becoming believers, though this is not always the case.
Individual: The Spirit’s Work In Us
I believe that people in the Old Testament were “born again” and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. There are a number of classic sources on this question. One of the most thorough is The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, by Leon Wood.
There is also scriptural evidence for this claim. Jesus talks about being “born again” or “born from above” three times during a conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:1-10. In verse ten, Jesus asks Nicodemus,
Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?
Jesus is pointing out that, based on Nicodemus’ knowledge of the Old Testament, Nicodemus should have known about the Spirit’s renewal or rebirth of individuals. One Old Testament passage that uses this language is Ezekiel 36:26, which says,
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Note the new heart and new spirit that is promised. The hardened heart is replaced with a soft heart. Renewal is promised to take place. If we need the Spirit now to grasp divine things, would that not also hold true in the Old Testament? How could anyone truly know spiritual realities without the Spirit? Being “born again” means beginning the process of being restored to what we were created to be according to God’s plan. That process includes our gifts.
In future posts, we’ll further explore how the Spirit is manifested in the Old Testament and dive into implications of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for our lives.
Editor’s note: Read more about how to explore your own gifts and calling in Discover Your Story: A Biblical Guide to Finding Your Calling.
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