How Do I Engage My Spiritual Gift?

Michael Kramer
Lesson Passage: Romans 12:1-12

Biblical Truth: God wants you to use your spiritual gift

Life Goal: A correct heart posture: toward men and God

In 2009 the research group Barna did a survey describing the Spiritual Gifts that Christians say they have.  The findings were fascinating:
“Two-thirds of Americans (68%) who say they are Christian noted they have heard of spiritual gifts. That represents a small decline from past surveys, which found 72% awareness in 2000, and 71% in 1995.  Awareness of spiritual gifts was most common among self-described Christians who live in the South (75%) and West (71%), and least common among those living in the Midwest (63%) and Northeast (58%).
The survey also found that many people who say they have heard of spiritual gifts were not necessarily describing the same gifts outlined in the Bible. Among the gifts claimed that are not among those deemed to be spiritual gifts in the passages of Scripture that teach about gifts (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:7-13, 1 Peter 4:10-11) were a sense of humor, singing, health, life, happiness, patience, a job, a house, compromise, premonition, creativity, and clairvoyance.  In total, one-fifth of all the gifts cited by respondents (21%) were attributes that do not fit the biblical lists of gifts given by God.” (

Having answered the question “what are the spiritual gifts” and “how do I properly use my spiritual gift,” we now turn our attention to “How do I engage my spiritual gift?  

Katherine and I had just made our second intrastate move in five years (Dallas, TX to Atlanta, GA).  God had answered prayers as we were able to quickly find a Bible believing church to plug into. We began to visit Sunday School classes.  Every class had its own unique strengths, but what they didn’t have was a need for a teacher.  Quickly, I became discouraged.  I knew that I liked to teach and had been told in the past that I was “gifted” in this area. I wanted to teach. I wanted to engage my giftedness and serve in the body; yet as we visited one class after another, I concluded that God had already put very capable men up front.  I was confused.  There just didn’t seem to be an empty space at the table for me to use my gifts!

It is easy to become discouraged when discussing spiritual gifts.  Either we may not know what our spiritual gift is (which can make us feel immature or unspiritual) or we know what our spiritual gift is and struggle to engage our gift.  In short, we struggle to find our place at the table.

Fortunately God is not silent as to how we are to engage our spiritual gifts.  The apostle Paul in Romans chapter 12 encourages the Christians in Rome to 1) watch their attitude, 2) be intentional with their actions, and 3) have an aim when it comes to engaging their spiritual gifts.  Whether we as believers wonder what our spiritual gift is or know what our spiritual gift is but can’t find our place, we all can move toward greater engaging our spiritual gift if we follow the guidance of scripture.  

Each believer has a part to play; every Christ follower has a spiritual gift; all Christians have been given a place reserved for them at the table …


Spiritual gifts are a special gift of the Spirit given to every believer by Christ in measure, ordered by the Word of God, and used to build up the church in unity and the believer toward Christ likeness.  Spiritual gifts while distinct from the fruit of the Spirit may or may not overlap with natural talents and abilities.

As we think about the spiritual gifts, we must keep in mind that what makes them spiritual is that they come from the Holy Spirit.  What makes them a gift is that the Holy Spirit freely gives them to us so we can use them in serving the body of Christ.  Spiritual gifts are not meant to be stored or publicized.  They are meant to be used [engaged!] for the service of the body!” (What the Bible Says about Spiritual Gifts, Rose Publishing, 2)

What makes our spiritual gifts hard to engage?

Background (12:1-2)

Heart Posture

Having outlined God’s provision for Israel and the Gentiles (Romans 9:1-11:36), Paul in chapter 12 turns to instructions for everyday Christian living (Romans 12:1-15:13).  Verses 1 and 2, point to the necessary foundation for the life of the believer. We are to be living sacrifices who, instead of conforming to the world around us, are transformed into the image of Christ.   It is telling that Paul’s first topic to address is the spiritual gifts.  For Paul, who is credited with three of the four gift passages (Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, and Romans), the gifts are crucial for the edification of the church, the maturing of the believer, and the manifestation of God’s grace in our lives.

The Character of Spiritual Gifts: Humility (v. 3)

In verse 3, Paul utilizes a word play (see underlined) on various forms of the verb “to think,” emphasizing that human pride is wrong partly because natural abilities and spiritual gifts are from God (TBKC).

“For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.” (Romans 12:3)

Humility has several applications.  The first is in the form of two sins impacting humility: pride and lack of self worth and the second is that humility requires putting to death the old self in order to find our identity in Christ.  Apart from Christ, our prayer will never be, “may I decrease and you increase!”  It is when we place our identity in Christ that we view ourselves truly as we are called to be stewards of God’s grace in our lives – including our spiritual gifts!

Two Sins
There are two extremes that if not held in tension will result in sin in the believers life.  
The first sin is a false sense of pride derived from our spiritual gift.  

Paul combats this prideful thinking in the first half of verse three.  Paul, the apostle, uses the example of himself to reinforce that it is God’s grace (“charis”) working in our lives.  

The second sin is the lie that our gift is unimportant.  A picture of this was found in the illustration in lesson one.  My dad was given a little red clock for Christmas, while seemingly insignificant and small, the little red clock was important because it was bought at great cost and therefore a gift of great value!

Which end of the spectrum do you find you struggle with (pride or lack of thankfulness)?

In the back half of verse 3, Paul calls for clear thinking.  It is God that gives faith.  It is God that allots the degree of faith, giftedness, and ability.  God gives good gifts!  For us as the recipient to devalue God’s gift is the inverse of pride.  To respond in this manner is to swim in dangerous waters.  Who are we (the created), to look at God (the benevolent creator) and say, “Why did you give me this?” or “I don’t like my gift” or “My gift is not important!”  The error of this thinking is compounded by the fact that our spiritual gifts are victory gifts given in the wake of Christ’s victory over death, sin, and Satan (Ephesians 4)!

How can you come to greater value your spiritual gift?  What steps can you take to fight pride in the area of spiritual gifts (to stop engaging is not the right answer!)?

Correctly ID

In contrast to these two sins that either make too much of us as the recipient or too little of the gift of the giver, we are called as believers to find our identity in Christ.  An identity in Christ allows for a perfect tension between pride of self and low value of God’s gifts  (Gal. 2:20, 2 Cor. 5:17).

What truth does Galatians 2:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:17 reveal about our identity in Christ?

Consider memorizing these verses next week – cut out below and put on your mirror, your dashboard, or someplace where you can commit to memory.

Galatians 2:20
“And I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
2 Corinthians 5:17
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.”What truth does Galatians 2:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:17 reveal about our identity in Christ?

Who am I?  As believers in Christ, you and I are sons and daughters of the King!  Because of this we have been made stewards or overseers of all that God has given us: our time, talent, treasure, testimonies, and temple.  Our spiritual gifts, talents, and abilities are merely a piece of what we have been assigned to cultivate, take care of, and ultimately glorify God with.

What are other areas in your life that you have been given as stewards of Christ?

Where do I fit?  As followers of Christ, we are part of Christ’s corporate body, the church.  There are many facets of the body, but one thing is clear we are part (“member”) of the whole (“body”).  We belong in fellowship with other believers.  The church is similar to a green house for believers where God uses others to transform us into the image of Christ.  You will not be sanctified in a closet!  The writer to the Hebrews encourages us, “And do not forsake the assembling of yourselves as is the habit of some . . . “ (Heb. 10:24).  It is in the context of a church that we are to engage the spiritual gifts.  Scripture never places responsibility on: 1) the church to make an opportunity for a gift to be used, 2) a pastor to create a program for a spiritual gift to be used, or 3) another individual.  Instead, we are responsible to engage our spiritual gifts. Each of us as individual members will stand before our Master and give an account to how well we utilized, exercised, and engaged our spiritual gift!

In what ways are you tempted to not engage your spiritual gift?  [example: the church doesn’t value my gift, it’s the pastors job, someone else can fill this role better than me . . .]

Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts: Service (v. 4-8)

The key to engaging the spiritual gifts is service.  Our gifts are designed to serve the body; apart from the body and the willingness to serve our spiritual gifts remain immature at best.  

A sports analogy may help us to bring this idea more into focus.  I believe that Payton Manning is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of football (I am biased as a lifelong Colts fan ~ Eric Dickerson, Jim Harbaugh, anyone??)  Manning is talented, focused, and instinctive on the field of play.  He is gifted!  Yet, if his receivers drop his passes and his line fails to protect the pocket, his abilities to quarterback would be laughable.  Football is a team sport where all must serve in their designed areas in order to win.  Not only this but if you put Peyton Manning in a different environment, say a swimming pool, I’d bet he’d sink like a stone.  In the same way a spiritual gift is rendered pointless apart from where it is designed to be engaged, the church.

Where are you serving at Trinity Bible Church?

“Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the standard of one’s faith; if service, in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:4-8)

The Gifts: Unpacked (Romans 4:4-8)
1) Believers (“members”) in the church (“body”) have different functions.  
2) Believers have different spiritual gifts.
3) Spiritual gifts are a result of God’s grace in our lives.
4) Prophecy, service, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, mercy ~ not an exhaustive list!
Paul’s Illustration (12:4-5): Body-life
“Three important truths about the body of Christ:
Unity – We derive our life from the same Source; none of us can exist outside the body.  And we have one head, Christ, who controls and coordinates each member for the good of the whole.
Diversity – God loves variety!  A careful study of plant and animal life reveals a marvelous creative spirit in the Creator; we can even go so far as to call it playful.  I have little doubt that God smiled when He created the duckbilled platypus.
Mutuality – We need one another. When one person is injured or grieving, the whole body feels the pain.  When one part cannot keep up, the others compensate.  When disease attacks, the whole body reacts.
The concept of body-life is almost foreign to our secular world.  While many business books teach and encourage teamwork, the motivation almost always comes back to the fulfillment of the individual.  In other words, ‘You should think in terms of teams because that’s the best way to achieve your own personal success.’  Even in Eastern cultures, where supposedly the emphasis is on the collective good of society over the individual, there sits at the top a few privileged leaders who like the system very much!
But in God’s organizational chart, our motivation is mutual service prompted by love and compassion within the body in obedience to the Head, Jesus Christ.” (Swindoll, Romans)

In verses six through eight we sense that the spiritual gifts are to be “life giving!”  This impulse coming up out of the text is underscored by the fact that we serve a loving and good Heavenly Father.  Psalm 119:68 declares, “You are good and You do what is good, teach me Your statutes!”  We should not be surprised when we find ourselves operating within our spiritual gift that we find immense joy and pleasure in our service for our King!

Heavy Lifting
The Christian life and Scripture are permeated by tension.  Not surprisingly, tension is found within the spiritual gifts.  Having been gifted by God, those that have identified their spiritual gift can often “play toward their strength” when serving in a local church body.  Yet, Scripture affirms over and over that God is glorified by our weaknesses.  Paul writes of Christ in 2 Cor. 12:9 “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”  In the final assessment, Paul holds the tension firmly as he clings to his own identity in Christ.  “May we grow in our dependency of our Savior and Lord!”

What areas of Christian service within the body bring you joy?  

Could these activities be pointing you to or affirming your giftedness?

Apply: Ask a friend, your spouse, or someone who knows you.  Where you are energized?  Where do you serve well?  What do they think your spiritual gift is?  God gives good gifts!  His gifting brings joy!  One indicator of spiritual giftedness is through the encouragement of others within the body of Christ.  While we should handle wisely the praise or affirmation of others, we shouldn’t discount that others may see God given strengths in us.  

The Gifts: Romans
Here we see the motivational aspect of the gifts (faith, ministry, teaching, exhortation, liberality, diligence, cheerfulness) in contrast to the ministry aspect of the gifts (apostle, prophet, teacher).  Example: Paul was called as an apostle – ministry role; but he operated as a teacher and shepherded – motivational role.
Motivational gifts can loosely be divided into two broad categories: Doing and Speaking.  Example: Speaking: prophecy, teaching, exhortation, leading/Administration; Doing: serving/helps, giving, showing mercy/hospitality/healings
With possible exception of the first (see 1 Cor 13:8 – has prophecy ceased?), believers are called to have all of these qualities functioning in our lives (even if it is not their spiritual gift).
Analogy: All medical doctors are called to heal, but only some become specialists.
Motivational roles pt. 1 ~ taken from Swindoll NT Insights
Prophecy – a more precise translation of verse 6 would read, “prophecy ‘in agreement to the’ faith.”  “Strictly speaking, prophets before the Bible were completely spoken when prompted by God and by the authority of God, and their words were to be taken as though heard directly from Him.  In a broader sense, there remains in the body those ‘prophets’ today whose primary role is forth telling.  
These individuals are gifted by the Holy Spirit with the supernatural ability to proclaim God’s written Word in penetrating and convicting ways.  
They speak as God’s ‘mouthpiece’ insofar as they remain faithful to the message of Scripture.  Evangelists, preachers, and writers are good modern-day examples.”
Service – Paul gives emphasis to service by listing it second between two of the most public and prominent gifts (prophecy and teaching).  Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant [diakonos]; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served [diakonethenai], but to serve [diakonesai]” (Mark 10:43-45).
Teaching – Teaching has wide application as seen through the body of Scripture (Deut. 6:4-7; Ezra 7:10; Col. 3:16-17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Exhorting – “This is the gift that mimics the Holy Spirit.  The term is derived from the same Greek word translated “urge” in 12:1, parakaleo (also Heb. 10:24-25).  Exhorters have the ability to drive truth home passionately, confront wrong constructively, turn Scripture reading into an action plan, unite believers behind a common endeavor – and they usually do this without offence.  Their tough talk is laced with encouragement.

Where have others affirmed your service within the local body.  Could these activities be pointing you to or affirming your giftedness?

(See Dig Deeper: Motivational Roles)
Which motivational spiritual gift do you most identify with?  

Which motivational spiritual gift do you least identify with?  

What is one way you can grow in the area of the “motivational” spiritual gifts?

The Tie that Binds: Love

Having demonstrated that the proper character with which we are to engage the spiritual gifts is humility, and the correct vehicle to engage the spiritual gifts is service, Paul now concludes with the tie that binds the body together and oversees the unity of the body.  This move to love should not surprise us, as it is the same move that Paul makes from 1 Corinthians 12 to 1 Corinthians 13.  

“Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:9-11)

Motivational roles pt. 2
Giving – “While all believers are instructed to be generous, these people look for opportunities to give, offering what they have beyond normal measure.  Sometimes they are wealthy; more often, they are people of average means who generally give their time, energy, and expertise.  
Gifted givers don’t want bronze plaques or buildings named after them.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with either, but supernatural givers don’t want all the attention.  
They much prefer anonymity.  They see need and then seek to meet it.”
The term “liberality” carries the meaning “simplicity” (2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, 13).
Leading – “The Greek term can be translated either ‘to lead’ or ‘to care for,’ which are identical in Christian ministry!  Paul uses the term to describe those who possess unusual ability to provide guidance and administration to a group.”
Those that are called to leadership carry heavy loads; it is no surprise that Paul calls them to diligence (1 Thes 5:12)
Barna points out: “The most commonly claimed gifts were teaching (9%), service (8%) and faith (7%). Those were followed by encouragement (4%), healing (4%), knowledge (4%), and tongues (3%). The gift of leadership was mentioned by just 2%.”
Mercy – Those with the gift of mercy exercise an extraordinary ability to sense the need of those who are hurting – to know what to say and how to say it, and when to remain silent.”  
Those that demonstrate mercy are encouraged to serve with cheerfulness.
Those with the gift of mercy have sensitive hearts and because of the great suffering around them can become discouraged (Lk 6:36-37; 1 Thes. 5:16-18).

A literal translation of the first part of verse nine reads,
“Love, un-hypocrically!”  Our English translations make
this more palatable:

Love must be without hypocrisy. (HCSB, NET)
Love must be sincere. (NIV)
Let love be without hypocrisy. (NKJV)

hypocrisy (from Gk. ὑποκρίνομαι, ‘to play a part’, ‘pretend’). The hiding of interior wickedness under the appearance of virtue. The Lord denounced it esp. in the case of the *Pharisees (Mt. 23:1–36) as the vice of those who do their good deeds only in order to be seen by men and not for the glory of God. According to moral theologians hypocrisy is the fruit of pride. It is a sin against truthfulness, being a lie expressed by external actions with the intention of deceiving. (Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. 2005)

As followers of Christ we represent our Lord.  We are to be the “real deal!”  We are to live for the audience of one!  This is nowhere truer than when we seek to engage our gifts in the body for the glory of the Lord!

Is there an area of your life where you know you are living a double life?   Pray that God would work in this area.
Harmony & Forgiveness

“Without hypocrisy,” “clinging to good,” “affectionate with brotherly love,” “honor that gives preference,” “diligence,” “fervor,” and “service,” the picture Paul is painting is a radical one.  It is a picture of harmony!  It is a harmony that is continually moving toward relational wholeness with man and God.  It is on this playing field that the gifts find their full expression.  Yet, harmony is easier talked about than realized.

We live in a fallen world where, from the beginning of time relationships have failed.  Failed to protect (Adam), failed to own wrong (Adam & Eve), failed to love (Cain killed Abel).  On this side of eternity Christ followers will struggle and fail to reach relational wholeness.  Yet Christ came!  Christ died!  He offered and modeled a forgiveness that was heaven sent.  We all know the old adage, “To error is human, to forgive is divine.”  Paul closes out the chapter with one final emphasis (vv. 14-21):

Forgiveness!  It is only through our identity in the person of Christ that we can fully know God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and extend forgiveness to our fellow man (Ephesians 4:32).  To error is human, to forgive is to be like Christ!

Is there an individual or an area of your life where you need to seek God’s forgiveness?

Is there an individual whom you need to seek forgiveness from?

Harmony & Forgiveness

“Without hypocrisy,” “clinging to good,” “affectionate with brotherly love,” “honor that gives preference,” “diligence,” “fervor,” and “service,” the picture Paul is painting is a radical one.  It is a picture of harmony!  It is a harmony that is continually moving toward relational wholeness with man and God.  It is on this playing field that the gifts find their full expression.  Yet, harmony is easier talked about than realized.

We live in a fallen world where, from the beginning of time relationships have failed.  Failed to protect (Adam), failed to own wrong (Adam & Eve), failed to love (Cain killed Abel).  On this side of eternity Christ followers will struggle and fail to reach relational wholeness.  Yet Christ came!  Christ died!  He offered and modeled a forgiveness that was heaven sent.  We all know the old adage, “To error is human, to forgive is divine.”  Paul closes out the chapter with one final emphasis (vv. 14-21):

Forgiveness!  It is only through our identity in the person of Christ that we can fully know God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and extend forgiveness to our fellow man (Ephesians 4:32).  To error is human, to forgive is to be like Christ!

Theological: Deep Thoughts
Ultimately engaging our spiritual gift is an issue of heart posture.  Are we living for self or living for Christ?  If we are living for Christ we must be wrapped in a humility that can only come from Him – He’s not interested in sharing His glory!  We must reflect Christ’s example and call on our lives through our service – following Christ is the narrow way not the broad.  We must be willing to love those around us; Christ loved and pursued us when we had no merit of our own! (Rom 5:8).  We are all unlovable.
1. How’s your vertical relationship with God?
2. How’s your horizontal relationship with others?
3. Are you in a position to be used
by God?

One Sunday as I watched a dear friend get ordained, I sat and had a conversation in my head with the Lord (yes pastors have these more than you might think).  The conversation went something like this, “Lord, why is this guy getting a ministry role?  That could have been me, but YOU HAVEN’T ALLOWED.  Lord, I’ve tried faithfully to try to find a Sunday school class where I can teach (since you won’t let me be a pastor), but YOU HAVEN’T ALLOWED!  Lord, what do I have to do to get engaged!  Lord, I’m deeply discouraged!  Lord, help me!”  

As the service progressed, I turned in my Bible to Ephesians 4:12.  I had a note next to the verse with the date 8/31/2005.  I had circled this verse and penned the date the first day of seminary.  I had entered into seminary with the desire to learn to better “teach and proclaim the Word!”  This was one of the verses that I had clung too when I quit my job, left my family, and moved my newly married bride to Texas (a world of its own).   The verse read, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”  I hurt as I read the verse.  As my eyes began to tear up, I took my pen and wrote on the opposite side of the margin, “8/6/2010 – He is able Romans 8:28.”

The next morning, I received a call from our senior pastor that I had met a handful of times.  He wanted to know if I would be willing to fill in for him and teach that Wednesday night.  Two days later, I received a phone call from my Sunday school teacher telling me that he was feeling led by God away from teaching and he wondered if I would be willing to begin assuming a greater teaching role in his class with a view to take the class over in the future.

God’s response was close to audible.  “My child, I know where I have you; I made you!  Michael, I don’t need you, but I can use you.  I am more concerned that you know me then to have you engage!  But I have designed you to engage!  And son, HAVE FUN!”