Christian Living in a Nutshell

By Mark D. Roberts

March 7, 2018

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

Ephesians 1:15-16


If you were to describe the Christian life in a nutshell, what would you say?

As you may know, the phrase “in a nutshell” means something like “in a very brief summary” or “in very few words.” Some scholars trace the English use of this phrase to William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. In Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet is telling his friends that Denmark feels like a prison. He adds, “O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Yet, other scholars find evidence for a similar use of nutshell among classical authors who wrote centuries before Shakespeare.

A pile of almonds.No matter the precise origin of the phrase, we get its meaning. So what if someone were to ask you to describe the Christian life in a nutshell. How might you answer?

I don’t believe there is only one, simple “in a nutshell” summary of the Christian life since it can be rightly seen from a number of perspectives. But, if we want to summarize our life in Christ, we might take the lead from Paul in Ephesians 1:15. Here, he mentions two core qualities in the lives of the Christians who are reading his letter: faith and love. If you had to put the Christian life in a nutshell, you couldn’t do much better than this: faith and love.

In fact, Paul often joins faith and love together in his letters when he is summarizing the essence of the Christian life (for example, Galatians 5:6 and Colossians 1:4-5). Sometimes he includes hope as well (for example, 1 Corinthians 13:13). Hope will be added to Ephesians 1 soon, in verse 18.

Paul introduced love in Ephesians 1:4, when he referred to God’s love in choosing us as his own people. All love starts with God’s love for us. Verse 15 is the first use of love in reference to human action. Moreover, here is the first place the word “faith” shows up in Ephesians (pistis in Greek). I would suggest, therefore, that we pause and reflect on these two, in-a-nutshell qualities of the Christian life. In the days to come, I will reflect on faith and love and their centrality to our lives. In the meanwhile, let me encourage you to think about what faith and love mean to you.

Something to Think About:

If you were to put the Christian life in a nutshell, would you include faith and love?

What other candidates might there be for an in-a-nutshell description of the Christian life?

To what extent are faith and love central to your life?

Something to Do:

Set aside a few minutes for reflection. Choose either faith or love. Consider what faith or love means to you. Pay attention to your thoughts, your feelings, your inner dialogue. Ask the Lord to help you come to a deeper understanding and experience of either faith or love.


Gracious God, there is no doubt in my mind that faith and love are essential in the life of your people. Help me, therefore, to grow in my understanding and experience of faith and love. Even today, may my faith in you guide my life. May I learn to have faith in you that is deeper and more consistent. May I learn how to love others in the way you have loved me. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
God Worked in Creation, Making Humans Workers in His Image (Colossians 1:1–14)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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