WRONG WAY RIGHTEOUSNESS

January 6

Bible Reading: Matthew 5

Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

According to an August 2020 survey, roughly half of Americans believe they will go to heaven if they are “generally good” or “do enough good things,” while only one-third believe salvation is obtained only by accepting Jesus Christ as savior.  What do I say to the one who does not know Jesus, but thinks that they will be saved because of their own doings?  It’s a good question of great relevance in our day.

In His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5-7) Jesus spoke to folks who had been taught such things.  The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day espoused a religious of works.  They supposed they could win heaven by the careful observance of countless man-made rules.  Theirs was a religion of proud self-reliance.  It underestimated both the extent of God’s holiness and depth of man’s depravity.

Henry Ironside’s comments on these chapters are helpful:

“For the natural man this sermon (i.e., Matthew chapters 5-7) is not the way of life, but rather a source of condemnation; for it sets a standard so high and holy that no unsaved person can by any possibility attain to it. He who attempts it will soon realize his utter helplessness, if he be honest and conscientious. He must look elsewhere in Scripture for the gospel, which is the dynamic of God unto salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16)… So far as the unsaved are concerned, therefore, the teaching given here becomes indeed, as C. I. Scofield has well said, ‘Law raised to its Nth power’.”

Henry Ironside

In his quest for salvation, apart from God showing a person otherwise, it is man’s natural (sinful) tendency to diminish the extent of what the Law demands in order that he might somehow keep it.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had worked hard to make the Law more “manageable.”  They taught: “’You shall not commit murder’ and ‘whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court’ (Matthew 5:21).” They supposed that in not actually “murdering” anyone, they had kept the Law.  A self-righteous person might even say, “I’m going to heaven, I’m a good person, I haven’t killed anybody.”  But Jesus reaffirmed the true intent of the Law: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca’ (‘empty-head’), shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22).  Indeed, not only are we commanded not to murder (or even to harbor murderous intentions within our hearts), but to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44).  Who hasn’t been angry with someone and thus failed to uphold these commands?

The people of Jesus’ day supposed the scribes and Pharisees to be the epitome of righteousness, but Jesus demands something far greater, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).  Fortunately for us, God has graciously provided a way through which a true righteousness can be obtained, even as 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Before his salvation, the Apostle Paul possessed a most impressive religious resume.  As a self-righteous Pharisee, he had been extremely zealous in his law keeping.  But he did not find true righteousness until he found Christ (Philippians 3:8-9).  No one can be made righteous via their own good works. Instead, a sinner receives the righteousness of Christ only through faith in Him.  Salvation is by grace through faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The problem with the Law is that no one, except Christ, has been able to keep it.  But God has availed to us a salvation by faith in Christ who was made to be sin in order to save us from ours.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin erase,
Thou must save, and save by grace.

Author: looking2jesus13

Having served as pastor at Lewis and Clark Bible Church, in Astoria, Oregon, for almost three decades, my wife’s cancer diagnosis led to my retirement and subsequent move to Heppner to be near our two grandchildren. I divide my time between caring for Laura and working as a part time hospice chaplain and spending time with family and spoiling my chocolate lab.

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