Your Righteousness Must Surpass That of the Scribes and Pharisees

“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.” (Mt 5:20)

In order to enter the kingdom of heaven, a person must be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees. This is the spiritual higher ground revealed in the Sermon on the Mount. In this discourse, the Lord sets a higher moral standard that rises above people’s common expectation. The emphasis is on loving God and men from the heart rather than a superficial observance.

Just as we expect babies, children, teenagers, and adults to behave differently, so God expects our behavior to be different, depending on our stage of spiritual development. Jesus Christ calls all His followers to excel, to rise above mediocrity, and to mature, striving to become like Him.

The superficial righteousness of the Pharisees is insufficient to enter heaven. What is the righteousness of the Pharisees? They followed the law and the traditions, but lost sight of the true spirit of the law. The Bible says that they even used the traditions to invalidate God’s commandments. They laid heavy burdens on others, but they themselves did not lift a finger. They only valued appearance and outward rituals, but they did not value the heart and the essence of the law.

How can we surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees? We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, not because of our works. If a person is saved because of his works, he has something to boast about and will be self-righteous. We must worship God in spirit and in truth, and not with mere lip service. We must keep God’s commands with all our heart and live out the essence of the law, which is love.

In Matthew 5:21-48, the Lord Jesus further teaches believers how to implement the true spirit of the law. What God values is inner piety, not a mere outward observance. In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus continues to describe the righteousness which surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. The Pharisees like to do good deeds in front of others and to receive man’s praise. True believers must be true but they must not pursue vain glory. Christians who proclaim God’s truth have a special responsibility to be honest.
The Sermon on the Mount contains some of Jesus’ most challenging teachings. Even so, we should strive to be perfect, as God is perfect.

Leave a Reply