Jesus is More Than Just a Moral Teacher

By Mark D. Roberts

February 18, 2019

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.

Ephesians 4:20-21

I’m sure you’ve heard someone describe Christianity as good morals and Jesus as a good moral teacher. While a few bold atheists question whether Jesus’s teaching was actually moral or not, most non-Christian folk are happy to acknowledge Jesus as a fine teacher of ethical truths. How could anyone gripe about loving one’s neighbor, or even one’s enemy? What could be wrong with the rightness of turning the other cheek? (In reality, most of us struggle mightily with loving enemies and turning cheeks, and sometimes feel quite justified in rejecting these peculiar moral instructions, but this is beside the point.)

To be sure, Christianity does have to do with right and wrong, with instruction in how to live rightly and avoid wrongdoing. And, to be sure, Jesus was a teacher of morality. But true Christianity is so much more than just good morals and Jesus is so much more than just a good moral teacher.

We see this in Ephesians 4:20-21. The preceding verses, as you may recall, summarized the sorry life of the Gentiles, cut off from the life of God and insensitive to the wrongness of their impurity. Verse 20, by contrast, begins with: “That, however is not the way of life you learned.” Unfortunately, the NIV translation obscures the actual contrast in the original Greek text. More literally, verse 20 reads, “But you, that is not how you learned Christ.” The contrast is between empty, immoral living and Christ, who is the center of our learning as Christians.

What does it mean to learn Christ? Yes, this expression could refer to a way of life endorsed by Christ, such as suggested by the NIV translation. And, yes, it could refer to theological and moral traditions passed on by the early Christians, such as claimed by many commentators.

But the awkward bluntness of “learn Christ” reminds us that Christianity is focused in a person. This person teaches us how to live. This person exemplifies what he teaches. Yet this person is also someone with whom we have a living relationship. We “learn Christ” by coming to know him through faith. We “learn Christ” by communing with him each day. We “learn Christ” by living life as part of his body. We “learn Christ” by growing in him, coming to know him more deeply and follow him more truly. The essence of the Christian life isn’t a moral system constructed by a fine moral teacher. Rather, the essence of the Christian life is Christ, trusting him, knowing him, following him, loving him, and even learning him.

Something to Think About:

Do you tend to think of Christianity primarily as a system of morals or theological truths?

In what ways have you “learned Christ”?

How does the peculiar language of Ephesians 4:20 challenge and encourage you?

Something to Do:

“Learning Christ” isn’t something we do and then move on. Rather, it’s a lifetime of learning in relationship with Jesus Christ. One way to “learn Christ” is to speak to him throughout your day, asking questions, sharing ideas, treating him as a friend and colleague. So, today, let Jesus teach you as you remain in communication with him.


Lord Jesus Christ, you are a fine teacher of moral truth, the best there is. And the way of life you commend is the best way to live, to be sure. But Christianity is so much more than being taught by you or living according to your teachings. It is a matter of knowing you personally, of living in you daily, of becoming more like you as your Spirit shapes me. So, even as I heed your instruction and seek to live by your teachings, may I never reduce faith to a matter of learning what’s right and doing it. May my learning and doing always be part of knowing you and growing in you. May I “learn Christ” so that I might “live Christ.” Amen.


Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Called Into the Fellowship of Christ

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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