Suppose someone asked you to sum up the teaching of Christianity in just three words. What would you say?

Perhaps it is impossible to summarize all the essentials of Christianity in so short a space. So picture the words as an umbrella under which the rest of Christian theology can stand. Better yet, imagine the three words are the fountainhead from which the waters of Christian theology can flow.

I have heard a number of suggestions:

  • the good news that “Jesus saves sinners”
  • the gospel imperative to “repent and believe”
  • the sovereignty of God in the message that “Jesus is Lord”
  • Bible verses such as John 3:16.

All of these suggestions have their merit (although using a Bible verse reference to count for the three words seems a bit like cheating to me!).

But I recommend three different words. If I had to sum up all of Christian teaching in one statement, I would quote directly from 1 John 4:8. “God is love.” Those three words stand at the very heart of the Christian faith.

Some of you may bristle at the thought that “God is love” could be at the very heart of Christianity. Perhaps you have come across Precious Moments bookmarks with the phrase scrawled on the bottom. Or maybe you have seen too many gaudy collectible items in Christian bookstores that have sentimentalized (and feminized) the idea that God is love.

Hear me out first. These three words may surprise you.

“God is love” is not some mushy, saccharine version of what our culture would like to be true: “Love is God.” Not at all. The Apostle John’s statement carries radical implications.

Saying that “God is love” is claiming something about who God is in his essence. The statement points us to the Trinity, and the truth of the Trinity throws open the windows, revealing to us the nature of a God who chooses from eternity past to provide salvation for sinful rebels like you and me. “God is love” is not a sappy statement for teary-eyed dreamers; it is truth about God that leads to a bloody cross.

“God is love” is not a generic tip of the hat to a watered down civil religion that pushes tolerance to the top of our “most-desired virtues” list. When understood correctly, “God is love” represents an exclusive claim that can only be true about the Christian God. The statement seems utterly simple upon first glance, and yet all of Christian theology is, in some sense, an unpacking of who God is and what he has done.

Along these lines, let me recommend Fred Sanders’ new book, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. Sanders says “the Trinity is the gospel” and here is what he means:

When I say the Trinity is the gospel, I mean that the Father sent the Son to redeem us, and the Spirit of the Son to adopt us (Galatians 4:4-6).

When we hear about the Trinity, we should think first and foremost about that event, that history, that saving action that God performed for us. It’s pretty sad when Christians hear the word “Trinity” and the dominant idea in their mind is some kind of abstract analogy about shamrocks or the three states of matter.

I think the early church pondered its way to the doctrine of the Trinity by figuring out how to condense the whole gospel story into the shortest form. That form is the name that Jesus gave us: the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, into which we are baptized.

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8 thoughts on “Christianity in 3 Words: "God is Love"”

  1. Tom Cabral says:

    my three words would be
    Jesus saves sinners
    Jesus-the author of salvation
    saves-the work of salvation
    sinners-those who need salvation

  2. A Catholic Lisa says:

    The Early Church did not vaguely “ponder its way to the doctrine of the Trinity”. It fought for the doctrine of the Trinity against the claims of Arius, who denied that Jesus existed from eternity with the Father and the Spirit. St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius were key figures at the First Council of Nicaea called by Constantine to hash out the competing claims of doctrine. What exactly was the nature of Jesus? Was he co-eternal with the Father, or was there a dime that he didn’t exist, as Arius taught.

    About 300 bishops of the Church came together at Nicaea to condemn the claims of Arius and proclaim the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. The Nicean Creed is a summation of that doctrine that was promulgated by the First Ecumenical Council of the Church and accepted by orthodox Christians from that day forward.

  3. A Catholic Lisa says:

    “dime” should be “time”

    was there a time when he didn’t exist, as Arius taught?

  4. A Catholic Lisa says:

    God has revealed himself as Love in his actions and in his Word. This is the most profound truth of the Christian faith, and what the Christian faith is built upon.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
    221 But St. John goes even further when he affirms that “God is love”: God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.

  5. How about this (ever so slight, yet I think important) change: Instead of summing up Christian doctrine in the three words “God is love,” how about we go with “God’s righteous love.”

    This way we not only incorporate the love that lead to the cross, but the righteousness that demanded it. We not only see that Christ was willing to die for sinners, but we see that sinners indeed is what we all are. We see what is required of us and we see we fall short. Then (and only then) we truly see the love of God in his amazing grace.

    Just my two cents worth.

  6. Brian Current says:

    “For His Glory”

  7. I think Jesus and the Desert Fathers would summarize it this way: “Love God & Others” (just thought I would throw in the Desert Fathers for good measure … ;)

    Bradley

  8. Bible Study says:

    God is love is probably the best way to sum up Christianity. The first thing I thought of myself was “keep God’s commandments” which is basically the same as “God is love”, so that would definitely work for me.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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