Samson’s supernatural strength. Peter walking on water. Moses parting the Red Sea. Paul’s miraculous jailbreak. The Bible is full of exciting stories about extraordinary power and events. And even today, we hear stories about miraculous healing, angelic rescues, and more.
This makes some of us wonder… Can God give us special powers?
God does not give us superhero-style powers. God distributes spiritual gifts to all believers, and a few of them have extraordinary effects that resemble what some would call ‘superpowers.’
Before we begin: Among Christians, there are divergent viewpoints about whether some of the spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament ceased to operate upon the completion of the written scriptures. It is outside of the scope of the present writing to examine the Biblical support for the continuation or cessation of the spiritual gifts. For the purpose of this writing, we address the gifts from a continuationist view.
What are Spiritual Gifts?
Spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Spirit that are given to all believers to use in service to God and His kingdom. Spiritual gifts often resemble skills, talents, aptitudes, or personality traits. Though it would be incomplete to consider them only in such human terms.
Three different New Testament passages describe spiritual gifts. Some gifts are repeated across multiple passages:
- We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. – Romans 12:6-8
- To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. -1 Corinthians 12:8-10
- But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it… So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers – Ephesians 7, 11
Some gifts—such as teaching, giving, and acts of mercy—appear unremarkable. But a few gifts appear to be extraordinary abilities that defy our understanding of nature. Let’s examine these gifts a little more closely.
Healing is perhaps the most straightforward and easiest ‘extraordinary’ gift to understand. We might envision a television preacher using a series of loud prayers and exaggerated motions, but the theatrical displays are meant for the audience and not for the act of healing itself. Most healing that is done through gifting and prayer takes place in far more mundane settings, such as hospital rooms, homes, and church services.
And though some commenters describe the spiritual gift of healing as an uncanny aptitude for medical practice—and to be fair, some physicians are extraordinarily astute—this gift does not necessarily fall only to those who practice medicine vocationally. People from all walks of life have been given the gift of healing because it is such a necessary and easy-to-understand gift.
This is an open-ended gift that, unlike healing, can’t be defined by a particular result. Any miracle performed through an individual that doesn’t involve healing is a manifestation of this spiritual gift. Here are two well-known examples from scripture:
“When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”Exodus 7:8-9
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. –Acts 16:25-26
With this gift, perhaps more than others, it is apparent that the miracles are performed by God himself, and not the individual. Paul and Silas did not engineer their jailbreak—or even ask for it. Rather, they were singing worship songs when the miracle occurred.
In addition to the natural world that we experience with our senses, we are also present in the spiritual world, a world populated by angels and demons. Those who are able to discern spirits are given a means of sensing—usually by sight but sometimes by other senses—the beings and activity in this world.
Tongues and Interpretation
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.Acts 2:4-6
In Acts 2, we witness tongues (speaking) and interpretation (hearing) used together.
Today, the gift of tongues is practiced publicly in certain faith traditions. But, just as often, it emerges as a private gift, allowing a person to commune with God in a unique language for his or her own edification.
In modern usage, we describe prophecy as ‘predicting the future,’ but this is only a small portion of prophetic speech. A prophet, in simple terms, is someone who speaks for God.
A prophet might be given a word of knowledge, wisdom, or encouragement to speak to another person. Sometimes a prophet might be given a message, through words or a vision, to share with an entire congregation. In church bodies, prophets often relay direction and insight from God to teachers, leaders, and even healers.
Gifts: Directed by God
Whether any one of us has been given one or more of these particular gifts or has observed their use in our own congregations, we must remember that ultimately it is God who controls the gifts, and not the individual recipients.
When we think of comic-book-superhero style ‘powers,’ the hero is usually able to use his or her powers at will. But with spiritual gifts, such is not the case.
It is right for a healer or a miracle worker to pray for God to work through them in applicable situations, but ultimately it is God’s sovereign determination whether or not to complete the work. Similarly, a prophet is given words to speak and visions to share as the Spirit determines.
It’s Not About You
The reason that our gifts don’t manifest as ‘powers’ that we may freely use at our discretion is twofold. First, we are given gifts to use ‘for the common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7) and ‘so that the body of Christ may be built up’ (Ephesians 4:12).
Second, the gifts are meant to bring glory to God and not to us. So ultimately, the control is His, because the work is His, and the glory is His.