When We Say “Gospel,” Do We Really Mean “The Spirit?”
Evangelicals love to speak in theological shorthand. We employ phrases and terms that become popular, become a badge of identification, and over time get emptied of their meaning.
Obedience Fueled by the Gospel?
Take “gospel-centered” language as an example:
- Our obedience is fueled by the gospel.
- The gospel is what motivates our obedience.
- We need to be captured again by the gospel.
- We need be refreshed in the gospel every day.
And on and on.
The more I hear this kind of talk, the more I’m convinced that we are using the word “gospel” where we really mean the Holy Spirit. We often talk about the gospel doing stuff when actually it’s the Spirit who is working. So we say, “The gospel fuels our obedience,” but what we really mean is the Spirit captures our affections with the gospel in order to fuel our obedience.
Now, knowing the Spirit, He probably doesn’t mind all that much that we’re devoting so much attention to Christ. That’s who He’s about, after all. But I do think we can overlook the Spirit in such a way that believers miss out on the Spirit’s work in their daily lives.
The Powerful Gospel and the Empowering Spirit
There is certainly biblical precedent for thinking of the gospel as having a power of its own – an innate power inherent to its message. Paul spoke of it as “the power of God unto salvation.” The Book of Acts refers to the Word “increasing and multiplying.” So there is nothing unbiblical about using “gospel” in a way that gives the good news a personification.
But let’s make sure we don’t get carried away with our lingo to the point that we give short shrift to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
If we only think of power as flowing from the gospel (which is a message), we might unintentionally communicate that we are changed by knowledge of a message and not by personal acquaintance with the Messenger.
Is it possible that we are using “gospel reflection” language as buzz words that reduce the Christian life to continual reflection on a set of propositional truths instead of the dynamic Word that brings us into relationship with Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Spirit?
Knowing the Spirit
Some might push back and say that we are really using the word “gospel” as a synonym for “the Scriptures.” Okay. I agree that the Holy Spirit is the One who is working in and through us. And I agree that the instrument the Spirit uses is the Word. And yes, within the Word, the gospel is the central message of the Bible. Granted. So don’t think I am pitting the gospel over against the Spirit.
My point is to make this truth explicit rather than implied – to show the Spirit is the actor and the gospel is the instrument. In other words, to make the relationship front and center again.
Why does this matter? Because the point of knowing more about God is that we would know God more. The point of reflection on the gospel is relationship with the God of the gospel.
All this talk about being constantly reminded of the gospel and refreshed in the gospel is another way of saying we need the Holy Spirit to bring to mind the good news of Jesus and what He has done. (According to John 17, that is one of His roles.) So yes, we need to be refreshed by the Spirit as He once again applies the truth of the gospel to our wayward hearts.
Here’s my concern: If we lose the personal connection to the Holy Spirit, we miss the intimacy God wants with His people as well as the power God intended us to have.
So, by all means, let’s be all about the gospel. But let’s make sure that whenever we talk about the gospel, we have the God of the gospel in mind. He is the unchanging substance behind our changing terminology.