Lessons from Seminary: Religious Moralism

I’m a little more than half way through my first full year at Covenant Theological Seminary. In many ways it’s been as wonderful as I expected. I’ve had the opportunity to learn about Jesus from some of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met. I’m surrounded daily by people who encourage and motivate me to grow deeper in my faith. I’ve been challenged to think about Jesus and the Bible in ways I’ve never considered before. In that regard, it’s been great. Lately though, God has been teaching me something about myself. Reflecting on my time in seminary has made me realize something: I’ve got a lot in common with the Pharisees.What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve learned that I’m really good at doing Christian stuff, at least on the exterior. I’ve been working for The Crossing for over 4 years now. I helped start Vintage Greek, our Greek ministry, a couple years ago and it’s grown like crazy. I’ve given talks, led Bible studies, discipled students, read a lot of Christian books, and now the consummation of it all – I’m in seminary. Admittedly, I used to think for the most part I had everything together. The problem is, that’s exactly what the Pharisees thought.

Read what Jesus says to them in Matthew:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Mt 23:27-28 ESV

The Pharisees were plagued by moralism. They did all the right things. They worshipped at the synagogue regularly, they knew the scriptures inside and out, they prayed often, and they followed the Law. On the outside, they appeared as if they were doing everything they ought to do. Their obedience made them holy. Or did it? Jesus seemed to think otherwise. You see the Pharisees weren’t motivated to obey because they loved God, they obeyed because their obedience was a means to their own end.

Jesus teaches that when we try to please God on the basis of our moral deeds, our good works, we’re actually rebelling against Him. Our obedience motivated by our own end dishonors God. Theses words cut to the heart of my own self-righteousness and the lessons I’ve been learning recently. I’m not good because I do a lot of Christian things, work for a church, and attend seminary. I’m not saved on the basis on my own works or what I’ve done. Rather, God says, “I’ve already done the work. I’ve sent my only son to die a shameful death on the cross. I sent my son to endure the wrath that you deserved. I sent my son to die for you, so that you could truly live!” That’s it. That’s all. Believe the Good News!

Don’t fall into the temptation to believe that simply doing a lot of Christian stuff makes you holy. It doesn’t. I know from experience.

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About Kyle Richter

I graduated from Mizzou in 2007. I was a member of FarmHouse Fraternity and maintain an avid interest in greek life at Mizzou. Currently I'm on staff with Veritas and attending Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.
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