Jonathan Petersen, Manager of marketing for Bible Gateway, interviewed Sam Storms about his book, Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life (Zondervan, 2017).
What is your “pipe dream” you speak of in your book and why do you long for it?
Sam Storms: The “pipe dream” is a wide array of local churches in the 21st century that are committed to the centrality and functional authority of the Bible and to the effective, Christ-exalting operation of all spiritual gifts. I long for it because that’s the vision for the local church that I see portrayed in the New Testament. Today we have too many churches that swing to one end of the spectrum to the avoidance of the other. In other words, either they so strongly emphasize biblical authority that the supernatural work of the Spirit through his gifts is marginalized—if not entirely suppressed—or they so focus on spiritual gifts that little attention is paid to the functional authority of Scripture. My reading of the Bible is that God wants the body of Christ to embrace both with equal fervor and never to play off one against the other. Too many Christians today think that these two areas of emphasis are mutually exclusive, that it simply isn’t possible to pursue life in the local church where both are wholeheartedly embraced. I beg to differ. That’s why I wrote Practicing the Power.
What are spiritual gifts and why does Paul say they should be eagerly desired?
Sam Storms: Spiritual gifts, to put it as simply as I know how, are the more or less concrete and tangible ways in which the Holy Spirit manifests his presence in and through the individual members of the church. Paul describes spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:7 as the “manifestation” of the Spirit, which is to say the empowering presence of the Spirit by which he enables and energizes Christians to minister and serve one another for the common good of God’s people. They’re to be eagerly desired because this is the primary way in which we’re edified or strengthened or built up in our faith. Paul explicitly identifies the purpose of all spiritual gifts when he says they’re “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7b).
How do you briefly answer someone who says some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer applicable today?
Sam Storms: My first response comes in the form of a question: “What biblical texts say that these gifts are no longer applicable today?” The answer is: None. There is nothing that I read in the New Testament that suggests Paul or any other author anticipated that spiritual gifts would cease to operate prior to the second coming of Christ and the end of the age. If spiritual gifts were essential in the first century to build up and strengthen the body of Christ, I see no reason why they shouldn’t or couldn’t accomplish that same goal today. I would also point to such texts as 1 Corinthians 1:7-8; 13:8-12; and Ephesians 4:11ff. which strongly suggest (if not require) that spiritual gifts will operate until the return of our Lord. I include in Practicing the Power as an Appendix the 12 reasons why I don’t think cessation of the gifts is viable and 12 reasons why I think their validity today is the teaching of Scripture.
Does God automatically give spiritual gifts or are they granted by request?
Sam Storms: Both! It would appear from 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 and 1 Peter 4:10-11 that every born again believer is granted at least one gift at the time of his/her conversion. But since Paul wrote to Christians at Corinth and told them to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that they might prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1), it seems clear that God can continue to grant spiritual gifts in response to our prayerful pursuit of them any time subsequent to conversion. I would also point to 1 Corinthians 14:13 where Paul exhorts the person who has the gift of tongues (and is obviously already a believer) to pray that he/she might be granted the gift of interpretation. It would also appear from 1 Timothy 4:14 that Timothy was granted a spiritual gift when the elders laid hands on him and prayed, something that obviously occurred subsequent to his conversion.
Do Christians have more than one spiritual gift and how do they know what gift(s) they have?
Sam Storms: Some do, some don’t. The Apostle Paul had several gifts (apostleship, teaching, healing, prophecy, tongues, etc.). The second question is more difficult to answer. Some recommend that we take spiritual gifts assessment tests to determine what gifts we have. That’s ok. But my preference is that instead of looking inwardly at ourselves, that we look outwardly to whatever needs there are in the church. Once a need is identified, step into the situation, ask God to empower you appropriately to meet whatever need is in front of you, and serve. In other words, I like the idea of letting our gifts find us rather than us finding our gifts. So stop the introspection and go find a need and meet it, trusting that the Spirit will enable you to serve others to their benefit.
Why might Christians be afraid of spiritual gifts?
Sam Storms: There are quite a few reasons. One is that they haven’t been taught on the nature and operation of the gifts. The simple lack of familiarity often leads to fear and hesitation. Second, they’ve often been taught that to seek or pray for gifts is to open up oneself to demonic seduction. But the New Testament never once warns us that humbly seeking and praying for spiritual gifts will bring anything other than a blessing. Finally, many have been prejudiced against the supernatural and the operation of spiritual gifts by the outlandish and fanatical claims and manipulative practices of people they’ve seen on TV or the internet. The fear of guilt by association with such people is a paralyzing power.
What are the dangers of abusing spiritual gifts?
Sam Storms: The best answer for that is looking at what prompted Paul to write 1 Corinthians 12-14. Some may think that a certain more miraculous gift must mean they’re more loved and highly favored of God. Some may think that their gift is of such a superior nature that they should be given more time in a meeting than others to exercise it. There’s always the threat of “spiritual one-upmanship” that we must avoid. Another abuse is using a spiritual gift to control or manipulate someone’s life, by telling them that “God told me to tell you that this is his will for your life.” Don’t ever do that! Then there are those occasions when people elevate or prioritize spiritual gifts above spiritual character. The fruit of the Spirit are always more important than his gifts. Finally, sometimes people base their identity on their gifting. But our identity is in Christ and ultimately has no relation to whatever gift the Spirit may have granted to us.
Why do you say prayer is a nonnegotiable necessity?
Sam Storms: I say it because rarely does God grant us anything through any other means. God loves to glorify himself by suspending his gifts and blessings on our asking him for them. We should never presume to receive from God apart from prayer what he’s clearly told us in Scripture will be ours only through prayer. To put it simply, in the words of James, “you have not because you ask not” (James 4:2).
What’s the biblical basis of prophetic words and how is that prophecy expressed today?
Sam Storms: The biblical basis is the numerous biblical texts which describe prophecy as a spiritual gift that should characterize God’s people in the age of the New Covenant. I’m thinking of such texts as Acts 2:17-21; 13:1; 19:17; 21:8-9; 21:10-14; Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:11ff; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; and 1 Timothy 1:18-19. A simple definition of prophecy is that it’s when we speak forth in merely human—and thus often fallible—words something that the Holy Spirit spontaneously brings to mind. It might be an inner impression, a vision, an image of some sort, or come to us by means of a dream. All prophecy is based on a revelation from God, but always operates at a lower level of authority than that of inspired Scripture.
What does it mean to quench the Spirit?
Sam Storms: To “quench” the Spirit is to act or speak in any way that prevents or hinders the Spirit from manifesting his presence. If some resist the idea that we actually have the power to quench the Spirit, they must deal with 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 where Paul clearly says we do. The Spirit has determined that he will operate through certain means and at certain times and if we sinfully put obstacles or warnings or prohibitions in the way, he may well not do for us what he otherwise would have done. It’s an awesome and frightening responsibility that God has given us that we behave and believe and minister in such a way that the Spirit’s work can be advanced, heightened, intensified, and widely spread rather than quenched or inhibited.