I received a great question last week from William, who asked, “What is the difference between spiritual gifts and natural talents?”
The answer is really very simple: Natural talents reveal your human ability whereas spiritual gifts reveal Christ’s supernatural ability.
That’s the answer; but if you want some explanation, read on!
This concept comes from the words of Jesus Himself:
John 16:13-15–But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. (NIV, emphasis mine)
As I’ve shared elsewhere on this site:
The key is right there in the middle: Jesus said the way the Holy Spirit works is to, “take from what is Mine and make it known to you.” This is essential when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit because it gives us a sound, Biblical foundation for all our definitions! The Holy Spirit takes something from Christ and reveals it to us!
Natural talents, on the other hand, are things that come from within ourselves. They may be born out of genetics, hours of practice, culture, training, or some other natural means. The Holy Spirit can certainly empower those talents and make them more useful for the Kingdom of God, but they are not spiritual gifts.
Unlike gifts of the Spirit, which reveal Christ, our natural talents tend to reveal us. We use our talents to express ourselves, to show the frail human love within our own hearts, and to try to affect others in one form or another.
Some of the Spiritual Gifts that are often mistaken as natural abilities are leadership, helping others, administration, and encouragement. But I want to show you that many of us have done Christ a disservice by ignoring the supernatural potential in these gifts!
Consider, for instance, the gift of giving–or “generosity” as some versions translate it. Anyone can give, and some people like to give a lot more than others. There are plenty of philanthropists and nice people in the world. But typically, their generosity is only a reflection of their own personality rather than a revelation of Christ.
A young woman came to my church several years ago from Japan. She said she was on a “spiritual quest” to find God and had fled her country to escape the atheistic pressure from her family. She stayed with my pastor’s family for a number of weeks.
On her journey through America, she attended a church in Minnesota where one of the believers felt led by the Holy Spirit to give her a robe (hold onto that thought–there’s a purpose for it).
While she was with us in Michigan, our church held a retreat, which she joyfully attended. One of the lessons was about the Prodigal Son (in Luke 15:11-32). In short, the story is about a young man who leaves home, takes his share of the inheritance early, and squanders it on wild living. Finally coming to his senses, he returns to his father hoping to at least live as a servant in his house. But the father sees him from a long way off, runs to him, and embraces him! He gets his son a new robe, a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet. Then he throws the young man a big party to celebrate his return. The story is meant to show us how God the Father welcomes us when we repent of our own sinful lifestyles.
At the end of the lesson, we gave each participant an inexpensive ring as a reminder of how much God loves them. Unbeknownst to any of us, this woman from Japan prayed in that moment, “Well, God, I have a new robe from Minnesota and now a ring; but I’ll really know You love me if You give me sandals just like the son in the story.”
That same day, the Holy Spirit spoke to one of the teenage girls from our church. I bet you can guess what He said! Yup! She felt led to buy this woman some shoes!
Not even knowing what size shoe to buy, she made the purchase and delivered them to this woman. That’s when the tears started flowing and we learned the rest of her story about the robe, the ring, and what she had prayed.
As you can see, this was no ordinary generosity! A “gift” of giving takes place when Christ supernaturally reveals His love through a Christian as the Holy Spirit prompts him or her to give. It is Christ’s generosity being supernaturally made known through the Holy Spirit in a believer.
The same goes for the rest of those gifts that might seem natural. A gift of hospitality, for instance, has nothing to do with one’s natural ability to take care of people and make them feel welcome. Rather, it is the result of the Holy Spirit revealing Christ’s love through a Christian to make someone feel supernaturally embraced and welcomed. See the difference?
And you don’t have to have a foundational talent in order to demonstrate that particular gift. I have zero administrative skills; but four months after becoming a youth pastor, I found myself needing to administrate an overnight event that involved collection of money, organizing a bus, finding a bus driver, keeping the kids together, supervising behavior, and getting everyone home safely. Needless to say, I cried out to God for a gift of administration! I knew that if the Holy Spirit would empower me with Christ’s administrative ability, then the weekend would be great. Sure enough, things went off without a hitch! Not only that, but a handful of the teens accepted Christ as Lord and Savior! Can you imagine how ineffective I would have been apart from that spiritual gift? I know I can!
Spiritual gifts refer to any way that the Holy Spirit makes Jesus known through us to bring Him glory. Again, spiritual gifts reveal the ability of Jesus, whereas natural talents reveal the ability of you. Honor God with your talents, and eagerly desire spiritual gifts.
Before closing, I want to share three special links with you. First is a list of 31 Biblical Spiritual Gifts. Second, if you are interested in discovering what your spiritual gifts are, take our free online spiritual gifts test. And third, if you are looking for some solid teaching about how to use your spiritual gifts most effectively, check out “Understanding, Activating, and Practicing Spiritual Gifts,” which is the most requested teaching on this site.
1 Corinthians 14:1a–Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts… (NIV)