A Different Kind of Righteousness

Matthew 5:l-37...”For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. So said Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Listen to that again: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now this saying assumes that Jesus states that entering the kingdom of heaven is something to be highly desired; and that it takes righteousness to enter it.

So, let's start there. Would you like to enter the kingdom of heaven? I'm assuming you would, especially when you consider the alternative. The only other alternative is to be shut out of the kingdom and that would not be good. It would mean being stuck in the domain of darkness, the devil, death, and damnation. You would have no hope, nothing to look forward to, except death and the even more fearsome prospect of what lies beyond. That is what awaits you if you are shut out of the kingdom of God and cast into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And, on the other hand, you would miss out on all the blessings of God and life in the kingdom of heaven. Life in the kingdom will be life as God intends. Full of life, what it means to be really alive. Humans in right relationship with the Father, no more sin or separation. Humans in right relationship with one another, no more hurting and hating. Creation restored, no more diseases or disasters. Healing and wholeness, joy and community and blessings abounding. Forever... Fantastic! Beyond our wildest dreams! This is what it means to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is something you definitely want to do.

But, how do we get in? Jesus says it requires righteousness and a pretty high standard of righteousness at that. Better than that of the best people of his day, the most religious, of the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes were the experts in the Law. They knew the rules, as handed down by the Lord through his prophet Moses and recorded in scripture for all Israel to obey. And the Pharisees were the ones who set out to obey them, as scrupulously and meticulously as anybody in the land. They wanted to make sure that they were doing it right, better then anybody else, to make sure that they, at least, would qualify for entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

So, Jesus' words here were rather shocking; “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” My, who could do that? If the scribes and Pharisees don't make it in, then what chance do we have?

Well, that's the point. Now you're getting the idea. What Jesus is saying here is that you need 'a different kind of righteousness'.

If you think you have within yourself, a righteousness that is good enough to get you into heaven, that is what the Pharisees thought. If that is what you think, think again. And, so what Jesus does in the verses that follow here is to strip away the phony, false, inadequate righteousness that scribes, Pharisees, and anyone else today with a similar mindset may think they have within them. Only then will you be ready to receive a different kind of righteousness, the only kind that will pass inspection and get you into heaven.

So, what was this righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? What was it like? What characterized it? In brief, it was merely a surface kind of righteousness. It was a superficial keeping of the rules that came from within them, from what they could muster and what they could manage. And it looked good on the outside. It looked impressive to others.

That sort of surface righteousness needs to be undone. When we think like that, perhaps, we need to have that thought pulled out from under us. We have to realize that just isn't going to cut it, not in God's sight. That is what Jesus set out to do, telling us things are worse than they could have imagined.

Let's consider parts of the Ten Commandments. For example, the 5th Commandment...'You shall not murder.' The scribes and Pharisees would say that, as long as they did not physically kill someone that they had kept this commandment. But Jesus shows that the intent of this commandment goes much deeper than a mere outward, surface keeping. His intent was to show us that to follow this commandment that it must come out of your innermost being...through your heart. He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire...”

so is, doing harm to your neighbor, in thought, word, or deed. Hateful words toward our neighbor reveals the same sinful heart that ends in actual murder. You are a murderer, and you will go to hell. That's what your own righteousness will get you.

Lustful thoughts reveal the same sinful heart in you and me. We are all sinners. And if it were just a matter of our keeping the Law, we would all go to hell. You and I need a 'different kind of righteousness'.

What the Law does is strips away our phoniness, superficial surface righteousness. Only then can we be ready to hear about and receive a true righteousness by the Holy Spirit that will pass the test. The righteousness that came down and fills our souls. Jesus said in His Word, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Jesus fulfills in us in what we fail at doing ourselves.. He is the only one who kept the Law as it was meant to be, perfectly. He comes with that greater righteousness, the one that passes the test. He by right enters the kingdom of heaven, but only after first suffering the wrath laid upon sinners. On that Cross, Christ died the death for sinners, taking our sins and death upon himself. The Son of God died in your place, so that you now will not die if you have received Him as your Lord and Savior. God's perfect righteousness was then given as a gift.

What is then the result in our lives to this perfect righteousness that God has given us through the Holy Spirit who seals us for the time of redemption? Once the Lord pronounced you righteous – freely, by God's covenant of grace – this different kind of righteousness then produces change within our hearts and begins to transform us from the inside out. The righteous life of a born again believer is different from that of the scribes and Pharisees, because it goes deeper than the surface. It dwells within our hearts. It is connected to Christ living and breathing within us...first of all, by faith, and then that faith works its way outward as a testimony of Christ's love to others. Thus, we live each day by faith allowing God to live and move and have His being in and through us as in Mark 7:37...it is said of Jesus, “He has done all things well.” Thus, this should be our trademark as well..Christ in Us...as we die daily and walk and live to please the Father so He can say of us...'Well done...good and faithful servant!'

So, Jesus can speak of 'your righteousness', because he does expect you, his disciples, his followers, his believers, to do a more genuine keeping of His commandments. The good works that we do will be as a 'Light Shining' out to the world, not to gain praise for ourselves but rather, our deeds done by the leading of the Holy Spirit will cause men to give glory to our Father in heaven.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Jesus strips away our own self-righteousness, in order to give us His Righteousness. When you come to the end of your rope, as far as your scribe and Pharisee type of righteousness, this different kind of righteousness will indeed get you entrance into the kingdom of heaven. It is a righteousness that comes from outside of you, coming in and filling your soul...and then rising up out of your belly like a living fountain, poured out so others can see God's love and good works flowing through your heart and giving our Father glory in heaven. This is a free gift, rooted in the death and resurrection of our agape loving, living Lord. And it is a righteousness that then gets to work inside of us, changing us from the inside out. Yes...that's quite a bit of difference from the surface righteousness the world oh so well knows. And, from that righteousness, we mature and grow into His likeness as we yield to the Holy Spirit in our lives and the world takes note and wants the same. God's kind of righteousness in us flowing for all to see! Hallelujah!

*Personal Christian Journal..unknown source.