Exceeding Righteousness

Journal Entry // April 2, 2023

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (ESV)

Matthew 5:20

In summation of this section on the fulfillment and accomplishment of the Law, Jesus brings us to a perplexing statement. Having just told us that we are not to relax on any point of the Law, be it great or small, he now informs us that our righteousness should exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. They were the models and pillars of what righteousness looked like. They were the ones that were suppose to be leading and teaching the people of God. Yet, Jesus here tells us that our righteousness must surpass and exceed theirs.

I think there are two points of application for this in my life. Two points to reflect and examine the status of my own heart in light of exceeding righteousness. First, the scribes and Pharisees were those who practiced and taught the art of relaxing certain areas and points of the Law. This relaxing of the Law was found not so much in their external adherence of the Law, but in their heart attitude and motivation for external obedience. They became so adept at following the rules, that they came to believe that their adherence and obedience is what earned them favor before God. Favor that God owed them or was indebted to them.

This is the slippery slope of simply focusing on external indicators. It is good and right to focus on our outward obedience, but it should never occur without a simultaneous examination of our heart motivation. It feels good to hear the admiration and commendation of others as they applaud my obedience, but it should always drive me to point this glory toward Christ alone. Once I take in the admiration, I will continue to seek the glory of man rather than the glory of God. My heart must continue to be engaged in my obedience. An obedience rooted in my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Secondly, this understanding must drive me to Jesus. I cannot please God with my own righteousness. I can only please God as I rest in the righteousness of Christ alone. The perfect righteousness of Christ covers me, inhabits me, and changes me. It is only the perfect righteousness of Christ that I truly have and that only because he freely gives and sustains. This is how my righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. As I trust alone in the righteousness of Christ, my obedience will be rooted in his perfect love for me and my obedience will be a matter of love toward him and for him.

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