Why do I need the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Author: Dr. Mary Healy

Why do I need the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Dr. Mary Healy on the importance of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially when it comes to evangelisation.

There are no more powerful tools for evangelisation than the charisms, gifts by which the Holy Spirit equips the Church and every Christian for our mission to be Christ’s witnesses in the world.

To evangelise without using charisms is like trying to push a car uphill.

To use charisms effectively, it is important to learn what Scripture teaches about them.

What are charisms?

First, they are distinct from the sanctifying gifts of the Spirit, listed in Isaiah 11: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Catholic tradition holds that these sanctifying gifts of the Spirit are given to every Christian at Baptism and Confirmation, for the purpose of making us holy (CCC 1831).

The charismatic gifts or charisms, in contrast, are distributed by the Spirit in different measures to different people.

They are not primarily for personal sanctification, but for building up the body of Christ. They are by definition gifts that are to be given away, gifts to be used for others. No one has all the charisms, precisely because we need one another, just as the organs in the human body cannot function without one another (1 Cor 12:17-21).

Charisms are also distinct from human talents. A charism is not a natural ability but a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit.

It either enables one to do what is humanly impossible (such as prophecy or healings) or elevates a natural endowment (such as teaching or hospitality) to a supernatural level of efficacy for building up the body of Christ.

Why do I need the charisms?

In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 Paul lists some of the more obviously supernatural gifts such as healings, prophecy, and miracles. In other passages he lists gifts that seem more ordinary but are no less important: service, teaching, exhortation, contribution, administration, and acts of mercy (Rom 12:7-8).

Paul gives an extensive teaching on charisms in 1 Corinthians 12-14, and some of his key explanations on why Christians need charismatic gifts are summarised below:

Charisms are manifestations of the Spirit

Charisms are “manifestations of the Spirit” (1 Cor 12:7) - that is, they make evident the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This means that every time you exercise a charism, God the Holy Spirit is operating through you.

Charisms are not something you own or control; you cannot give a prophecy or heal someone whenever you feel like it. Rather, you are like a musical instrument on which the Holy Spirit plays according to his will and his timing.

The more you are surrendered to him, the more freely he will play.

Charisms build up the body of Christ

Charisms are “for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). A charism is a gift that is to be passed on to others; it is not for the personal benefit of the one who receives it.

For example, Paul describes charisms used in a prayer gathering: “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26).

However, Paul does make an exception for the gift of tongues as a prayer-language: “he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (1 Cor 14:4).

Charisms aid evangelisation

Charisms are often signs by which God bears witness to the Gospel (Heb 2:4).

Paul experienced in his own life the power of supernatural charisms to touch people’s hearts and convince them of the truth of what he preached. His miracles wrought many conversions (Rom 15:18-19).

Even in a prayer gathering, charisms can have a powerful effect on unbelievers: “if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:24-25).

Charisms give glory to God

We who believe in Christ “have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).

Charisms give glory to God because they reveal his love and power at work in the world.

“As each has received a gift, employ it for one another… whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:10-11).


  • Dr. Mary Healy is the Chairwoman of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS) Doctrinal Commission. A full version of this article can be found in the May-July 2016 issue of GoodNews magazine. This article was adapted from resources on the ICCRS’ European conference website.

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