Pharisees did not have it all
Matthew 5:20 “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In Jesus’ day the Pharisees were the epitome, looking on the exterior, of what it meant to be right with God.
The word itself meaning “separatist” tells us much about them. They had separated themselves from the Hellenistic culture around them in an effort to become holy. They took the wrong pathway by piling on rules on top of rules that governed the way they dressed to what they ate and how they ate it.
They had a religious “to-do” list a mile long. They attended synagogue, went to Temple, and offered sacrifices to God. They were good tithers. They were good moral people. On the exterior they looked like they had it all together.
The problem with the Pharisees that while they looked like they had it all together they didn’t. While claiming to love God they hated other people. They despised the “sinners” Jesus hung around with and then despised him. How can people claim to love God yet deep down hate others?
They didn’t love God at all but some other god they created called religion. Matthew 23:3, But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 5 “Everything they do is done for men to see. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
So if the religious elite didn’t have it all together what about us? What hope is there for sinners?
Jesus tells his disciples, if you are going to enter into the kingdom of heaven your righteousness must exceed their righteousness. If our righteousness must exceed theirs then it stands to reason that a better righteousness is available. Compared to the Pharisees the disciples looked like a pretty sorry lot. The good news is that there is. Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
This would be great news to Jesus’ disciples. Jesus says if we want it, if we crave it, and it is necessary to have Jesus says righteousness will be provided to us.
Romans 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
The gospel is what Jesus did for us. He lived the perfect life, he died on the cross for us for our sins, and he rose again.
Through Christ God makes available to all who believe in Jesus his righteousness. It comes to us through faith in Christ. Galatians 3:6, “Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” It is a gift to all who come to faith in Jesus, and we accept it by faith for ourselves.
A scripture blew me away recently. Romans 8:29, “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.” He gave us HIS GLORY! Let that sink in, stay there and repeat it. He gave us HIS GLORY! He covered us with himself!
Which means that we aren’t then expected to do things to make us right with God, or do things to keep ourselves righteous.
The fact is in Christ we are righteous. Of course this doesn’t give us license to do whatever we want to do, but what it does for me is that it makes me fall in love with him! We will do righteous things because that is who we are.
When I understand who I am and what I have been given through faith in Christ I want to be with God more. I want to read his word, worship, pray, and love other people. I want to be generous with my time, talent and treasure.
We don’t temper the radicality of the gospel. We allow it to soak deep down and liberate us. The way to be holy and to live a holy life is to return daily to this reality of who we are. This righteousness is never taken away from us, because it did not come from us. We enter into the kingdom of heaven, here and now not by our performance, but because of Jesus’ performance. Jesus didn’t give his life so that we would be religious. He gave his life so we could be righteous. There is a big difference.
Mike McMorris is the pastor for Robinsonville Baptist Church.