Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Greater Righteousness

In Matthew 5.17-20, Jesus shocks those listening by stating that only those who have a righteousness greater than the scribes and Pharisees. Modern readers who understand the nature of these two groups have little issue understanding why Jesus said this, but those hearing the words then would have been greatly troubled.

The scribes and Pharisees were the teachers and interpreters of the Law – the Mosaic Law (Law of Moses). The rules set by these groups were designed to “help” the people refrain from breaking God’s laws. The problem was that the rules were focused on actions (the exterior), not the intent (interior). Jesus said the Law must be kept perfectly, but it must be understood properly. In the verses mentioned above, Jesus sets the table for the rest of this section of His sermon (what we call Chapter 5).

The challenge for the people then was that the scribes and Pharisees seemed righteous because of their actions. No one in that time period was more “righteous” than these groups. However, these groups were self-righteous, not righteous before God. Therefore, a greater righteousness (one from God) was indeed needed. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and make God’s righteousness available to all (remember, we are to hunger and thirst for righteousness, v. 6).

The same thoughts that trapped the Jews in the first century are present today. Some people are self-righteous and think their actions will justify them before God. Other people look at how “good” others are and lose any hope of being “good” themselves thinking they could never measure up. But that is Jesus point, we cannot measure up on our own. We can only be righteous through Jesus. When our life is yielded to Him, it is not about our actions, it is about His actions through us. Yes, our actions matter, but a life yielded to Jesus (i.e. Jesus is Lord) will desire to do the things He wants us to do.

When we do what He wants, it is because we are becoming like He is. That is when any self-righteous actions begin to truly transform into a truly righteous attitude. Of course, we will make mistakes, but that is why the intent is more important than the action – if indeed we try. Intent by itself is not faith, it is missed opportunity. But action with pure intent is an exercise of faith. Such action is “successful” whether or not the outcome is as expected.

So, yes, we are to have a righteousness that exceeds even those people who seem to be the most holy. Only God knows who is truly righteous through the blood of Jesus. The fruit of our labor should reveal our righteousness, but God truly looks at the heart. So don’t settle for trying to do righteous deeds. Instead find true righteousness in Jesus. It is the only way. As we become righteous, we will do what is righteous as well.

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