by: carole l. haines
20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20 NASB)
What a peculiar statement. What kind of righteousness did the Pharisees have, and how do we surpass it? I believe this question is best answered by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:9: “…not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” The Pharisees based their righteousness on Law, not on Christ who fulfilled the Law of God. Here is where True Christianity stands apart from all other religions of the World. We, as believers in Christ, confess our unrighteousness, or our sins; and Jesus then robes us in His own Righteousness. It is as if we are standing naked in the street, and someone comes up and covers our nakedness, our shame, our weakness. It is nothing that we can cause to happen for ourselves. We truly are naked before God, He knows our every thought, our every weakness, every secret sin. But God declares about Himself, that He is, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” (Exodus 34:6 NASB) The Pharisees were continually exalting themselves and their own righteousness, counting on their ability to keep The Law, as their ticket into Heaven. But right under their noses, was the answer to all of mankind’s failure; The Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, Son of God. Yet, in their pride and arrogance, they did not see Him, or recognize Him for who He really is.
Even so, as believers in Jesus, self-righteousness will blind us to seeing Jesus in our lives. Being full of ourselves keeps us from being full of Jesus. He never leaves us or forsakes us, but our self-reliance, self-centeredness, and self-righteousness, blind us to His Amazing Work in each of our lives, and in the lives of others. The Law can take many forms in our lives. It can be a set of standards we hold up as the one we have to meet, and then we impose it onto others. It can be the comparison game of wishing we were as “Spiritual” as other people. Self- Righteousness actually separates us from the very One who can make us truly Righteous and Pure, Jesus. The only way our righteousness can surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees, is to receive from God, the righteousness of Christ, through faith in Him.
Even as believers, we can fall back into relying on our own righteousness. Here is what Paul says about this: You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:1-5) By faith in Christ alone, as it says above in Philippians, “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but the righteousness that comes from God, based on faith alone.” It is Christ alone who saves us, robes us in His righteousness, and keeps us there. Crawl up into the Secure Place of Christ alone. Let Him wrap you in His own Righteousness. Stay there, swaddled in His Grace. You will find Him faithful, trustworthy, and secure.