A Righteousness That Surpasses

From a study of the gospels, we learn that the scribes and Pharisees thought of themselves as being the standard of measurement for righteous living. They were the champions of orthodoxy, the defenders of the faith, the epitome of all righteousness. Because of their pious attitude, they actually thought that no group of people living could be better spiritual examples than themselves (cf. Luke 18:9-14).

However, Jesus told his disciples: “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NASB). Christ condemned the hypocritical attitude of the scribes and Pharisees because their righteousness was merely an outward show — not reflecting the true attitude of their heart (cf. Matthew 23). Even though they were following the Law of Moses in their teaching, they were disregarding the Law regarding their actions (Matthew 23:2-3). Translated in today’s English, we would say, “Do as I say, but not as I do.

While following the Law of Moses required refraining from an action, i.e., “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Jesus went further, addressing the core of the problem — the thoughts behind the action, when He presented the idea of our not even being angry with our brother (Matthew 5:22). Since murder is a premeditated act brought about by the thoughts and intents of our heart, if we are never angry at our fellow man, we will never be guilty of murder.

Moses’ law stated: “You shall not commit adultery” (Matthew 5:27). Again, Jesus addressed the motives of the heart, teaching that if an individual even lusted after a woman in his mind (heart), that individual was just as guilty of adultery as the individual who committed the very act. Thus, the law of Christ demands more of us than the law of Moses, because it demands a change in our thought patterns (cf. Matthew 15:15-20; Mark 7:17-23; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

Beloved, when we align our thinking with Christ’s thinking (1 Corinthians 2:16; cf. Matthew 11:29; John 15:15; Philippians 2:5; 1 Peter 2:21), we will not commit those acts that are in violation of God’s word — our righteousness will thus surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Mike Riley, Gospel Snippets