To Be Gospel-Centered, You Need the Holy Spirit

Tim Brister —  February 27, 2013 — 9 Comments

If you believe in the centrality of the gospel, you know that the good news of Jesus Christ is not just the door to the Christian faith, but it is the entire house. It is not only the entrance point but the pathway on which we walk our entire Christian life. Therefore, the journey of the Christian experience is growing more and more in the gospel.

There has been some discussion and even debate as to whether all the talk about the power and centrality of the gospel is neglecting the power and necessity of being filled with the Spirit. Are we talking about the gospel to the neglect of the Spirit’s working in our lives? Are we substituting the gospel for the Spirit when explaining how we operate as Christians in the world? I think those are valid questions, and I want to briefly attempt to answer the question in this post.

I am convinced that the overarching purpose of the Holy Spirit in the world is to magnify Jesus Christ. One of the most fundamental ways to know if you are filled with the Spirit is whether Jesus is being magnified and glorified in your life. That’s what the Spirit does. Jesus is magnified in the Gospel–because it is all about who He is and what He has done for sinners. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Spirit’s magnification of Jesus will be through sinners reveling more and more in the glorious gospel of our Lord.

That’s the logic I see in Scripture, but how does it work out practically?

God’s gospel is robustly Trinitarian. God the Father administrates salvation; God the Son accomplishes salvation; God the Spirit applies salvation. In His application of the gospel, the Holy Spirit brings us a true understanding of and genuine experience in the grace of Jesus Christ. Without the Spirit’s application, the gospel would not only be theoretical but our treatment would be at best superficial.

The components of a true understanding of the gospel is generally (and rightly) laid out as God, man/sin, Christ, and concludes with right response. How does the Spirit apply the gospel to magnify Christ in each of these areas?


The gospel begins with God. But how do we know who God is, what He is like, and what He expects from us? God has given us His Word, inspired and authored by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). In the Bible, God’s thoughts are communicated to us by His Spirit who also enables us to understand and appreciate them as such (1 Cor. 2:9-13).  The Spirit’s agency takes the Word’s instrumentality through inspiration, illumination, and conviction to give sinners true knowledge of who God is and what He requires of us.


In light of God’s holiness, we understand man’s sinfulness. The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11) so that the sinner is made aware of the sinfulness of sin. Apart from the Spirit’s application of the Word, we would not know ourselves accurately and recognize our need for salvation desperately.


As the Holy Spirit gives us true knowledge of God’s holiness and our sinfulness, we are left undone. Apart from Christ, it’s bad news because God’s holiness demands perfection and our sinfulness destroys any hope of salvation through self-righteousness and justification by our good works. The good news is that the same Holy Spirit who magnifies God’s holiness and our sinfulness also magnifies the riches of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ for sinners. He sheds abroad the love of God (Rom. 5:5). The Holy Spirit calls sinners and draws them to Jesus (John 6:44). He opens deaf ears to hear the voice of Jesus who calls His own by name (John 10:4). He opens blind eyes to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6). He is the one who unites us to Christ!


The only biblical response to the gospel is repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. These are inseparable acts of a sinner who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. What God requires of us, He provides for us by His Spirit. We are responsible to turn from sin (repentance) and turn to Christ (faith), and we are granted such ability by the Spirit who enables us.

How the Spirit Drives Gospel Centrality

This work of the Spirit does not only take place at the point a sinner is converted to Christ. Indeed, this is the operation of the Spirit throughout the entire Christian experience! How do you know that you are growing in grace? You have a greater understanding and appreciation of God’s character and work. God does not become more holy in His essence, but your understanding and awareness of His holiness increases as you grow in your experience, led by the Spirit. Additionally, you grow in recognizing the sinfulness of sin and dealing with it biblically. You don’t make excuses for sin, rationalize it, manage it, ignore it, or attempt to cover it up with self-atonement measures. You own it because Christ owns you.

What happens when you are increasingly aware of God’s holiness and your sinfulness? You then become aware of how desperate and need you are for Christ’s righteousness and His grace. The reality of His life, death, and resurrection becomes increasingly dominant as your identity rests more and more securely in Christ.  This is what the cross chart or gospel grid is all about.


From The Gospel-Centered Life Study (World Harvest Mission)

Remember, the Holy Spirit applies the gospel–the accomplishments of Christ. By doing so, He magnifies Christ. If you were not increasing in conviction of the glorious excellencies of God’s character and ways as well as your sinfulness, then the need to revel and glory in the finished work of the cross would be marginalized and Jesus would not be magnified.

When the gospel is central, repentance and faith will be normal. In order for them to be normal, we need the Spirit working in us with the renewing work of the gospel to breed a life that is characterized by turning from sin and turning to Jesus all the time, more and more, until our faith becomes sight.

If you want to be gospel-centered, you need the Holy Spirit. He will magnify Christ through you because you can’t. He will magnify Christ through you because is very good at applying the gospel in your life so that you treasure and adore Jesus. May God lead us to enjoy the Spirit-filled, Gospel-centered life we were redeemed to experience!

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  • Tim, this is great stuff, brother! As I’ve said before, I think we need to recover the old Reformed doctrine of the covenants to hold all this together biblically. It’s so controversial right now, especially in our circles, that many may not even want to give it a hearing, but I believe that covenant theology alone rightly accounts for Trinitarianism and preserves the law/gospel contrast in justification and the gospel/law continuum in sanctification.

  • Great post!

    “The gospel is the power of God…”

    In the hearing of it (for those that truly hear it), God is at work, through His Spirit, in the life of the one who hears it.

    “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion”.

    We do need the Spirit. And He surely gives it to us.


    • Well put. I think that is what Paul is saying when he writes of the power of God for salvation. I think when Paul worships in Romans it first worship but second it is an argument about worship being the opposite of “supressing the truth in unrighteousness.” Crying out Abba Father in the power of the Holy Spirit is the opposite of the pagan culture that refuses to worship or give him thanks.

      Great post!


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  • Paul Dohse


    But we don’t change. We experience the Spirit realm, but we don’t really improve as Christian people. This is what this teaches. Right?

    • Paul:

      I honestly have no idea what you are talking about. We experience the “Spirit realm”? The Spirit is a person, and Christians experience Him because of His indwelling presence and power. So no, what you are positing is something I’m unfamiliar with and therefore cannot assent to agreement. Sorry.

      • Paul Dohse


        You didn’t answer the, “But we DON’T change” part of the question. And secondly,you are the one who used the word, “experience” not me. I only suggested what many Reformed leaders teach–that it is the experiencing of a realm. So, one, do we change for the better as God’s people–that’s personal change. And, secondly, what do we experience? Our work in sanctification as we become more like Christ, or the work of Christ alone experienced in some way? But all in all, DO WE IMPROVE PERSONALLY? DO WE BECOME BETTER PEOPLE?

        • Paul:

          I believe what Paul teaches in 2 Cor. 3:18…

          “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

          We experience change from beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ–a change that is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit who, as my blogpost explains, leads us to see and savor Jesus Christ. When we are Spirit-led, we are led to glorious transformation by making much of Jesus with faith-filled lives.

          Are we changed “for the better”? It depends if you are talking about the Christian’s position or practice. You cannot improve upon the finished work of Christ and imputed righteousness to cause us to be accepted in the Beloved and seated in heavenly places as join-heirs with Christ. But practically, we do change for the better as we continue to walk in repentance and faith, growing in greater and greater strides of obedience fueled by grace.

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