For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
The final statement of the above verse hits us like a lead balloon. All of what we've been learning about this week. The prescriptions and the mandates. The Missions and the goals. They aren't just for bettering our lives or the lives of others. It all boils down to the Kingdom. Who is getting in and who is being left out. It's at the heart of His most well known sermon.
In a day and age where everyone wants to soften the edges of Christ, it's important to point out that He was a hard line minister. He spoke mercy and grace throughout his time on earth, but he also reminded people that there are two outcomes to everyone's existence after death: Heaven and Hell. Our decisions in this life will dictate the outcome we obtain in the next.
No Entry Without Righteousness
We must to fulfill the Mission of Christ as well as the one He provides us. However, Christ throws in the ultimate qualifier for all who seek to enter the Kingdom of Heaven: Righteousness beyond reproach. Before we go into the righteousness of the Pharisees, let's examine the word righteousness to see exactly what Christ is saying. After all, if this is the ultimate qualifier for Heaven, don't we want to make sure we know what it is?
If you own our book, The Way, you've read the definition of righteousness as it appears in Matthew 5:6. The same definition applies here. Righteousness is integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, and correctness in thinking, feeling and acting. In essence, it's a holistic approach to living as God intends. Every area of the body, soul and spirit is affected by true righteousness. We are saved by grace, but salvation is maintained by the transformation that comes from this kind of living. It's the reason Christ says we are filled when we hunger and thirst for this type of living. One who pursues godly living will be filled with God's Spirit.
Righteousness Beyond the 'Righteous'
Christ takes it further than just the blanket statement of righteousness, though. He gets really controversial by stating that those who desire the Kingdom must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. In a not so subtle manner, Christ basically calls the lifestyle of the Pharisees out as not being enough in the eyes of God. They may have been hearers and teachers of Biblical principles. They may have looked the part and acted the part in certain venues. However, as Christ would later say, they were like whited sepulchres (Matthew 23:27) They looked right, but they were full of corruption inside.
Why be so controversial? Up until this point, Christ had been fairly non confrontational, if challenging, with his statements. Now he had just called out the moral authority of the day. The reason for Christ's abrasive statement was exactly because of what the scribes and Pharisees represented. They were who the people looked to for spiritual and moral guidance, and they were leading the people astray. As we'll see, Christ will address several key issues of misinterpretation of the morals and precepts of God. The reason these misinterpretations existed was because the scribes and Pharisees had ingrained them in society. Christ's statement here takes the line in the sand we talked about last time and makes it into a canyon. There is no grey area, no diluting or messing with God's law. You either accept and obey it or you deny it. We must choose to live God's way inside and outside. In public view and in the privacy of our own home and the inner parts of our mind and spirit. There is no other way to please God and there is no other way to enter in to His Kingdom.
In Philippians 2, Paul outlines the importance of living like Christ. He talks of the sacrifice Christ made to come to earth and suffer among humanity. That suffering allowed us the opportunity to have Christ inside of us. When we have Christ in us, we are able to live as Christ lived: righteously. When we do, we'll find ourselves free from the blame and rebuke (v. 15), not only of society, but of the judgment seat of Christ when our day comes to stand before Him (Romans 14:10). That's the ultimate endgame.
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.