There is more to Christian living than having our own sorry souls saved from guilt and death. All of us are saved to serve–not as isolated individuals but as a community of priests. Priesthood is all about spiritual gifts administered by our high priest in heaven’s sanctuary. The Bible says that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). Sharing the same spiritual body of Jesus puts us in closer relation to each other than if we were only physically brothers and sisters. The Holy Spirit, who has no body of His own, lives inside us all, uniting our lives in Christ.

As individual members of Christ’s body, we intermingle interdependently, needing one another while maintaining our unique identity. So “if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Corinthians 12:15‑18).

Not everyone has the same spiritual gift, which keeps us humble and connected—not only with each other but with God. You see, spiritual gifts are more than labels God gives to Christians, more than even their calling. Spiritual gifts are the moment-by-moment expression of God’s living presence in our lives.

Sometimes people say, “I have the gift of leadership,” as if they are endowed with some spiritual ability through God’s calling. Maybe they know the difference between the natural ability of a worldly leader and God’s spiritual call—but do they understand that a spiritual gift involves the real-time presence of the Spirit? Without His continual infilling, they have no spiritual gift. They have a call to lead, but they are not fulfilling that call by the Spirit’s daily gifting.

Let’s explore this further. Many people are born leaders. “Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ ‘We’ll come, too,’ they all said.” (John 21:3). The other disciples naturally marched in Peter’s parade.

Lots of secular politicians are Pied Pipers that people want to follow. This isn’t spiritual leadership, but natural influence and talent. But when Peter was converted, God chose to gift him with leadership, in harmony with the talent he was naturally born with. God often does this. The personality He gives us at birth and the experiences He provides in life often (but not always!) indicate how He intends to gift us spiritually. Now, even when a natural leader has a calling to be a spiritual leader, that gift is only active if and when that person is filled with the Holy Spirit. Otherwise even Christian leaders function in the flesh rather than in faith, often becoming either bullies or smooth manipulators.

Too much of this is going on in churches. People of influence know they have natural leadership ability, and they sense God has called them to use it in ministry. So they claim this calling as their spiritual gift—when it’s not. It’s their calling, but not their gift, unless they stir it up by being filled day by day with God’s Spirit. A spiritual gift is actually the gift of the Spirit Himself expressing Himself uniquely in our ministry.

Serving that’s not in the Spirit

I confess that I fight this all the time in my work for God. I believe He has called me to communicate. I’m a natural at it and have had some training, as well. Back in grade school I was co-editor of the student paper. I’ve been writing ever since (although I’ve yet to win my first Pulitzer Prize!). I can be clever in turning thoughts into words, depending upon that natural ability to do my job for God. But this is not a spiritual gift. Not unless I am filled with God’s daily presence may I communicate His life of power, wisdom and love. Remember, a spiritual gift is the gift of the Spirit Himself, expressing Himself uniquely in my life and yours.

Financial giving is one of the spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament (Romans 12:8). To give something, most people have to earn it first, unless born wealthy. Some business people have a natural ability that seems to turn everything they touch to gold (or at least it used to, before Dow Jones had a stroke).  I know a woman who bought a house on the California coast with a vacant lot beside it. Then she turned around and sold the lot for as much as she just paid for both house and lot. She got a free house!

Savvy business people do that type of thing all the time. I admire them more than I should . . . maybe the word is envy.

But this businesswoman was different. She sensed a spiritual calling for giving, and she daily sought God’s Spirit in her life. That made her unselfish. Then what did she do with her free house? She devoted it to ministry. Her natural abilities could have gotten her the house—with some providential help from God. But only because she was a Spirit-filled priest could she manifest such supernatural generosity. Otherwise she would have persuaded herself that what she earned was for herself instead of for God.

Many church members, I’m afraid, do this all the time. Just like Ananias and Sapphira, that fatally greedy couple we read about in Acts 5. Both had a natural capacity to give and a spiritual calling to do so. But they obviously failed to live in the Spirit, and thus they had no spiritual gifting on the day they died.

Jesus isn’t playing games with us from the sanctuary by calling us to spiritual priesthood. Without the filling of the Spirit, we are not Christian leaders, teachers, helpers or givers. We may be doing all of that, but only from natural talent and not as a spiritual gift.  While we may flatter ourselves as functioning faithfully in the body of Christ, we are just unemployed priests unfaithful to our calling. All the while as busy as can be—flurry without fruit.

If this is your situation, don’t let yourself get down about it. God does not sponsor guilt trips. Instead, He forgives us and turns us right side up. His Spirit gifts us with repentance and then gifts us for spiritual ministry. The idea is this: “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13).