What Are Spiritual Gifts?

One of the more straightforward ways to characterize what a spiritual gift is has been defined by Lane Johnson in the article, How To Receive Spiritual Gifts. Johnson says, “Any increase in light that an individual experiences may be regarded as a spiritual gift–or a gift or free offering of the Spirit.”

The scriptures specifically list several different spiritual gifts:

What Is The Purpose Of Our Spiritual Gifts?

Tree Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The purpose of spiritual gifts can be compared to a tree.  The underlying purpose of all spiritual gifts, or the tree trunk, is to strengthen us each spiritually and to help us serve, and bless the lives of those around us.  Spiritual gifts are for everyone’s benefit.

The more specific purposes, or the branches of our spiritual gift tree, can be things like:

  • Teaching the gospel more effectively
  • Feeling comfort in times of trials
  • Amplifying our talents and abilities to help others
  • Helping us to connect spiritually, socially, and emotionally to others
  • Helping us to understand complex situations
  • Coming closer to God

Robert D. Hales has taught us in this regard, “God has given us the gifts of the Spirit to allow us to be drawn more closely into His circle of love … As we do, our faith in Him will increase, and our true destiny will be fulfilled, ultimately to return to His presence.”

Who Can Receive Spiritual Gifts?

Preparatory Spiritual Gifts

To be gifted with a spiritual gift, you must follow God’s commandments, and live your life in line with the teachings of the gospel. Through the Holy Ghost, everyone can endeavor to develop a spiritual gift (Moroni 10:17). For example, the spiritual gift of having faith is a gift that can be given to anyone when they develop and nourish a desire to believe in spiritual truths (Alma 32:26-43).

When the time is right, and the individual is ready, they will feel the Spirit, which will testify to them of the truth of the gospel. Spiritual gifts of this nature, as in gifts that can be used by everyone, are better defined as preparatory gifts.

Complex Spiritual Gifts

Members of the Church who have received (and are worthy of) their gift of the Holy Ghost can be given more complex spiritual gifts. Having the gift of the Holy Ghost is different from experiencing a manifestation of the Holy Ghost.

Having the gift of the Holy Ghost means being able to always have the companionship of the Holy Ghost with you. You can think of it like always having a little shoulder angel to help you, lift you up, and encourage you.

A manifestation of the Holy Ghost is a temporary enlightenment. This would be more like having a really great school teacher who makes you want to be better, but when you’re away from them, you may either forget or push aside their positive influence.

All spiritual gifts, whether preparatory or otherwise, are obtained through the Holy Ghost. And all spiritual gifts are given only to those who are faithful to Jesus Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 46:9).

How Do We Get Spiritual Gifts?

As I mentioned above, all spiritual gifts come through the Holy Ghost. However, this does not mean that you will automatically, by default, have a spiritual gift when you have the gift of the Holy Ghost. Joesph Smith clarified this by teaching that these gifts are “not visible to the natural vision, or understanding of man … [and it] require[s] time and circumstances to call these gifts into operation.” For example, developing the gift of tongues, or learning languages, requires intense study and hard work. But once you’ve done what you can, a spiritual gift can amplify your abilities to meet a need.

After showing faithfulness and obedience to God, there is a process in which spiritual gifts come to us.

First, we need to determine a need that can be helped with a spiritual gift.  After finding something that needs to be fixed, or someone that needs to be helped, or some other situation, we must do all that we can to assist in fulfilling the need.  When we are doing all that we can, it would then be appropriate to ask God for help.

George Q. Cannon taught:

If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect … No man out to say, ‘Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.’ He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them. If a man lacks wisdom, it is his duty to ask God for wisdom. The same with everything else … [God] gives these gifts, and bestows them upon those who seek after them, in order that they may be a perfect people upon the face of the earth.

With the exception of preparatory gifts, spiritual gifts are not to be used as a way of convincing someone who doesn’t have faith in spiritual truths. These gifts are sacred. It would not be appropriate to flaunt them or perform impossible feats just to impress someone. Attempting to use a spiritual gift in this way would send the Holy Ghost away, and since spiritual gifts operate through the Holy Ghost, the gift would be removed.

Fake Spiritual Gifts

Snake Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

It can happen that Satan will try to deceive people through the use of pseudo-spiritual gifts and miracles. In fact, the scriptures warn us about this. In Matthew 24:24, it states, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Satan can give an ordinary person extraordinary abilities; however, he does this only to so that “all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27). Satan would love nothing more than if he could lead someone astray under the guise of Christ.

There is hope though! The spiritual gift of discernment can help one to know when they are really seeing the work of God. However, like all gifts, this gift must be deserved. Those who are genuinely seeking the truth, and studying and pondering the gospel of Jesus Christ will be given the right to spiritual truths. Just like someone will need to put in thousands of hours to develop skills that allow them to be given the gift of tongues, one must also put in their fair share of work to have the gift of discernment.


As I’ve already mentioned, spiritual gifts are given to those who have faith. In the Church’s Gospel Principles handbook, it teaches that spiritual gifts “are not given to satisfy our curiosity or to prove anything to us because we lack faith.”

Moroni has addressed those who deny the existence of spiritual gifts (Mormon 9:7-8,20-21):

And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;

Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.

20 And the reason why he [God] ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.

21 Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth.

Learn More:

3 Nephi 29:6-7 (For those who deny the gifts)

1 Corinthians 12 (Spiritual Gifts in the ancient Church of Jesus Christ)

Doctrine and Covenants 46:9-26 (Spiritual Gifts in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

How to Receive Spiritual Gifts by Lane Johnson

Recognize and Develop Your Spiritual Gifts, Elder Hales Counsels

Spiritual Gifts by Dallin H. Oaks

The Gifts of the Spirit: Chapter 22 of the Gospel Principles handbook

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