Picture credit to The Art of Manliness and Ted Slampyak
“For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
Being familiar at all with Jesus’ walk on earth, this whole statement seems to not make sense coming from Him, I mean, considering that most of the scribes and Pharisees had a major problem with Jesus and considering Jesus was often calling them hypocrites. Here were the “religious” people of the day. These were the kind of people who would go in the Temple and pray out loud for everyone to hear and say, “Thank You, Lord, that I’m not a sinner like that one over there. You know all the good things I do.” Well, at least that’s how You tell it, Lord. And then on the other hand there’s the tax collector, who goes into the Temple and beats his chest because he knows how unworthy he is.
But here You are, saying outright that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, the righteousness of man is not enough to make me acceptable to enter Your kingdom, to enter into an eternal relationship with You. Unless my righteousness superabounds beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees, I haven’t got a chance. And I don’t. I absolutely don’t have a chance on my own. Because on my own, all the righteousness I could ever muster up could only at its best equal that of the scribes and Pharisees. Because on my own, all the righteousness I could ever muster up from myself would just be that- my own righteousness, and that just doesn’t cut the cake.
I live in a world where somehow we’ve entered the mindset that we can establish our own righteousness. Unfortunately, that’s an idea straight from hell. It’s not a new idea either. You, God, even accused Job of doing this. “Then answered the Lord unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, ‘Gird up your loins now like a man: I will demand of you, and declare you unto me. Will you also disannul my judgment? Will you condemn me, that you may be righteous.'” (Job 40:6-8) There is only one who establishes righteousness. You, God, have set the standard and it is so much higher than ours. Now, some of the world, maybe a lot, has absolutely no zeal for God. And it’s not surprising that they don’t know or care about Your righteousness, Lord. But Paul pointed this out about another group of people, and it applies even today. “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:2-3) But what is righteousness?
Paul continues, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” Let me think about this in more straight forward language. I’ll borrow from the Complete Jewish Bible. Their zeal “is not based on correct understanding; for, since they are unaware of God’s way of making people righteous and instead seek to set up their own, they have not submitted themselves to God’s way of making people righteous. For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah [Jesus], who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts. For Moshe [Moses] writes about the righteousness grounded in the Torah that the person who does these things will attain life through them.” Paul also says that righteousness grounded in trusting says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”
“Oh,” you say, “I read the Word and I’ve hid it in my heart.” Just remember that the demons and Satan himself have the Word memorized and it’s ingrained in them too. But they certainly aren’t righteous. They live according to their own will and not God’s. They live according to their own pleasure and not the delight of the Lord. And they certainly don’t delight in You, Lord. They are refusing to submit themselves under the goal of righteousness. What is the goal? Well, it’s a Who and not a what. The goal is Jesus. The goal is surrender to God’s way, to God’s plan, which totally throws our own righteousness for a loop. The goal is trust in Jesus Christ. See, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
So what does it mean when I hear, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” It means that I have surrendered to God’s plan by surrendering my life and desires to His Son, Jesus Christ. It means that I am learning moment by moment what His desires are and then surrendering my own desires to submit and delight under His. It means that Jesus abides in me and I in Him by the power of His resurrection and the work of His Holy Spirit within me. His word comes out of my mouth because He is flowing out from within. He has given me a new heart with new desires. He has changed my whole idea of righteousness and is continually molding it to make it more and more like His. And it’s not something that happens on the outside. He supernaturally changes me. He supernaturally opens my mind and heart to agree with Him and to desire His way more than mine. This is His righteousness that superabounds above the righteousness of man, even above that of the scribes and Pharisees.
This is righteousness in excess. When the world mistreats me, because of this righteousness, I can continue not changed by the world but living above the world’s standards. It’s a righteousness that takes me over the top. It’s more than full. It goes beyond every expectation. It’s better than carrying a load for an enemy as far as asked. It asks to carry it the whole way. It’s over and beyond every expectation. And it’s only found in agreement with You because it takes Your power in us to fulfill this.
I’m not going to define righteousness. I think if we really are seeking, we know what it is. It’s hard to define exactly, but we know what it really looks like. And God, You didn’t just set the example for us in Jesus; You are righteousness. See, it’s not about being right or doing the right thing. It way exceeds that. Let’s just look at Your example. You created man. We belong to You. We owe You our allegience. You said, “Don’t do that.” Why? Because You wanted us to retain our special relationship with You because You loved us and cared for us. There’s nothing wrong with You desiring that same love back from us. See, You chose to love us and lavish Your love on us. Your desire is that we lavish that same love back on You.
But we don’t. We take that lavish love, and think there is something better. We turn away. We choose our own way. We lavish our love on ourselves and other things. We prove over and over again we don’t deserve Your lavish love. We deserve Your wrath by the way we treat You with such disdain. But in Your righteousness You do what is most right for us. Think about it. You don’t go against Your character, You uphold Your holiness, but You go beyond the limits of every expectation to make a way for us to not be condemned even though we deserve it. You take all of Your standards, which are so much higher than ours, and You satisfy them all, for our sake, for my sake, in the person of Jesus Christ. He exceeded the requirements because I couldn’t and wouldn’t. He overflowed with You. You “overdid” it in Him. Jesus became more than enough righteousness for me. He became so much more than enough for me, that some was left over. And that left over is enough to enable me to live in You, to love Your way, and to be made righteous in and by You.
For God made Jesus to be sin for us. This God man who never sinned, payed our price, our punishment. And He did it so that we could live in the righteousness of God through faith in Him. He’s the one that makes us righteous and He’s the one that increases the overflow of His righteousness in us. It’s His righteousness alone in us that brings glory and praise to God. Like Paul prayed for believers in Philippi, I want to be found in You, Lord, not having my own righteousness, but having the righteousness through faith in Jesus, that righteousness which is of God by faith, so that I will know, that I will experience, intimately, You and the power of Your resurrection and the fellowship of Your sufferings by being conformed unto Your image. I want to gird up my loins like a man, submit, and let You be God in my life. Girding up my loins takes some thought and preparation if I’m a little boy, but by the time I’m a man, it ought to be automatic and a part of who I am. So let my submitting to Your will, to Your righteousness, be so automatic in my life and prepare me for life and the battles ahead.