Monday, April 26, 2010

It may be wrong to say that God’s spiritual gifts are irrevocable

This article does NOT intend to dwell on what constituted spiritual gifts. I confine them to just the 9 spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Others include the gifts found in Ephesians 4:11 and Romans 12:6-8. One thing for sure, "the gifts" are not referring to the gift of life or salvation. Whichever combinations you use to define spiritual gifts, I believe this article is equally applicable.

Romans 11:29 – better phrase is still “without repentance”
I heard people said that God’s gifts and his call for us are irrevocable, quoting Romans 11:29 – for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. (NIV). The use of the word “irrevocable” in the many Bible translations needs to be carefully examined. Actually, in my opinion, the old phrase “without repentance” should have been left intact. The old text from King James version is this: “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Contextually, there are be 2 possible meanings, but neither meant irrevocability:

1. the gifts and calling (salvation call) are by grace, or
2. the gifts and calling (salvation call) are without regret.

From the recipient viewpoint
The first interpretation puts the frame on the recipient. Contextually, the call referred to, is the salvation call. What is salvation call? It is the call of God to people to come into salvation. The “gifts” here is more open to varied interpretations, but contextually, it could refer to grace and mercy and favors granted (If you apply it in the corporate sense, which I will cover later in the article, it could include many more things, perhaps, including spiritual gifts). Contextually, when the frame is on the recipient, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, such gifts and call were given by grace, without any of them being worthy of, or had earned the gifts or call. The salvation call, for example, was given even when we were yet sinners.

From the giver viewpoint
The second interpretation puts the frame on the giver, God. Contextually, in simple language, it meant God gave the gifts or call without regret, or in other words God would never regret. I believe God never regret his actions. The only action coming close to “a regret” by God was the wiping out of all men except Noah and his family, in The Flood. Even then, I would not call it a regret. God is good all the time, and therefore all his actions are good. And so, He cannot regret His actions, even though He, in human terms, can be grieved, even greatly, as in the case of The Flood. This actually also means that God does not undo things, meaning He does not do what Superman, did in the movie, went back in time to redo a scene (to save his girlfriend) because He did not like what came afterwards. I strongly believe God does not go back in time, but has chosen to deal with man in chronological time (for the reason that He created man in a world of chronological time), and operated everything in real-time. He is capable of looking into time, and therefore can see what will happen in the future, but I believe He does not go back in time. He just keeps moving forwards, tweaking as He goes, but never goes back to redo. With this understanding, I believe it is also correct to say that God’s gifts and call are without regret; meaning He will not go back and re-decide not to give particular (previously given) gifts or calling. God always works with what is done is done, and moves forward from there, but it is not the same as saying that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable. What is done is done, but it does not mean that God will not stop the operation of the gifts unless of course, if the gift is a one-off thing. Salvation calling can be regarded as a one-off thing which perhaps cannot be stopped, but under gifts, depending on the nature, a gift can be stopped. It is my belief that favors, grace and mercy, and spiritual gifts (like gift of healing, etc) can be stopped, although what was already “consumed” will not be touched/affected. So, in this sense, gifts are not irrevocable. I can accept salvation call as irrevocable, but not gifts, generally, on a personal basis (About gifts given corporately, the position might be slightly different, and I will cover it later).

{Added 20/12/2010 - Salvation call by God may be irrevocable, but a person can still renounce his salvation or does things to force the hand of God to let go of him, to head for Hell.}

A simple illustration:
Say, now there is a fraternity. To be accepted as a member of the fraternity, one has to meet certain criteria, and I make them very simple, you just need to be a man (not a woman), and a citizen of the country. And so, if you are a man, and you are a citizen of the country, and I pronounce that you are a member, I cannot afterwards, unless I change the criteria, or that you are either no longer a man or a citizen of the country, revoke your membership. In this sense, if I liken this to salvation call, it is irrevocable.

For gifts, let me illustrate in this way: Still using the fraternity above, say, you have already been admitted as a member, and I, the President of the fraternity decide to give free beer passes to members to have beer in a certain pub for a year. You did nothing, and you are not required to do anything or pay anything, the pass is given to you for free. The next year, I continue to give you the free pass. After 2 years, I now decide that I will no longer give free beer pass, and so you do not get one. But I did not ask that the previous 2 years’ free beer consumption be returned. I just stop giving you free beer pass, no more free flow of beer! I gave you the beer pass without regret, but the giving was not irrevocable.

Individual’s spiritual gift is not irrevocable
This verse, Romans 11:29, has become incorrectly used by people to say that God’s spiritual gifts to individuals are irrevocable. God may give an individual a lot of slack but if He wants to stop the operation of the gift in the individual, He can and will do it. The reason is simply because He did not say the gift is irrevocable. If He had said it, then He will be lying, and that will not do because He is not supposed to lie because He said He will not lie (Num 23:19). “By grace” and “irrevocable” are completely different things. When one is given a gift by grace, it meant that he is given the gift without him earning it or having made himself deserving of it. When one is given a gift and when it is said to be irrevocable (wrongly), it meant that he is given the gift and the operation of the gift will not be stopped for whatsoever reason. Now, I am not playing with words. In the first place, a gift meant a “thing” given. When we give a “thing”, it belongs to another, we actually cannot take it back; it is no longer ours. In this sense, it is redundant to say that a gift is irrevocable. A gift that is given out cannot be retrieved, unless the recipient is willing to give it back. The people who used “irrevocable” here, know the subject matter, the “thing” is something that still need the giver to operate it to be of any use.

For example, the gift of healing, for it to be of any use, God is needed to work the healing virtue through. So, the people who used the term irrevocable (the opposite, of course, is revocable), obviously meant that the operation will not be stopped by God. They cannot now argue that the giving of the “thing” is irrevocable but the operation thereof is revocable, because without the operation thereof, the gift is nothing. It is nonsensical to talk about a healing gift that cannot heal. Therefore, by irrevocable, obviously, they meant that God will not revoke his working of the healing gift. I do not think I am alone to say that if you who have the healing gift, oppose God, defile yourself, and sin without regard, you may not be able to pray for the sick and expect the sick to be healed by God through you. In this scenario, what did it mean? It meant that God has revoked the gift. Look, one is playing with words, if one says that the gift is not revoked; only the operation is revoked.

Best not to use Romans 11:29 on revocability of spiritual gifts
It is best we do not say a spiritual gift given is revocable or irrevocable, because Romans 11:29 was not about revocability. We must understand that, giving by grace (or without regret) and revocability are completely different matters. Let me again, illustrate:

I can decide to support a particular brother in his desire to go full-time in his ministry, whatever that maybe. I can by grace, give that brother, a monthly sum of money of say $300.00. It is a gift by grace. The brother did not need to do anything for me, or prove anything to me. I can, for example just deposit the sum into the brother’s bank account, without any question asked, of the brother. But, say, a year later, if I so decide, I can stop the giving, and no one can fault me for anything whatsoever. What I give by grace, I can stop giving. I am not demanding back what I gave the brother for the past year; if I do that, people can say I should not take back what I have already given out as a gift. Because I did not give an irrevocable undertaking that binds me for life, I can stop giving at any time I want, and without regret.

There are actual situations in the Bible where God had granted favors (favor of God) to people, like the descendants of Esau and Lot, and then later because of the sins and disobedience of these people, God stop granting the favors.

Grace is like that. What is being given out of grace, it can be stopped. Another example is found in the story of Jonah. God made a vine to grow up to shield Jonah from the heat, but God also subsequently caused a worm to kill the vine. When Jonah protested, God said Jonah was not justified to be angry because Jonah made no contribution to the vine coming up, it was God who gave the shelter to Jonah out of His grace, and so, He could refrain from keeping the vine alive. In this particular case, God stopped the flow of the benefit of the shade by killing the vine. God did not undo the past; likewise, God can stop the operation of the healing gift, but He will not “unheal” those who had previously been healed through you.

Therefore, my advice to people is this, if they want to operate in their spiritual gifts consistently, they have to watch their lives. Instead of holding onto Romans 11:29, and telling God that His word said that He will not revoke His spiritual gifts, they should live in the ways of God and refrain from disobeying God.

What about on a corporate basis?
Actually, the context of Romans 11:29 was a corporate context; God was referring to the Jews and the Gentiles, corporately. The actual context of the verse, I believe was on the gift of life, or salvation call, corporately, for the Jews and the Gentiles. But if one wants to widen the application, especially in terms of what can be covered under the word, “gifts” and “call”, I believe it is best to stick to a corporate context.

It would be more likely that, corporately, spiritual gifts would not be revoked. What do I mean by that? It means that in a corporate setting, like in a body of Christ, a church for example, God when He has decided to give the body a healing gift, He might be more reluctant to take it away, than say, when the same is given to an individual. Of course, when the gift is given, it is given to an individual, but it is not the same as giving it to the individual per se. Let me explain: When God gives a healing gift to the church, someone has to receive it on the church’s behalf. Say, God chooses me, Anthony, to be the bearer of the gift; and when I pray for the sick, God will come and work His healing virtue through, and the sick get healed. But when I sin without regard, and blatantly disregard Him, He might decide to revoke that gift I received on behalf of the church. If His original intention was that the gift was meant for the body of Christ, He might choose another bearer in the body to take over. In this way, the gift is not revoked from the body, corporately.

Frankly speaking, this is the correct way of viewing one’s spiritual gift. One is just the chosen bearer of the gift from within the body of Christ. And body of Christ can be referring to the small numbers of believers habitually coming together, your local church, the national church, or the larger worldwide church. God may choose one bearer or many bearers, and can change bearers (Please note that I am not talking of gift of life, here. Gift of life, is best viewed on a personal basis, ultimately).

But there is no need to fret
In the Book of James, in James 1:16-18, we can see how we ought to view gifts.

16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:16-18)

It said every good and perfect gift is from God who does not change like shifting shadows. Notice that James referenced the giver, and said that he does not change like shifting shadows. God does not change like shifting shadows, it is not about whether or not the gift changes or will disappear or is gone; the Giver is not fickle-minded.

As if referencing the gifts and call (collectively referencing the grace, mercy, favor {gifts} and salvation call) of Romans 11:29, James said God chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created.

It is interesting that, even though the theme of James 1:2-18 was on trials, James ended the discussion with the verses above.

I believe perhaps, among those who faced trials, whom James was trying to encourage, were people who at some points in time, previously, were evidently used of God in many wonderful ways, perhaps, to heal the sick, perform miracles, etc, but were now faced with trials. I believe he was trying to say that they should not, for a moment, think that what they were capable of accomplishing in the past, with the exercise of their spiritual gifts, were not from God {thus he said all good and perfect gift is from God}, or that God was fickle-minded and had abandoned them {thus he said God does not change like shifting shadows}. James said He chose; God chose to give them life through the Word. Implicit in that I believe, James said that God loved them {despite their facing of trials}, for at the base of it all, love is a choice. When God chose to birth anyone of us {salvation, 2nd birth}, He bound Himself to love us. Love is a choice, and then a commitment, but we must also understand that God's love for men is first of all, love unto righteousness (there are righteousness demands  in His love for you).

Correctly, it is you should NOT think that God does NOT love you anymore when you no longer operate in any of the gifts that you used to operate in, but there is always the need for us to self-examine if there are areas of our life that have gone displeasing to the Lord.  Don't fret, but be self-examining and inquire of the Lord. [Add: 11 Feb 2015 - removed agape, and restated addition made on 2 Aug 2011 on love unto righteousness {'ahab love}]

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – God does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17b), but spiritual gifts are not necessarily irrevocable.

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