For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
In Luke 8:9-14, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and a publican. This parable gives an idea of the outward standard of holiness that the Pharisees practiced. This Pharisee didn’t cheat, steal, or commit adultery. He tithed and fasted two times every week. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus wasn’t saying that we must do these outward standards of holiness to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Instead, Jesus was exposing the religious leaders’ outward appearance of self-righteousness. He begins to explain in Matthew 5:20 through Matthew 6:18, that God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
Jesus saw their hearts, and He sees our hearts. The Pharisees and scribes had performed the visible acts of compliance that the many laws and traditions instructed, but in their hearts, they were still of the devil (John 8:44). Outwardly, they were clean, but within their hearts, they were full of all uncleanness, hypocrisy, and iniquity (Matthew 23:25-28).
The Pharisees, like many today, were unaware that achieving right standing (righteousness) with God comes through merely receiving His forgiveness by faith. They were trying to earn salvation by their acts of righteousness. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). No one can fulfill God’s Law but Jesus Christ. We can’t earn our salvation by our acts of righteousness.
But we are called to live a holy life! The difference is found in the motivation of our hearts. Our motivation to live a righteous life is not found in how well we comply with the Law. Jesus Christ had no sin but He became our sin so we could have a right standing with God. Holiness is the fruit of God’s righteousness in us (Romans 6:22). Our motivation to live a holy life is found in our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. To live a righteous life, we must submit to God and put our faith in what Jesus has done for us (Romans 9:31-10:4, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 3:11-12, 5:4-6). Not in our own works.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:20-21).
Righteousness doesn’t come through anything we do. It doesn’t come through what we practice. Righteousness only comes through the grace of God alive in our hearts.
“Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
Flee from sin! Pursue the righteousness of the Lord not in your works, but in the heart of your relationship with Him! The works will come, and they will be good and flowing out of a pure heart that has been changed by His grace.
© 2023 Lynn Lacher