What are Spiritual Gifts?
Throughout history, whenever the true Church has been on the earth, the influence of the Holy Ghost has brought greater happiness and intelligence to its members. The Savior himself spoke of being "born of water and of the Spirit" (John 3:5). While any person can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, and can therefore enjoy spiritual gifts, they are enjoyed far more abundantly among those who have a covenant relationship with God, who have promised through baptism to serve Him and keep His commandments. For the person to receive all of the potential blessings, this baptism must be done by proper authority and accompanied by confirmation, in which the person is promised the constant influence of the Holy Ghost if he or she keeps the promises made at baptism.
All spiritual gifts operate by faith and according to the will of God. Sometimes, though we may have perfect faith, God's will is different from our own. Conversely, if we have no faith in Christ, God will not bless us. He will wait for us to develop at least a spark of faith.
The most common spiritual gifts are very subtle and personal. For example, a Sunday School teacher may suddenly have a feeling that he or she should touch on a specific subject that one of the students needs to hear. The Holy Ghost may have any number of ways to positively influence those who are receptive and worthy. And if we are not worthy, the Spirit will strive with us to persuade us to become worthy.
The most dramatic spiritual gifts include prophecy, healing, and speaking in tongues. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles gained the ability to speak any language, allowing the message of Jesus Christ's atonement to spread much faster (see Acts chapter 2. The gifts of prophecy and healing have been the marks of a prophet since Old Testament times. (For example, Moses, the first prophet of whom we have a detailed record, put a serpent on a pole, symbolizing Christ on the cross, that any person who looked on it might be healed. See Numbers 11.) God grants spiritual gifts and revelations to those who ask, according to their needs, their faith, and His will—and this in order to serve His children. "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24). How did Jesus Christ receive all knowledge, except that He asked the Father for it?
Specific Spiritual Gifts
While there are many spiritual gifts, a few notable ones in Latter-day Saint theology will be covered here.
The Gift of Testimony
"For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth" (Job 19:25). How could Job say that he knows that his Redeemer lives? This testimony of Jesus Christ and of His Church is the foundation of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Almost every active, church-attending Latter-day Saint—and many who have not attended church meetings in many years—can say that they know that Jesus Christ lives, that the Book of Mormon is true, and the Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. How can they know?
There are several New Testament references to such a testimony, such as Peter's declaration, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," and the Savior's response, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). Revelation states that the angels of heaven overcame the devil "by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" (Revelation 12:11).
However, the most popular Latter-day Saint scripture about testimony is in the Book of Mormon: "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:4–5). The Introduction to the Book of Mormon states, "Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is his revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the second coming of the Messiah."
For some, a testimony comes all at once. For most, it comes gradually, through repeated prayers and continued study. In addition to the Book of Mormon, Elder Douglas L. Callister's talk, "Knowing That We Know" is an excellent resource regarding testimony.
The Gift of Tongues
The Latter-day Saint idea of speaking in tongues is somewhat different from many other Christian faiths. Joseph Smith taught, "Be not so curious about tongues, do not speak in tongues except there be an interpreter present; the ultimate design of tongues is to speak to foreigners, and if persons are very anxious to display their intelligence, let them speak to such in their own tongues. The gifts of God are all useful in their place, but when they are applied to that which God does not intend, they prove an injury, a snare and a curse instead of a blessing." Many other Christian faiths say they speak in an unknown tongue or in the tongue of angels, the purpose being to praise God rather than to communicate. Mormons are counseled not to do this unless someone with the gift of interpreting is present. In this counsel, Joseph Smith was basically repeating Paul's counsel in 1 Corinthians 14, "For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful . . . Let all things be done decently and in order" (verses 14 and 40).
Many Latter-day Saint missionaries have said that the Holy Ghost made it easier for them to learn a language they were struggling with. This is consistent with the Church doctrine that we must do all we can before God's grace will intervene (see 2 Nephi 25:23).
The Gift of Charity
Paul wrote, "Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet I shew unto you a more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31). That more excellent way is charity. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni wrote, "But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him" (Moroni 7:47).
When we feel Christ's love, we want to share it. In sharing His love, we bless others' lives as no other force can. We begin to become even as He is. But charity, this pure love, is a spiritual gift; it cannot be obtained without the grace of God. Moroni continues, "Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God" (Moroni 7:48). Moroni also wrote, "the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God" (Moroni 8:26). This is the greatest gift that can come by the power of the Holy Ghost, and it comes to all who diligently seek it.
- “Chapter 22: The Gifts of the Spirit,” Gospel Principles, 141
- History of the Church, 5:31–32; from “Gift of the Holy Ghost,” an editorial published in Times and Seasons, June 15, 1842, pp. 825–26; Joseph Smith was the editor of the periodical.