Imagine that you wanted to sell a very large and beautiful diamond, but that you had a problem—there was a large gouge out of one side of the stone. What would you do? You would focus on the brilliance characteristics of the unmarred side of the gem.
In a sense, this is what much of Western Christianity has done with God’s grace. The early New Testament church was far from ideal, and yet, they were filled with life as the Spirit of God moved powerfully in their midst. Why? They understood that not only were they favored by God through the cross of Christ, they were also empowered by the Holy Spirit of grace to serve Him in mind-stretching ways.
Ever since the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), God has given “grace gifts” (charisma) to His people through the presence of His Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). These are supernatural gifts that empower God’s people to serve Him beyond any natural human ability. And because they are grace gifts, no human merit is required. In other words, God’s grace is meant to supernaturally empower ordinary people.
Sadly, somewhere along the way, much of the Western church has “gouged” the diamond of God’s grace by removing vital spiritual gifts—“apostleship, prophecy, miracles, tongues, interpretation of tongues”—from their list of approved works of the Spirit. I’m not quite sure what gives Christian leaders the right to determine which grace gifts are “permanent” and which were “temporary,” but several significant problems have resulted:
1. Because the fullness of grace is lacking, the unmerited favor dimension of grace has become our exclusive focus. The result is a generation of passive Christians who fixate on what God has done for them while failing to realize how powerfully they can be used by God.
2. Equipping for ministry is more about human charisma, talents, and education than about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Christian ministry has become the endeavor of the elite few more than the service of the ordinary person.
3. Much of the vitality of life in the Spirit is lost. Don’t get me wrong. God will work to whatever degree we allow Him to work, but the more we squeeze out the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the more we are forced to rely upon human means as we try to advance God’s purposes.
The late A.W. Tozer once said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”
I place a strong degree of emphasis on the unity of Christ’s body and prefer not to make unnecessary waves. At the same time, we must be willing to lovingly challenge the status quo. It’s obvious that the Western church continues to fade as a cultural influence. This is not the case in many parts of the world where all of God’s grace gifts are embraced. If we truly want to make a difference, we need to revisit what the Bible teaches about the empowering nature of grace.