In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said something that shocked those around him. What did he say? In Matthew 5:20 (NIV) the Lord Jesus said: “For 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.” How could the people around the Lord Jesus not be shocked when they heard it? Of course, everyone wants to enter the kingdom of heaven, but unless their righteousness surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Let’s consider the definition of righteousness and the standard that associates with it. Righteousness is the quality of being morally right or justifiable. The Pharisees were the religious elites who often demonstrated their leadership in their communities, thus enhancing their own self-worth. In fact, the righteousness they prized themselves with appears unattainable.
Thank God that the Lord Jesus does not say that we should follow the standards of the Pharisees and the scribes in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. The Lord Jesus refers to a completely different standard—godliness is not earned by striving for perfection, dressing in a certain way, or holding an influential position in society.
The "righteousness" of the kingdom of heaven shall be manifested through our inner selves. It is not achieved externally similar to the "righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees" that only fulfills the rules of the law by outward appearance. The Lord Jesus knows that the motives of the Pharisees and the scribes were wrong as their hypocrisy and lawlessness within were never dealt with. Indeed the “righteousness” of the kingdom of heaven is to live outwardly from within. First, there is the heavenly quality of life in rebirth from Christ’s salvation, and then there is the outward behavior that manifests itself through this “new” life vitality. The Lord Jesus tells us that what is inside is more important than what is outside, and by knowing this will help us to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to help us understand that our righteousness comes from the justification by faith in the Lord Jesus, not from our outward act to fulfill the ordinances of the law driven by spiritual pride or misplaced traditional beliefs. Amen!