Simplifying the Christian life to one thing

The following quote, attributed to John MacArthur, came up in my X feed:

“If I could simplfy the Christian life to one thing, it would be obedience.”

I’m surprised a Christian minister would make such a statement, which is why I question whether John MacArthur actually said it. It sounds like Islam where submission is the main thing. As far as I can see, obedience is essential to the Christian life, but far from sufficient.

The phrase that comes to mind when I think of the Christian life is “faith expressing itself through love” Galatians 5:6.

How would other people simplify the Christian life to one thing?


“Christianity … a condition of complete simplicity/costing not less than everything” (TS Eliot).
“Make everything as simple as you can, but no simpler” (Einstein, attrib.)

Sorry, this isn’t helping. On second thoughts: in biology, there is something called the “Law of Irreducible Complexity” - things can be made only so simple before they don’t work at all. I wonder if theology is the same?


Luther essentially said the Christian’s life is one of repentance.


“For me to live is Christ” – that’s a reduction of the Christian life to one “thing,” but replacing “Christ” with anything else in that sentence becomes lifeless religion if absolutized. For me to live is repentance. To live is obedience. To live is love. Yes, yes, yes, and Amen – but not only those things, otherwise I am taking the fruits of the Spirit and turning them into roots, which is damnable false religion.

To borrow Henry Scougal’s phrase, Christianity is the life of God in the soul of man. It’s not fundamentally about us living in this or that way, but about Christ living through us.

Can Christ be analyzed into constituent parts? Reduced to some other principle? Then He would be an idol. See the parade of false Christs offered by the moralists.

MacArthur’s alleged statement is a summary of the requirements of the Law, but obedience to the Law is only the external form of the Christian life. Legalist Pharisees could have said much the same thing.

(Edit: but as a foundational principle by which we are to walk, I do like @Alistair 's quotation from Galatians 5 :slight_smile: )


Well, I found it through a Google search, and it seems Pastor MacArthur did say it. It seems to be from a church study that he did on spiritual maturity. Here’s the link to the transcript: Obedience, Prayer, and Proclaiming the Word

I think in context the quote makes much more sense in reading and knowing what he was talking about, namely glorifying God by knowing and loving him. This quote, from the beginning of the presentation, stands on its own much better

The focus, then, of the Christian life is to really know God and glorify Him. This is the expression of Paul when he says, “that I may know him.” So the believer, then, if he is to grow, has a focus, and the focus is the glory of the Lord.

I like Q and A 1 from Westminster myself:

What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #1


Conformity to Christ. Romans 12.1-2.


Maybe it’s too banal, but how about: Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 2:38, Acts 16:31, John 6:28-29

Or is that two things? Did I lose?


I have a friend who insists the whole of the Christian life is in Acts 2.42. I think he’s probably right.


I was going to say union with Christ.