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Is Jesus the only way to heaven? | POD 025

Is Jesus the only way to heaven? | POD 025

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HOSTS & GUESTS

Dr. Harold Netland – Guest

Bill Gorman – Host

 

Show Notes

Is Jesus the only way to heaven?
The exclusivity of Jesus

If Jesus is unequivocally the sole means to salvation and communion with God, how do we grapple with the predicament of individuals who have never encountered the message of Jesus, or those who consciously reject him despite being presented with his teachings? Is Jesus the only way to heaven? In this episode host Bill Gorman and our guest, Dr. Harold Netland, explore the complexities of the mission of the church, the exclusivity of Jesus, and concerns surrounding the fate of those who have not heard the gospel. The conversation covers key New Testament passages, personal experiences, and foundational principles in scripture, diving into the heart of theological and practical challenges faced by believers today. Tune in as they discuss the transformative power of the gospel, the nature of personal salvation, and the profound mission of making disciples.

 

THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • The Exclusive Nature of Jesus: Dr. Netland and the host discuss the exclusivity of Jesus as the only way to salvation and the challenges this presents in different cultural contexts. The conversation highlights biblical passages and principles that support this belief that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
  • Mission and Discipleship: The importance of making disciples and participating in the work of the Spirit, regardless of cultural or geographical barriers, is emphasized. The episode calls attention to the diverse paths individuals may take in encountering faith and stresses the significance of disciple-making mission.
  • Scriptural Principles and Foundational Truths: The discussion navigates complex questions about heaven, salvation, justice, and fairness through the lens of scriptural principles. Dr. Netland emphasizes the need to focus on what is clearly and consistently taught through scripture, grounding the conversation in foundational biblical truths.

#ExclusiveJesus #DiscipleMakingMission #SalvationDebate #GlobalGospel #GodsLoveAndJudgment #EvangelicalTheology #TheologicalClarity #NewBirthTransformation #PersonalFaithJourneys #ClarityInScripture #theonlyway #Jesus #heavenisreal

 

RESOURCES:

Crucial Questions About Hell   |   JI Packer

Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World  |   Various

Are All Religions True?   |   Dr. Harold A Netland

Faiths in Conflict? Christian Integrity in a Multicultural World  |   Vinoth Ramachandra

 

GUEST BIOS:

Dr. Harold A. Netland completed his undergraduate studies at Biola University and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University. Following nine years with the Evangelical Free Church of America in Japan, he returned to the United States in 1993 to become a Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he currently serves as the Director of the PhD/Intercultural Studies program. Netland’s expertise in religious pluralism has earned him recognition, with scholars frequently citing his views, such as his definition of propositional truth. Notably, in his 2001 book Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith & Mission, Netland offers a critical evaluation of John Hick’s pluralism hypothesis from an evangelical perspective.

 

QUOTES:

“Salvation is always based upon the person of Christ, Christ’s work on the cross from start to finish, it’s an act of God’s grace and God’s mercy. Nobody is ever saved by being good or sincere enough, and an act of faith and repentance is necessary for saving faith whenever or wherever it were to occur.”— Dr. Netland

 

 “And the parables that Jesus tells, the parable of the father, the prodigal son, the forgiving father, God eagerly welcomes a repentant sinner.”— Dr. Netland

 

“So when many people hear, Jesus is the only Lord and savior for all people in all cultures, that just sounds like 19th century colonialist ideology all over again. Yeah. Who gives you the right to say that?”— Dr. Netland

 

CHAPTERS:

00:00 Focus on exclusivity of Jesus as rescuer.
05:07 Concerns about cultural harm in religious evangelism.
08:56 New Testament emphasizes Jesus’s unique identity.
11:25 Questioning the relevance of the New Testament.
14:47 God is morally pure, beyond human understanding.
18:42 Salvation through God’s grace and faith.
20:53 Jesus says we need a new life.
23:25 Two views on salvation through hearing the gospel.
29:01 The church’s work is making disciples worldwide.
30:01 Questioning the exclusivity of Jesus and love.
34:43 Trust in God’s character to do good.
37:12 Becoming the right kind of person for Jesus.
41:41 Grateful for wisdom and service in ministry.

Equipped: How Role Playing Games Prepared Me for the Reality of Spiritual Warfare

Equipped: How Role Playing Games Prepared Me for the Reality of Spiritual Warfare

I grew up in a normal home (albeit broken, like all of us), but was never equipped with anything beyond a naturalistic, or maybe vaguely dualistic, view of the world. I thought what I saw was all there was, until people died; then there was heaven. But who knew what that was about? It seemed no one knew. 

The primary formative experiences giving me any sense of transcendence, or spirituality then, as odd as it sounds, were playing fantasy games like Zelda, Warcraft, or Diablo with my friends. I forged weapons and armor, battled dark forces of evil, and rescued allies from fire and death.

We were children equipped with the imaginations to rule the world (or at least our front yard), enacting this RPG-instilled transcendence IRL (in real life). 

Eventually, I did what I thought I had to do: I gave up childish ways. I stopped playing “those games.” Not coincidentally, this is also when a more staunch naturalistic worldview began to settle upon my perception of the world.

 

The Living King

Then a sandal-wearing, unarmed, slain Jesus walks into my life who is also now and forever the victorious, living King (Revelation 5:5-6). He obliterated my mistaken sense of self and sense of the world, and spoke words into my heart which the Spirit wielded like a sword to divide up the mess inside me, clear away the debris, and gave me new life (Hebrews 4:12, John 3:3-6). Jesus came to live inside me to empower me from the inside out by his Spirit. He invaded the territory of my life and sent me out to proclaim the excellencies of his glorious reign (1 Peter 2:9). My naturalistic perception became spiritual: as I came to understand that reality is more than what is seen.

 

The King’s Victory Prize

The apostle of our King (1 Corinthians 15:8), Paul writes to us of King Jesus’ equipping of his “saints,” his people-made-holy (Ephesians 4:12). This equipping occurs as a result of Jesus’ ascension–what some scholars have called his “ascension gifting” to the church. His ascension declares Jesus’ utter, overpowering victory against the spiritual powers of evil: having taken them captive, he now leads the captive forces in procession before his people. Then he divides the spoils among them, among us (Ephesians 4:7-11). The gifts of victory that Jesus gives us are precisely those associated with the giving of his indwelling Spirit (see Ephesians 3:16). Pentecost was the King’s victory prize bestowed upon his people (Acts 2:33). 

The subject of Holy Spirit-equipped living can be traced all throughout the book of Ephesians and reaches its climax in chapter 6. We are caught up in a cosmic battle, “not…against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness…” And if you weren’t convinced that Paul is talking primarily about the influence of personal, spiritual, demonic evil rather than merely worldly, political power alone, he sums up our battle as “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). These are the same spiritual entities over which Christ reigns supreme and to which the gathered people of God make known God’s manifold wisdom (Ephesians 1:21, 3:10).

 

The Unholy Trinity

Paul clearly states in Ephesians 2:1-3 that a biblically-formed and fully-orbed gospel includes within it this cosmic conflict. The reality of humanity becoming free from our sinful flesh is not about improving poor choices, but about defending against the influence of personal, spiritual evil on our minds and on the world around us. This passage is a quintessential example of the ancient framework of the unholy trinity, “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” which wages war against the Triune God and his image-bearers.

John Mark Comer has done fine work reinvigorating our understanding of this ancient framework in his book Live No Lies. While admitting the reality of paranormal, overtly charismatic experiences such as power encounters and exorcisms, Comer speaks of the reality of spiritual warfare, especially in the non-majority world, primarily taking place in the realm of evil ideas (the flesh), implanted by the lies of a personal Enemy (the devil, see John 8:44), that then become normalized in a sinful society (the world).

 

No Small Sins

We are at war with evil, but that war is more often a battle for the human imagination, as a primary route to the heart, than it is for the outward actions that flow from the heart. Capture our minds, covertly and “behind Enemy lines” as it were, convincing us to rationalize “small sins” as long as we’re not obviously engaging in rampant wickedness, and the enemy gains a stronghold in our hearts that’s frankly much harder to resist than an overt, all-out frontal assault (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

C.S. Lewis is in full accord in Screwtape Letters, his masterful imaginative account of an arch-demon’s advice to his underling tempter-apprentice:

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

This safe road to hell is paved, not with good intentions (as the saying goes), but rather with captured imaginations, minds that have been vacated of the reality of the spiritual weightiness of thinking itself, of every thought, however minute a thought it may seem.

 

Stand Against the Darkness

How are we, then, to actually engage in this battle against the evil seeking to ensnare our minds and hearts, and thus our lives? In the face of this cosmic conflict, Paul’s heraldic conclusion to the church in Ephesus is to stand, he repeats three times. Then, recalling an Hebraic, prophetic formula, to be equipped, taking up the God-ordained instruments for spiritual battle (Epesians. 6:13-14, c.f. Isaiah 59:17). Having donned the necessary accoutrements, each encapsulating a necessary quality for, one might say, “defense against the dark arts” (Ephesians 6:14-17), we are then sent forth to… what? To vanquish our opponents? No; rather, Paul’s climactic commission into the fray is simply this: pray (Ephesians 6:18). This is how we stand firm together against the darkness. 

It is indeed a collective commission. Paul, as throughout Ephesians, is calling the church, the Body and Bride of Christ, to be thus equipped (Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:26-27). She is to become a veritable fortress of her God, clothed and crowned with her King’s gracious splendor (Revelation 12:1, 19:7-8, 21:2). Praying together is thus mission-critical, and all the more as the final Day draws nearer (Hebrews 10:25). Our charge is not to obtain victory–that has already been accomplished through the cross and empty tomb–but to stand firm by defending that victory for one another until its fullness comes rushing in on the hoofbeats of the King’s return (Revelation 19:11-16).

Prayer is essential. If we stand alone, without God’s supernatural strengthening and the combined power of our allies, we’re dead where we stand. Paul begins the whole section on God’s armor by calling us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of this might.” (Ephesians 6:10). The essential battle practice of prayer is confirmed by Graham Cole, former Dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and professor of Systematic Theology: “Prayer rounds out the [armor], and in a way it returns the reader to the beginning, that is, to God, in whom the believer is to be strong. The practice of prayer is to suffuse the whole…The armor of God is not enough without the God of the armor, and prayer is the link.” (Against the Darkness, 169).

 

Fantasy-informed Reality

Beloved, we are in a spiritual battle. Spiritual warfare is very real indeed, much more real and substantial, that is, having a bearing on the substance of our daily lives, than many of the things we think of as real and substantial such as various religio-political ideals, socio-cultural norms, or gender stereotypes. That there is personal evil out there, influencing our minds and cultural systems and attempting to deceive and destroy us, is a radically non-postmodern notion. 

And yet, isn’t this much of the appeal of Tolkien’s legacy of high fantasy? There is a personal evil that seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy”–call it a “Dark Lord” and his forces (John 10:10). And there is the persevering banner of “the Light” that all peoples of good will gather under in an alliance against evil (Ephesians 5:8).

We are undoubtedly not formed to think in this way about our world today, excepting, I think, in the widespread popularity of RPGs. Role-playing fantasy games, when staying true to their Tolkien-formed, biblically-saturated roots, provide categories, affirmed in Scripture, with which to see the reality that, if we follow Christ as King, we have been drafted into the Son’s kingdom of light to ever resist Satan’s kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13, 1 Peter 5:8-9).

Let us therefore be unwavering to “take up the shield of faith…and the sword of Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:16-17) and to “keep alert with all perseverance” in prayerful fellowship with our Spirit-wrought allies, not hesitating to embrace the radical idea of a real, personal, yet immaterial battle of Light vs. Darkness (Ephesians 6:18). Let us skillfully handle the Word of Truth, embodied in Christ and revealed in Scripture, declaring it boldly as if our lives and the lives of others depended on it (2 Timothy 2:15, Ephesians 6:20). Because, in reality, they do (John 1:1-14).

 

 

Demystifying the Holy Spirit

Demystifying the Holy Spirit

In a Bible study discussing our sermon series on the Holy Spirit, the facilitator asked the group if anyone had ever experienced the Spirit. After a long silence, a few people confessed that they never had any “crazy” encounters with the Spirit. This was met with murmurs of agreement from the rest of the group. This struck me because many of these people faithfully follow Jesus and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. As a result, they are experiencing Him daily, whether they can identify it or not.

I don’t blame them for having nothing to say, because so often in Christian culture we assume encountering the Spirit must look a certain way. We intuitively think it must be dramatic and extreme, like tongues of fire, miraculous healings, or the audible voice of God.

Many followers of Jesus, myself included, know that the Holy Spirit lives within us and yet struggle to concretely identify what that looks like and miss out on the formation that occurs when we cooperate with Him. There is a need for Christians to demystify the Holy Spirit.

You may recoil at that statement. Shouldn’t we recognize God as mysterious and admit we will never fully understand him? Yes, of course. And yet, ironically, the impulse to view the Spirit’s work as ethereal and mysterious leads us to put His work in a box, missing out on what He is doing in our lives on a regular basis. We become like Elijah on Mount Horeb, expecting God’s presence to be something sensational, like a great wind, earthquake, or fire, when it is really a gentle voice (1 Kings 19:11-13). This is what I appreciated about our sermon series. It is important to expand our categories for what the Spirit does in our lives, and give concrete examples of them, so we can recognize what He is doing in us.

Whenever I find myself stuck in an implicit view of God, I find it helpful to listen to believers from a different time and place to see what my cultural blinders are concealing from me. The great reformer Martin Luther, though best known for expounding justification by grace alone, had a robust theology of the Spirit with applications that are surprisingly concrete for contemporary Christians.

Two helpful contributions Luther makes are designating the Spirit a special role in sanctification (the process of becoming holy) and illuminating how this primarily happens through Christian community.

First, Luther’s shorthand for explaining the Holy Spirit is “the spirit who makes us holy.” The Spirit takes the objective work of salvation that Christ accomplished for us on the cross in dying for our sins, and makes it a subjectively real experience for us. He does this by killing the flesh over time, that is, our corrupt human nature, and instilling a proper love for God in us. Luther says the flesh wants what benefits itself and avoids what is harmful. It enjoys and uses other people, things, and even God for its own benefit and the Spirit wants God for His own sake, which is the proper response. Luther adds that the Spirit works to reassure us we belong to God because of His grace, not our performance, so that we are not striving toward holiness out of fear. Any desire you have to do what is right, live the way God designed you to live, work for the best of another person without thinking about what you will get in return, is evidence of the Spirit working inside you, since these are not natural responses of human nature.

Second, for Luther this sanctification of the Spirit occurs in a caring community; the local church. So often contemporary Christians instinctually view their sanctification as a primarily personal journey. However, God does not make us holy in isolation but rather uses other Spirit-filled believers to produce Christlikeness in us. As someone who grew up in church, I have often heard Christian leaders quip, “it’s the Spirit’s job to convict, not mine,” while referencing John 16:8. However, Luther sees this verse referring not only to an internal guilt conscience, but also to Christians who, by the power of the Spirit, help other believers recognize where they might be going astray. Of course this must be done in a posture of grace and gentleness, with love and tact.

The internal holiness and the virtues the Spirit produces in us have a multiplying effect on other believers. For Luther, the fruits of the Spirit are not only vertical, but also horizontal by spurring other believers to do the same. Just like fruit contains seeds to produce other fruit-bearing trees, Luther views the Spirit’s work of renewing one believer as a tool used to develop holiness in another. Encountering Spirit-inspired gentleness in another person can lead us to grow similarly.

Luther picks up on how, in the structure of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the doctrines of the Church directly follow the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, meaning they are closely related. For Luther, the Church is the place and means of a believer’s sanctification because of the activity of the Spirit. He bemoans the enthusiasts of his day who became fanatical about the Spirit but left the church. They cut themselves off from the “bridge, the path, the way, the ladder” and all the other normal means He uses to affect the inner renewal of a believer. In looking for the spectacular and transcendent, many ignore the routine activities of the Spirit. Over time, these seemingly mundane practices of worship, preaching, prayers, communion, and Christian fellowship become supernatural catalysts for growth in holiness through the Spirit’s working.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have this Spirit living inside you. Each day, whether you explicitly identify it or not, you are experiencing His work of making you holy. Each time you desire to act out of genuine love for another, this is God’s Spirit working inside you. Every time a still, small voice reminds you of God’s love for you when you might feel like a failure, you are hearing the Spirit’s voice. Whenever another believer encourages you to display Jesus better, you are experiencing the Spirit indwelling them. Every Sunday when you are comforted and challenged by God’s Word preached, it is the Spirit enabling that to occur for you. Even as we leave this sermon series behind, let us look for the concrete ways the Spirit shows up in our lives and cooperate with how He is working.

 

Additional Reading:

Luther, Martin. A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians : Based on Lectures Delivered at the University of Wittenberg, in the Year 1531. Translated by Philip Watson. Westwood, NJ: F.H. Revell, 1953.

Lectures on Romans. Translated by Wilhelm Pauck. The Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

“On the Councils and the Church.” In The Annotated Luther: Church and Sacrament, edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand, Kirsi I. Stjerna, and Timothy J. Wengert, translated by Paul W. Robinson, Vol. 3. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 2015.

“The Larger Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther.” In The Annotated Luther: Word and Faith, edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand, Kirsi I. Stjerna, and Timothy J. Wengert, Vol. 2. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 2015.

Malcolm, Lois. “The Holy Spirit.” In Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther, edited by Derek R. Nelson and Paul R. Hinlicky, Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

 

The (Forgotten) Story of the Holy Spirit

The (Forgotten) Story of the Holy Spirit

As a church family we just wrapped up our summer teaching series Forgotten Family highlighting some lesser known characters in the biblical story. We studied men and women like Uzziah and Deborah, Lydia and Philemon. 

There is another character in the biblical story that is often overlooked. Someone who is mentioned on the very first page and the very last page of the Bible who is often overlooked or misunderstood. It is the Holy Spirit! There is even a book about the Holy Spirit titled The Forgotten God

One of the most central, defining truths of Christianity is the belief in a Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God. Three Persons. But Christians often functionally binitarian — speaking, teaching, and living primarily as if God were only Father and Son. Or we operate with a different Trinity; the Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures.  

In our teaching series The Story of the Holy Spirit we want to get to know the Spirit better. We want to follow His story through the pages of Scripture. We want to discover His work in creation, in giving new life, in giving gifts and empowering us for works for service and love on Sunday and Monday.  

The only Christian life is a life that has been made new by the Holy Spirit, baptized by the Holy Spirit, gifted by the Holy Spirit, and filled by the Holy Spirit. If you have placed your faith and hope in Jesus, all of these things are true of you! 

It is a bit like doing genealogical research and discovering that you are descended from royalty. That was always true of you even before you knew it or understood it. But now that you know it, it can change everything about how you view yourself and your story. 

Together we want to know the Spirit more deeply and learn to live more fully in the life the Spirit gives. The Spirit’s story bookends the biblical story. But where is He in our story? Join us as we follow the Spirit’s story through the Bible and into our lives. 

Global Partner – Eleventh Hour Network

Global Partner – Eleventh Hour Network

One of our great privileges as a church is that we can partner with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are also doing the work of multiplying churches, disciples, and leaders. Together we are advancing this mission to multiply across Kansas City and around the world.

Our partner Eleventh Hour Network, focuses on evangelism and church planting among Muslims in northeastern Kenya. Here is just one recent example of how God is powerfully at work.

Dear families, 

I recently witnessed a testimony that moved my heart so deeply, I had to share it with you. 

Two nights ago at the Evangelical Outreach, a possessed young man entered the church where we camped around midnight. He had escaped from his parent’s home, running through thorny bushes in the dark until he collapsed inside our compound. We ran to see what was going on, yet were rightly afraid that the conflict zone surrounding us had erupted. 

After the excitement quieted, one of the evangelists recognized the young man as a student from the nearby university who had dropped out a few years ago due to mental illness. The young man’s Muslim parents searched for healing among the well-known witchdoctors, healers, and by attending sacrifices, yet his situation worsened. 

Finally, the Holy Spirit got a hold of him to break the chain his parents used to keep him from wandering away from home. It’s then that the Lord led him to run to the church where we were gathering.  

We felt the Lord brought him to us at such a time as this for healing. We agreed to pray for him the whole night. 

God, very rich in His mercy, set him free from the demonic spirit. For the past two days, this young man has helped set up Jesus film equipment and joined in morning prayer, fasting and sharing his testimony during fellowship. 

Yesterday, his parents came to see him in the church. To their amazement, he told them he did not want to go back home. He wanted to stay in the church with Christian families. Remember, he is a Muslim. 

Shortly after that, I lead this young man to accept Christ, and the Lord restored his health and state of mind. This afternoon, he went out with the outreach team as a translator. 

Indeed, there is nothing too hard for the Lord!

Kindly continue to pray for safety as we travel, and more stories of the transformative power of God. 

Every blessing!

Thank you for your generosity that allows our church family to partner with the work that God is doing around the world. May we learn from these partners in ministry who are faithfully bearing witness to the good news that Jesus is alive, and that death has been defeated!

Spiritual Gifts: Part 2

Spiritual Gifts: Part 2

[This is part two of a series. READ PART ONE >]

“Well, sure, but how do I figure out which ones I have?”

In almost every conversation I’ve ever had about spiritual gifts, some form of this question has been asked. And I completely understand why. The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 4:10, assures us that ALL Christians have at least one spiritual gift: “As each has received a gift…”

So then it is only natural for a curiosity to develop regarding WHICH spiritual gift (or gifts!) the Lord has given to us. But in my view, there is a problem with this approach. If not careful, it makes our spiritual gifts mostly about US, which is not why we have them. Just take a look at how Peter finishes the sentence I began quoting above: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

Yes, Peter says, All Christians have received (at least one) gift, but that gift is not about you! It’s about others! It’s about serving! It’s about giving yourself away!

You may begin to see the problem if we become obsessed with what MY gift is. How has God gifted ME? Me, me, me. But no. Your spiritual gift is FAR more about other people in your life than it is about you.

Our definition from part one of this series matches this emphasis:

A spiritual gift is a Holy Spirit empowered ability, freely given to the believer for the purpose of serving others and building up the church for the common good of all.

Now granted, to accomplish the purpose statement in our definition, one does have to know what gifts they possess. So the question of spiritual giftedness is an important one, it’s just not where the conversation should originate.

 

When you’re ready for it, here’s a helpful approach, first recommended to me by pastor and author Tim Keller: Three places to “look” to discover your spiritual gifts.

Look OUT

The first place people typically look to discover their gifts is IN. Which is important, we’ll get to that. But again, starting by looking IN begins the conversation from a self-centered position. Instead, we ought to look OUT and ask, “What are the needs of the community around me? What openings could I fill? How could I serve?” And it’s interesting, because by jumping in where you are needed, you may be surprised to find out that you are gifted in an area you didn’t think you were! And what a gift that would be! (See what I did there?)

The other way you can “look out” to discover your gifts is to ask questions like these: What needs am I drawn to or stir my emotions? What is broken in the world that I am deeply compelled to fix? By considering problems that draw you in rather than push you away, you may be stumbling into an area where God has gifted you.

Look IN

See, I told you this was important! And, of course, it is. God built and created YOU in a special and unique way. No one else is like you. Which means that no one else can contribute to God’s mission in this world (to make all things new again through Jesus) like you can. Hear this: You (and your gifts) ARE needed. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

So ask, “How has God made me? What am I good at? What comes easily to me? What brings me joy while I am doing it? What do I seem particularly fitted for?”

And yes, you can take an assessment! Just like personality assessments fall short at capturing the whole of who we are (and even the best ones do fall short—I’m looking at you, Enneagram), so will a spiritual gifts assessment fall short in and of itself. But it is a helpful tool on the journey. The best one I’ve found is by Pastor Jeff Carver at spiritualgiftstest.com. You can take the assessment online (you will have to create a free account on the website to do so).

Look AROUND

Here’s the last step. It’s important, and a ton of people forget it. You see, no one in this world is better at tricking me than myself. I convince myself of stuff that isn’t true ALL THE TIME. So after you look IN to discover your spiritual gifts, you HAVE to look AROUND. Which means, you have to ask people in your life to affirm or deny your giftedness.

Ask, with true humility and an open ear: Do you see this gift in my life? Do you agree with what I think I’ve discovered?

Those are terrifying questions, are they not? But we have to ask them, and we have to be open to hearing hard things in response. Because if we aren’t, what’s the point? We’ll miss our true giftedness, and fail to maximize our fruitfulness to God’s mission.

So talk to your spouse. Your small group. Your mentors. Your friends that love Jesus. Your pastors. Ensure them that you want full honesty. And then, listen. Don’t wait to talk. Don’t formulate your rebuttal while they are still sharing. Truly listen. And if what they have to say is hard, ask them to walk with you as you discover your true gifts.

Conclusion

So there it is, three places to “look” to discover your spiritual gifts. They are not a list to check off, mind you, but are a framework to point us in the right direction. May we never forget who gives us the gifts in the first place. God, yes, but more specifically even, the Holy Spirit. With that in mind, we close this series with adapted prayers from the The Valley of Vision, “God the Spirit” and “The Spirit of Jesus”:

Oh Lord God, I pray not so much for spiritual gifts as for the Spirit himself, because I feel his absence, and act by my own spirit in everything. Give me not weak desires but the power of his presence, for this is the surest way to receive all his benefits, and when I have the seal I have the impression also; He can heal, help, quicken, humble suddenly and easily, can work grace and life effectually, and being eternal, can give grace eternally.

Save me from great hindrances, from being content with a little measure of the Spirit, from thinking you will not give me more. When I feel my lack of him, light up life and faith, for when I lose thee I am either in the dark and cannot see you, or Satan and my natural abilities content me with a little light, so that I seek no further for the Spirit of Life.

May his comforts cheer me in my sorrows, his strength sustain me in my trials, his blessings revive me in my weariness, his presence render me a fruitful tree of holiness, his might establish me in peace and joy, his incitements make me ceaseless in prayer, his animation kindle in my undying devotion. Teach me to find and know the fullness of the Spirit only in Jesus.