In this blog I will explore the relationship between character and giftedness. Another way of describing it would be “the relationship between supernatural power and holiness”. Yet another way of expressing the issue is to differentiate between the fruits of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The distinction is important because of the argument within the body of Christ [the church] which simply will not go away. As a proponent of living the Christian life in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, I have heard some version of the following too many times to count;
“Focusing on power leads to moral failure. Serious Christians focus on the fruits of the Holy Spirit, rather than the gifts of the Holy Spirit”.
Some sort of moral superiority is set up which rules out the “eager pursuit” of the spiritual gifts which the Apostle Paul [and God] prescribe for us.
This argument sets up a false choice, either you care about character or you care about power. Even a short reading of Paul’s letters makes it clear that he cares about both, yet a deep canyon separates many of those who emphasize one over the other.
The question becomes, how should we understand the relationship between the two?
I want to be fair to both sides of the divide, so let me start with agreeing with my critics. In charismatic circles too many spiritually powerful leaders have confused power with holiness. It is one of our enemy’s most effective temptations to say to those who move in power, “God must be overlooking your moral failures because, look at how He is using you.” The evidence of a spiritually powerful life is taken as a cart blanch approval by God of a morally careless lifestyle.
Such carelessness ultimately leads to a train wreck, which often ends the gifted ministry.
To my well loved and respected critics I would say, “you are right to criticize the moral failures, I join you in that criticism, but does someone else’s moral failure mean you can dismiss the gifts of power that God has ordained for you?
Could it be possible to have both the fruits of the Holy Spirit AND His gifts?”
After all, Paul had both, as did all the leaders of the early church. Assuming the answer is yes, let’s return to the relationship between the two.
We often describe the successful Christian life as a “walk”.
The metaphor is truly helpful. Learning to walk is difficult because, as one leg moves forward, there is a moment of imbalance while our weight is shifted forward onto the advancing leg. This moment of imbalance is the point at which the “fall” occurs.
Following our analogy, one leg is the leg of power and the other is the leg of character. To walk forward, one leg must advance ahead of the other. The only time they are “equal” is when we are standing still.
Imagine a child learning to walk and experiencing several bad falls.
The child reasons; “I only fall when I shift my weight forward onto the forward leg. I can avoid falling by only moving one leg forward! I will keep on leg firmly planted and just shift the other one forward in little steps! This way, I will never fall again!” And it works to avoid falling, but it results in turning in a tight circle rather than walking forward.
If the Christian life is a walk, then either character or power must be “ahead” of the other as the walk moves forward. There will always be a moment or “season” in which one or the other is out front. The comforting fact is that this should be expected, even anticipated. The moment of imbalance is a sign to us that it is time to turn our attention to the other leg and move it forward [to put our focus on that leg].
In my mind I see a small child intensely focusing on the simple act of shifting her weight from one leg to the other. In the beginning it is a slow and painful transition to make. It requires an intense concentration and the walk is stilted, slow and awkward. But, it will not always be that way.
Later I see an athletic teenager running track in high school. She has no thought of shifting her attention from leg to leg as she runs the hurdles. Her balance is now automatic. She has learned to move with grace from one leg to the other. She does not value one leg over the other, that thought is ridiculous. Her attention is on moving forward and winning the race.
Paul describes our Christian lives as a race.
To win we will need both legs – strong and active. And we will need a wise and practiced balance between the two. This leaves each of us with two questions;
- Right now, in my life, which leg is “forward”?
- Is it time to shift my attention to the other leg in order to move forward?