My Top 10 Scriptural Selections


Brad Jersak recently wrote about the biblical passages that are most prominent to him, and he challenged readers to make their own lists. His assignment was to pick just ten verses, but he found that he simply couldn’t do that, so he expanded on the original request.

I’m going to take up his challenge, but like Brad, I’m going to have to expand even further on the original request. Kind of. Actually, I’m going to end up with a mixed bag. Some of my prominent biblical selections will be verses that stand well on their own, others will be narratives that cannot be reduced to a verse, and others yet will be broader themes spanning multiple passages so that I cannot pick only one.

God is love

This is both a verse (two of them, actually) and a passage. I could really include the whole first letter of John in my list, but I’ll condense it for now to 1 John 4:7–21.

We see here that love is not simply one of God’s attributes—as if we need to balance out his love with his wrath, justice, holiness, etc. No, love fully and completely defines God. All those other attributes must be understood as aspects of his love, for he is love.

We also see how God’s love is incompatible with fear. Fear means we’re still afraid of punishment, but God’s love means that we don’t have to worry about that. He is and always has been for us, not against us. Whatever punishment we might experience is simply his love in action, working to save us.

And finally, we see how God’s love compels us to love one another.

Christ died for all

Did I say I was done with 1 John? My bad. I can’t leave this book without going back to 1 John 2:2. Jesus’ sacrifice is for everyone. He took the sins of the entire world down to the grave with him, and though God raised him back to life, sin and its power remains dead. And because of Jesus’ resurrection, all will be made alive through him (1 Corinthians 15:22). This is one of those themes that covers many passages throughout the New Testament, but I’ll leave it at this for now.

God looks like Jesus

For this theme, I’ll point primarily to Hebrews 1:1–3, John 1:17–18, and Colossians 1:15–17, though there are plenty more passages like them. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God. He alone is the Word of God who perfectly shows us the Father. If we want to know what God is like, we cannot give equal weight to all of Scripture, for that would yield a thoroughly incoherent picture. We must rather center our understanding of God on Jesus, and then we must filter everything else through him.

The Sermon on the Mount/Plain

These sermons, found in Matthew 5–7 and Luke 6, contain the summation of Jesus’ teachings. That’s not to say that they were not actual speeches Jesus gave—maybe they were, or maybe they weren’t, but that’s not the point. If we want to understand the gospel of the kingdom, these sermons are the place to start.

Jesus makes it explicit that his fulfillment of the Law supersedes and even overrides the Law. He shows us exactly how we are expected to live in his kingdom. And he grounds it all in the very nature of God himself, thus showing us what God is like.

Love fulfills the Law

Jesus said that love of God and love of neighbor form the basis for the entire Law (Matthew 22:37–40). Paul taught that love is the summation of the Law (Galatians 5:13–14) and that one who loves another has fulfilled the Law (Romans 13:8–10). James called love of neighbor “the royal Law” and said that we do well if we simply follow it (James 2:8).

We have no need to follow all the meticulous guidelines of the Torah. Jesus fulfilled, i.e. completed, all of that. We must simply do to others what we would have them do to us, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).

Mercy and not sacrifice

Two themes run throughout the Old Testament, competing with one another. The first views justice as retribution. Either the offender must pay, or he must make a sacrifice to pay for him. The second theme completely opposes this idea, showing that mercy is what Yahweh has truly wanted all along. Justice comes through forgiveness and restoration, not payment. When Jesus comes on the scene, he fully affirms this second version of justice, thus invalidating all claims to the former.

In addition to Jesus’ two quotations of Hosea 6:6 (in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7), he gets at this theme in the middle of his Sermon on the Mount when he overturns the Lex Talionis. According to the Law, the “eye for an eye” command included a clause to “show no mercy” (Deuteronomy 19:21). But Jesus explicitly reverses this, commanding his followers not to retaliate against people who wrong them (Matthew 5:38–39).

Jesus also consistently lived this out, as exemplified in the scene we’ll examine next.

Woman caught in adultery

This narrative (John 8:3–11) fits the theme above, but it’s so beautiful that I feel I must include it separately in my list. A woman who had been caught in adultery was brought before Jesus. According to the Law, she had to be stoned to death. There was no option to show her mercy. Yet Jesus did so anyway.

I can’t overstate the fact that what he did was completely illegal and contrary to the Law of Moses. But Jesus didn’t care about the Law; he cared about the person. And he acted in such a creative way as to dispel the accusers, convicting them of their own sins, while forgiving the woman of hers.

Father forgive them

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, he prayed forgiveness for the very people who were killing him (Luke 23:34). Even though they did not ask for forgiveness, Jesus simply gave it. Freely and unreservedly.

And if he offers such incredible forgiveness for this, the worst crime in history, then we can be assured that nothing is beyond his forgiveness. We are fully and completely forgiven! We need only learn to recognize and accept this fact.

This echoes what are perhaps my favorite verses from the Old Testament. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered” (Psalm 130:3–4, NRSV).

God is Father of all

This is another theme we find throughout the New Testament, but for now I’ll point to Acts 17:28–29, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 3:14–15, and Ephesians 4:6. This is so critically important because it helps us understand what God’s disposition is to all people everywhere—he is their Father, and he loves them as any good father would love his children. It also serves to orient our own disposition to others—all people are our brothers and sisters, and we must love them as such.

No doubt many will here object. Certainly, some verses do speak of those who are children of the devil or speak of the special status of believers as children of God. But we can’t use these other verses to deny the biblical theme that all are God’s children. Two different ideas are being pictured here. The former describes ultimate reality. All humans do descend from God—they’re all his children in the most literal sense. For if they are not God’s children, then whose children are they? There is no other creator.

However, some people have rejected God as their Father. They have taken their inheritance early, left their true Father, and made themselves figuratively children of the devil. But what is God’s disposition toward his rebellious children? The parable we’ll examine next answers this question.

The prodigal son

Tradition has named this parable after the son, but it’s really all about the Father. Though his son may turn his back on him, the Father never turns his back on his son. The son may have disinherited himself, but the Father never stopped calling him son. The Father’s only disposition toward his son is one of loving patience, eagerly awaiting his return.

This describes God’s attitude toward every one of his prodigal children. There could never be a son or daughter who so offends God that he would write them off. They may no longer claim him as Father, but he has always considered them his children. And when they learn the error of their ways and come home, God runs to them with open arms. And though the older brother may object to the prodigal’s inclusion, the Father overrules his objections.

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What about you? Which Scriptural themes, passages, or verses are most foundational to your beliefs?