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. – Matthew 5:20
If I had been listening to Jesus say that I would probably have given up on the spot. The Pharisees were so holy I could never hope to be that holy, much less to be more righteous than they are. How could this be?
The answer is not on the way they looked on the outside, or on the righteous acts they performed. The answer is what was in their heart. The rest of this chapter in Matthew deals with attitudes of the heart as Jesus explains what he meant by righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the Pharisees.
It wouldn’t be fair to accuse the Pharisees of being insincere in their attempt to be righteous. In fact, over the centuries they had developed many volumes of writings that defined the law so keenly that it was a standard no man could live up to. The Pharisees, through asceticism and rigid discipline had come close, but they had also become cynical, judgmental and calloused against any feeling for others.
They stood on street corners saying prayers, paid tithe on the herbs from their gardens, and at the same time were merciless to the widows and the needy. They had the law in their head but hardness in their heart. Ezekiel calls their heart, “A heart of stone” (Ezekiel 36:26).
The solution was not in understanding the law better but it was to have a heart transplant. Ezekiel says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will... give you a heart of flesh.”
The only way to be more righteous than the Pharisees was to move religion from the head to the heart. When our heart is changed by the grace of God we then, by the new nature living in us, live a righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the Pharisees.
Prayer: Father, grant me the grace of a pure heart, a new heart. Let my heart be set on pleasing you. I don't want to just appear righteous to others I want to be righteous through faith in. Christ In Jesus name.
Message: The only way to be more righteous than the Pharisees was to move religion from the head to the heart. When our heart is changed by the grace of God we then, by the new nature living in us, live a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees.
Affirmation: Legalism does not make us righteous. Our righteousness comes through having our heart changed and being given a new Spirit.
Reflection: Do you understand how the righteousness of believers exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees? What is it that makes the difference between Pharisaical righteousness and the righteousness which comes by the grace of God?