1 Corinthians 12:3-13 (https://www.biblegateway.com NRSVA)
In the film ‘The Day of the Jackal’ the assassin goes under various disguises. The police finally think they’ve discovered who he really is but it turns out that once again he’s borrowed someone else’s name, so at the end of the film his identity remains a mystery.
Not so a Christian, at least according to St Paul. They say you can always tell a Yorkshireman, but you cannot tell him much. Well, St Paul is confident that you can always tell a Christian, because the Christian will be indwelt and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.
So, for example, a Christian can never curse the name of Jesus. This is not strictly true. Under persecution people have renounced their allegiance to Jesus while remaining secret believers. In Japan, during the sixteenth century persecution there, the parishioners of a captured priest would be relentlessly tortured until he agreed to walk over a crucifix as a sign of his renunciation of the faith. In his novel ‘Silence’ Shusako Endo imagines the crucified Jesus actually telling a priest to do this to save his parishioners from further torment.
St Paul is also mistaken, in my opinion, when he asserts that ‘no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.’ If that is so, what are we to make of those people, fortunately in a minority, who have claimed allegiance to Jesus in order to build their own career within the church - either as a lay person or a clergyperson - rather than to be his genuine servants? And that includes people like Peter Ball, the former bishop of Gloucester, who convinced himself that abusing people in his pastoral care was bringing them both closer to Jesus.
However, Paul is on surer ground when he describes how the Spirit’s gifts manifest themselves in believers ‘for the common good’. When the ‘common good’ is being served we can be reasonably certain that the person exercising that ministry is indeed a Christian, even if not a perfect one. This is how to identify spiritual wisdom, genuine spiritual knowledge, the right kind of faith, a wholesome ministry of healing, true prophecy and powers of discernment.
The other thing Paul observes is that no true Christian ever possesses all the gifts they need within themselves. We only receive all that the Spirit has to offer us in community with others who are seeking the same goal. This applies whatever our cultural background, race or social status. No one is ever good enough by themselves.