This triad of faith, hope, and love occurs a lot in the New Testament. We have the most famous of them all in 1 Cor. 13:13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” There are other occurrences in Paul’s letters: “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation…” (1Thess. 5:8); “…we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:4-5; see also Rom. 5:1-5; Gal. 5:5-6, Eph. 4:2-5). This triad appears also in other New Testament books (Heb. 6:10-12; 10:22-24; 1 Pet. 1:3-8, 21-22).
Why are faith, hope, and love considered three primary virtues of the Christian? We cannot know for sure because the Bible doesn’t explain why. But from what the Bible says of them, we can guess why. These three virtues point to three fundamental aspects of our salvation: faith points to the gracious foundation of our salvation; love points to the relational nature of our salvation; hope points to the eschatological orientation of our salvation.
It is easy to see that faith points to the gracious foundation of our redemption. In Paul’s letters, faith is often contrasted with the works of the law: “we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28); “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16, 3:2). Faith is an act of depending on God and His grace. Works are meritorious deeds, which rightly deserve some kind of reward. This contrast is clearly presented in Rom. 4:4-5: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness….” Because we are justified by God’s grace and not by our merit, we have nothing to boast of but everything to be grateful for: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’" (Rom. 4:2-3).