Being verbose is good if you have the time and stamina. It allows you to flesh things out and delve into common misconceptions that can be quite revealing. But if you have neither the time nor the will, then a pithy statement is necessary, along with the faith that underlying and foundational themes that are only implied will work their way into the consciousness of the listener. And that depends entirely upon those few words.
When it comes to the Word of God, it is best shared in the context of an ongoing relationship. That is what “discipleship” means. Explicating and demonstrating God’s Word over the course of time. Saying and showing. But what if you are not afforded the luxury of a relationship but you sense the urgency of sharing something with that person who desperately needs God but rebuffs the notion of being a disciple?
If you were only afforded the opportunity to share one sentence in the Bible to attempt to convey the entire biblical message and theme, which one would you choose? There is too much riding on it to go with a personal favorite. You have to go with “tersely cogent.”
I believe there is one statement that cuts to the chase in just seven words. On the surface, it is pretty straightforward. Yet, it implies far more than what is said and almost demands further inquiry. Permit me to talk about some of those implications before I reveal the words.
The first thing these seven words do is extolling God’s greatness. You’ll hear how wonderful, kind, forgiving, accommodating, merciful, and marvelous God is in many a sermon or Sunday school lesson. Yet, we rarely hear how unique and “other” God is. That is to say, how vastly different from us God really is.
The best description of God I’ve ever heard or read was the one given by St. Anselm in his ontological argument: “God is that which nothing greater than can be conceived.” You have to really let that soak and think that through for a moment. Stretch your mind and imagination to the limit on perfection, holiness, power, justice, grace, knowledge, and wisdom… and know that God is infinitely more and greater than that! You will never be able to fully comprehend either the totality or majesty of God. Even (perhaps especially) on the day you stand before Him.
I don’t know about you but I am rarely confronted with the God from whose “presence earth and sky fled away…” (Revelation 20:11). I don’t hear very much about a God who responded to Moses when asked if His glory could be seen directly warned, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Just think about that! The face of God is so perfect, holy, and pure it cannot be seen by a mortal man without disastrous consequence. I find that even in the church, God’s majesty and greatness are either ignored or taken for granted. There is little fear of or awe for God in today’s Christianity.
That brings me to the second thing. It involves the most difficult concept of Christianity. It’s the only true way to begin to fathom the enormity of God’s love, mercy, and grace. I write of the hard reality “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). That is to say, what we accomplish in life and/or how many people revere us and hold us in high esteem will never determine our value. Rather, it is defined by our obedience to Jesus Christ and His embrace of our insignificant but humble servitude to Him.
It is only when we recognize our own devastating inadequacies before a perfect, righteous, and holy God that we even begin to comprehend the enormity of His love for both the human race and each individual. What I am trying to point out is probably best summed up (apart from the actual verse below) by the first sentence of what is probably the most beloved and recognized Christian hymn of all time (written by John Newton): “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
Far too many a churchgoer has the attitude that God should be grateful for their profession of faith, their regular church attendance, their financial support, and their service to the local church in particular and the cause of Christ in general. We know full well Jesus admonishes each follower to “deny himself and take up his cross” (Matthew 16:24) but we cannot help but advocate ourselves and reach for the ladder. It is not surprising that when Jesus told the apostles that it was extraordinarily difficult for a rich man to enter heaven they cried out “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:23-25). Everyone strives for a better life that they imagine is available through wealth and the accompanying power and status that go with it.
The second part of this extremely powerful sentence reminds us that eternal life with God is not a goal to attain, a victory to accomplish, or a status to achieve. Perhaps the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount shed the brightest light on the phrase when He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
So, if you haven’t cheated and scanned ahead to the end you are wondering what seven words imply the entire biblical narrative. What short sentence points to the magnitude of God’s glory, grace, and love and yet intones both a sense of the gravity of mankind’s dire situation but includes an implication of hope beyond measure?
John the Baptist uttered them when his disciples expressed both concern and alarm that people were beginning to migrate from John to Jesus. Here they are. Seven words that can change everything because they are saturated with God’s will, wisdom, and Spirit:
“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Those seven words say it all without unloading it all. Search for them. Inquire of them. Heed them. Treasure them. But most of all, share them. Together, they are game and life changers.
Written by Dr. Ray Rooney. This article originally appeared on The Stand.