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Gift Giver vs. Gifts | A False Dichotomy

I’ve been wanting to write this one for a while. Within the evangelical church at large, there’s a popular saying: love the giver of the gifts, not the gifts themselves (or something to that effect). As far as I can tell, this sentiment arose in response to an apparent over-emphasis on spiritual gifts that evangelicals observed among their charismatic brothers. Let’s be honest. The assessment is accurate. There are indeed charismatic churches where either the emphasis on spiritual gifts, signs, and wonders eclipses the Gospel, or they are incorrectly coupled with the Gospel as the required evidence of salvation. So, the evangelical response (among those who are not complete cessationists) is to love the Giver of the gifts more than the gifts themselves.

I completely agree. The initial evidence of salvation is not the immediate manifestation of a spiritual gift, nor should spiritual gifts ever upstage the Gospel as the central focus of the church.

However, I do believe this statement has produced an unintentional consequence. A false dichotomy has arisen that has only served to drive a deeper wedge between evangelicals and charismatics. The false dichotomy is that you cannot be Gospel-centered and gift-expectant. As a Word and Spirit believer, I’ve had good friends tell me that if we just focus on the Gospel, we don’t have to be concerned with spiritual gifts. Now, I will cede my friends this point. Gospel-centeredness is first. Christ crucified, risen, and soon returning, and the ramifications of His life are our message. If we only get that right, we will do better than many. But I depart from my friends when they imply that Gospel-centeredness effectively negates the need for any emphasis on spiritual gifts. So, my intention in this article is to dismantle the false dichotomy and give you a Biblical basis that churches should be both Gospel-centered and gift-expectant.

Let’s first define terms.


This phrase itself has become a kind of Christian buzzword. As memory serves, the phrase Gospel-centered came into the popular Christian vocabulary in the 2000s in response to the seeker-friendly model of ministry that many churches had embraced in the 1980s and 90s. Seeker-friendly models typically embraced topical sermons with practical applications but often lacked firm connections to the Gospel, or the Gospel was merely tacked on at the end to make the sermon more than just a motivational speech. We can’t lie and pretend that seeker-friendly models didn’t scratch an itch. Many people flocked to these churches, but the end result was usually a church a mile wide and a foot deep.

Gospel-centered preaching began rising in response to the lack of depth. Instead of sermons with cherry-picked verses to give people practical advice from the Bible, preachers returned verse-by-verse preaching that kept the Gospel central, and from there they would show how Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is not just our source of salvation and eternal life, but also the power for transformation in this life. All those seeker-friendly messages that sought to give people Biblical principles missed the target by not rooting the power of those principles in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The power to be transformed in this life, to mature and become more Christ-like as we journey, isn’t found in simply applying sound principles found in the Bible. It’s found in finding your new identity in Christ, understanding that in and through Him you are a new creation, and you now have the resources and power to change.

Gospel-centered preaching, done well, excels at this and points people to the source of all power to change: repentance and belief in Jesus Christ. Gospel-centered doesn’t mean we only preach theological sermons that never come down out of the clouds to help us as we journey through the valley of the shadow of death. It means we preach Christ-centered theology that gets down in the dirt to bind up our wounds and empower us to endure.


I made up this phrase to go along with Gospel-centered. I almost went with gift-focused, but that seemed to compete with Gospel-centered. Gift-expectant seemed a better choice. Gift-expectancy requires two things.

First, it means you acknowledge that the Scriptures emphatically teach that, by the Holy Spirit, Christ gives spiritual gifts to every believer (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 1 Corinthians 12:28). Spiritual gifts may be desired and pursued (1 Corinthians 12:31, 14:1) but they are ultimately given freely by the Spirit and according to His will (1 Corinthians 12:11).

Second, it requires that you reject cessationism. Cessationism is an unbiblical belief that some of the spiritual gifts ceased to exist once all of the original twelve apostles died. When I say unbiblical, I don’t mean heretical. I only mean it has no basis or foundation within the Scriptures themselves. I know and love many cessationists, but I deeply disagree with them about spiritual gifts. At any rate, you’ll find nothing within the Scriptures that teaches any spiritual gift will cease before Christ’s return. At His return, they’ll all cease, but until then the Holy Spirit continues to distribute every spiritual gift as He wills.

Therefore a gift-expectant church acknowledges the continued usefulness of all spiritual gifts for the building up of the body of Christ. And because of their Body building usefulness, gift-expectant churches seek to biblically employ every gift the Holy Spirit manifests within their church.

Sola Scriptura Therefore Gospel & Gifts

Here’s where the false dichotomy falls apart. Every evangelical I know at least gives mental ascent to the concept of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture (John MacArthur, Ligonier Ministries). So, let me narrow that focus a little more. If the Scriptures contain all truth necessary for salvation and spiritual life, then when we read the New Testament letters, they not only explicitly and implicitly tell us how to live our lives in community as the Body of Christ, but also explicitly and implicitly what to expect.


The Bible explicitly tells us that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to all who believe.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
– 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (ESV)

Also, the Bible tells us that these gifts will continue until perfection arrives.

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
– 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 (ESV)

This verse implicitly teaches the continuation of all gifts until Christ comes. In this case, prophecy, one spiritual gift, makes the case for all spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given for the upbuilding of the Body, but they are referred to as temporary (partial) gifts. Not to minimize them, but the real gift is Christ, so until He comes we are granted these spiritual gifts to aid and assist us in our growth into Him. When He comes, perfection comes with Him. He is the Perfect who will perfect us once and for all, making spiritual gifts (the partial) pass away from usefulness.

So, as Sola Scriptura people, we should be expect to be given spiritual gifts and keenly interested in using every Spirit-given gift at our disposal to build up the Body of Christ. Does that compete with Gospel-centeredness? Not. At. All.

I would argue Gospel-centeredness is packaged with gift-expectancy. Jesus Himself sends the Holy Spirit who gifts us. Spiritual gifts are not a distraction to the Gospel. They are an expectation of the Gospel. The Scriptures tell us to expect them and the Scriptures never, anywhere tells us they will cease before Christ’s coming.

The false dichotomy is now exposed and debunked.

The question then falls on us. Why are we so hesitant? Why are some of us open-but-cautious? I’m being rhetorical because I know the answer. It always falls to fear. We’re afraid people will feel pressure to have gifts, so they may “fake” them. We fear that the use of every spiritual gift within the body may lead to charismatic excesses that take focus away from the Gospel. There’s also discomfort with things that aren’t familiar. Believers would rather be in churches and worship in ways that bring them comfort.

None of those reasons should be dismissed as immaturity. Fakery is a real problem, as is Charismatic excess, and the desire for worship to bring comfort is completely biblical. However, God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). We shouldn’t allow fear of fakery, excess, or discomfort to keep us from gift-expectancy. When fakery and excess arise, you simply deal with it, call it out as unbiblical, and tell the individuals that further misbehaviors will result in church discipline. Therefore, I would suggest this, then I’ll close.

Ask the LORD to change your mind. Ask Him to plant gift-expectancy in your heart. If you agree that the gifts are continuing, but have had hesitation about them, do this. Gospel-centeredness is packaged with gift-expectancy. Do you want to be even more Gospel-centered? Ask the LORD to help you embrace the spiritual gifts that He gives for the very purpose of empowering the advance of the Gospel. You may argue that the Gospel seems to advance just fine without the gifts. I beg to differ. The advance of the Gospel presupposes that a healthy church is sharing the Gospel and sending workers out into the fields that are ripe for harvest.

You know how the Church remains healthy? She is built up by the Word, prayer, fasting, and the biblical exercise of every spiritual gift the Holy Spirit gives. The Bible says so. Gospel-centeredness without gift-expectancy is like pulling a heavy trailer with a Honda Civic. It can be done, and you can arrive at your destination, but the wear and tear on the Honda Civic is far greater than the wear and tear that would happen to a Ram 3500. Given the choice, why wouldn’t you pull it with a Ram 3500?

Ah, fear because you’ve never driven such a large pickup. Gotcha.

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Last modified: February 20, 2024