Ep. 431 Why Gospel-centered Is Better Than Grace-centered and Legalism

Ep. 4 What is Best Legalism, Grace, or Gospel

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Shows Main Idea – A supporter asked how best to describe our journey with Christ. He wanted to know the best label to describe the Christian experience. He added, “Some folks hold to a more rule-based lifestyle, called legalism. Others like to call themselves grace-centered. Where does gospel-centered fit with these terms?” If these are the only three terms we have to choose from, I would call myself a gospel-centered person.

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Legalism is a rule-based lifestyle where the Christian believes he must hold to a generally recognized and accepted code of conduct as he represents Christ to the culture. He does not think these rules are a means to salvation, but a necessary component of his sanctification, post-salvation.

The downside:

  • Legalism can lead to a comparative culture where some will make overt or silent judgments about those who are not like them. Often, these folks will not have self-awareness about these self-righteous judgments.
  • There will be adaptable inconsistencies. They will maintain the rules if the rules are convenient in their culture or geographic region. However, they will change the “rules” if it’s not convenient to hold on to them because the old rules are no longer tenable.
  • They tend to have weak consciences, i.e., the new converts in 1 Corinthians 8 who struggled to eat meat offered to idols.
  • It’s not a consistently exportable religion.

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Grace-centered, in the context of this discussion, is a reaction to the legalistic culture. Grace is the means to salvation, but what I’m saying here is that it’s a religious, cultural mindset to describe a group of people who want to distinguish themselves as something other than legalistic.

The Downside:

  • They tend to react to legalism because they were formerly part of that culture. The grace-centered crowd has yet to “get over it,” like a person victimized by someone. They mock, grumble, blame, or ridicule those who continue to be legalists.
  • They can unwittingly judge the legalist the way the legalist judges those like them.
  • The temptation to swing from legalism to licentiousness is strong. E.g., no more abstinence or moderation from alcohol.
  • They talk more about grace than the gospel—who is Christ. Grace becomes the main thing rather than the gospel.
  • The grace-centered lifestyle can be devoid of discretion, making it a non-exportable religion to their children. These folks can love the culture so much that it fosters worldliness in their children’s hearts.


The gospel is a synonym for Christ, so to be gospel-centered is to be Christlike. The gospel is better than the rules and grace. The gospel-centered person does not swing too deep into the weeds of legalism or stray outside biblical sobriety into excessive liberality. There is not a false worship of the regulations or too much freedom to live how they wish.

The gospel-centered person has a Spirit-illuminated awareness, giving the believer the ability to discern each situation and biblically adjust, step-by-step. This person is always reforming, never stuck in biblical infancy or stringent preferences. However, he’s not changing in reaction to what is behind him but transforming because he wants to be more like Christ.

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Call to Action

  1. According to how I have defined these terms here, which one best describes you? Are you more beholding to legalism, grace-centrism, or a gospel-centered lifestyle?
  2. As you assess where you are today, have you come to this place in reaction to your past or because you’re pressing toward the high mark of Christ?
  3. When you talk about the legalist or the “grace-centered” person, what do those words reveal about your heart? Are you over your past or still a victim of it?
  4. Will you share with someone why a gospel-centered mindset is wise, liveable, and exportable?

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