The gospel is a revelation of Jesus as the Son of God in his baptism. The Epistle describes the gifts we possess as a result of our own baptism “into Christ.”
The baptism of Jesus
Jesus’ baptism presents an eternal picture viewed at a particular moment in time. The Father speaks, the Son stands in the water and the Spirit descends like a dove. Three persons, one God—“as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.”
What is called the “adoptionist” heresy must be avoided. Jesus did not become God’s Son in baptism. Jesus has always been the Son of God. He was “begotten of the Father before all worlds;” “there never was a time when the Son was not.” What is new in the baptismal picture is that the Son of God has become man. This enables the human Jesus to be revealed as God’s Son in the historical event of baptism.
In contrast, we do become God’s children in baptism. We are baptized “into Christ.” In our baptisms, we are grafted into the eternal picture of Jesus’ baptism. We receive the gift of the Spirit and we become God’s adopted children. All that belongs to the Son of God by nature from eternity is given to us as a gift, by grace. As Galatians says, “God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts crying, “Abba, Father” (4:6).
Spiritual gifts and the nature of giftedness.
With the gift of the Spirit each of us receives a gift or gifts of the Spirit. Our epistle says that we “have gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.” Jesus possesses all spiritual gifts. He gives them as he pleases to the various members of his body. The gifts we have been given enable us to participate in the redemptive work of the church, the Body of Christ. The church is the extension of the incarnate presence of Christ in the world. Ours function and purpose is to serve the world for Christ until he comes. The way each of us is called to serve is determined by the nature of our gifts.
In order to exercise spiritual gifts, we must be in a state of spiritual health and wholeness. We can only give if we are full. We can only give if the emptiness we experience on account of sin has been filled by Christ through the Spirit.
The Father is able to pour out the Spirit upon us through the Son because God is full of the Spirit. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between them and out from them into the world. This is why Christians view the creation itself as a gift. God, who is full of love within himself, possesses an abundance that he wants to share. Thus, God’s Trinitarian love results in the creation of the world.
We were created to share in the fullness of God. We are meant to be a gift to others and to the creation, just as the creation is a gift to us. Sin changes the equation. Sin severs the bond of the Spirit between man and God and creates a void with us. Rather than giving because we are full of God’s love, we take because we are empty and needy.
The life of prayer is the foundation for the exercise of our gifts
Because we must be full in order to give, we can only exercise our spiritual gifts in the right way if we are living a disciplined life of prayer, through which we constantly remember and experience again the grace of our baptism. The Spirit we receive in baptism grows and increases in us through sacramental grace, prayer and the practice of spiritual disciplines. But the Spirit we receive in baptism can also atrophy and diminish in us through neglect of prayer and sacrament. We must continually return to the scene of our baptism through prayer. We must continually come to the Father through Son to be renewed and strengthened in the Spirit if we are to rightly exercise the gifts of the Spirit that we have been given.
This is what we do on Sunday as we gather around the altar. Eucharist is a renewal of baptism. We come again to the Father through the sacrificial death of the Son to receive again his gift of love through the Spirit in the Sacrament. As we regularly feed on Christ over time, as we maintain a healthy spiritual diet, the life that was planted in baptism grows. Wounds are healed. Sinful tendencies diminish and new virtues begin to take root. Worldly anxiety and fear are replaced by faith, hope and love. We become more whole and holy and, consequently, we become more able to give. The “good works that God has prepared for us to walk in” are the consequence of the gift we receive at the altar. We cannot, in fact, do any truly good thing unless our sin has been forgiven and our emptiness filled by the Spirit.
Eucharist is the renewal of baptism if we participate in its inner reality and not just its outward form. We must not just generally confess our sins of thought, word and deed. We must confess the specific sins we have committed; if necessary, we must confess to the specific neighbors against whom we have committed them in order that we may be in love and charity. And, having faced our sin, we must allow ourselves to be forgiven; we must accept grace. Many people have trouble with grace. They prefer to try harder to be good on their own rather than confessing to God that they are not good and allowing God to forgive, cleanse and change them. This is the deadly sin of pride.
We must also forgive. We must let go of our petty anger and animosity and administer to others the same grace we ask God to give to us—“forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As we let go of sin and embrace the gift of new life, we become new people who are able, more and more, to give to others according to “the grace that is given to us.”
The particular form of our gifts.
The grace that is given to us is not to be used only at church. Spiritual giftedness is who we are always. Our giving occurs when we are at work, in the home or at leisure. As we go from the altar out in the world, we are now full; we are now able to give to others because God has filled us with himself; we no longer need to take from others to fill our needs. In every circumstance, we ought to consider how the Spirit calls us to give. The experience of contentment, joy and peace in Christ depends upon rightly discerning who we are in Christ and what we are called to do and give in each area of life.
We do not have to be in a perfect situation in life to exercise our gifts. Even if we do not love our work, even if we are frustrated by some circumstances in life, we can still exercise our gifts at work, home and leisure. In fact, the grace of the Christian life should be all the more evident when things are not the way we want them to be. Anyone can praise God and serve others when life is great. The mark of genuine faith is perseverance: the ability to continue to love, serve and give thanks when all is not perfect.
Jesus suffered, but he still gave us the gift of himself. He made us whole through the cross so that we might be able to give ourselves to others, even when we are suffering. God saves us through trial, not from trial. The unique grace of genuine faith is the ability to see how God is bringing his new creation out of the chaos of this fallen world. Consequently, we ought to be watchful in prayer to discern how God is working within us and others in the midst of our struggles. We ought to be attentive to the needs of co-workers, family and friends and exercise the gifts we possess in Christ for their benefit.
One problem we have is that we are tempted to assess ourselves and our gifts according the standards of the world and not according the judgment of God. Jealously, envy and the desire for status or attention undermine our ability to give. If we are giving to get something, we are not really giving at all. If we are giving in order to be recognized, then what we are giving is not really a gift. There is a very large paradox here. If we truly give, with sincerity of heart, according to the grace that is given to us, we are likely to receive more of what we really want and need. But the minute our focus shifts from giving because we are full to giving because we need something, we shift from givers to takers and our reward diminishes.
This is why we must continually remember our baptisms, in which water was poured upon us as a sign of the gift of the Spirit; in which God adopted us and gave us the privilege of calling him “Abba, Father.” We must, on the Lord’s Day and in our daily disciplines of prayer, come to the Father through the Son and receive again the grace of the Spirit. We must experience forgiveness again. We must remember again that we are beloved children of God and heirs with Christ of the world to come. We must allow the emptiness of sin to be filled by Christ. We must allow our wounds to be healed by the bread of life and the medicine of immortality. We are only able to give when we are full. Only those who live in union with the Father through the Son in the Spirit are able, through that same Spirit, to be agents of God’s love in the body of Christ and to a fallen world.