In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a loaded, profound statement when he says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In the Scriptures, the Pharisees often get a bad rep. But that’s not what’s happening here. Jesus often condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law, highlighting their hypocrisy. In this Scripture, Jesus is holding them up as an example of good Christian behavior. Because when it comes to good behavior, the Pharisees do it right. They are always on their best behavior; they are the pinnacle of holiness. The Apostle Paul at one point refers to his own life as a Pharisee and suggests, “Based on my righteousness according to the law, I was faultless.”
How good of a Christian do you have to be to be able to call yourself faultless?
So when Jesus says, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees," Jesus is saying, "You need to be better than faultless, better than the best of the best." That creates a problem, doesn't it? What do we do when our best is not good enough? If Jesus is saying, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law,” than what He is saying is unless you are better than flawless, your good is still inadequate.
Jesus is telling us that no matter how much good you can muster up, that doesn't improve your standing before God. You can tithe, and you can go to church, and you can share the Gospel with your neighbors. It doesn't matter how much good you do, it's still woefully leading you to fall short of a right standing with God. Even the good you have to offer before God doesn't make you right with God.
Even the best we have to offer isn’t enough.
The prophet Isaiah describes the good that we have to offer to God. He says, "Your righteous acts are like filthy rags." In other words, even when you do good things, they're still stained with sin. For us, even when we do good, they're still the same, that even when our outward actions are good, there's still the inward, inner battle of the evil that's still within us. Our best is not good enough.
And so, this is why Jesus teaches what He does. And this is what all of the scriptures point to. If Matthew 5 raises the question, "How do we have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees? How do we have a right standing with God that is better than faultless?” All of the scriptures - every letter, phrase, and punctuation - point to the same answer. Jesus Christ.
Because our best is not good enough. But Christ’s is.
Note: My brother wrote this awesome some inspired by some of the concepts in this blog post.
And on the cross, Jesus offers to us Himself. Where we cannot offer anything to God, He offers Himself. It's not about what we sacrifice, it's not about what we do for God or what we commit to God, but what Christ gives to us. Our best is not good enough, but Jesus offers to us Himself. It's not about our efforts, it’s about His.
Paul says, "There is therefore no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus." Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the law no longer gets the last word. Jesus does. When Jesus declared, "It is finished," He said, "You are forgiven of all of your sins."
On the cross, our worst becomes Christ's, and His best becomes ours. On the cross Jesus becomes the murderer, the adulterer, and the liar. Our worst becomes His. And by the cross, all that belongs to Christ is offered to us. His holiness and his righteousness becomes ours.