Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the statement Jesus makes in Matthew 5:20, ‘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”? Or again in verse 48 when He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”?
I have felt overwhelmed many times by this standard knowing there is no way I can keep it. It's like walking into a difficult class in college and finding out the only way you can pass the class is to know more than your professor. We know that isn't going to happen, so why even try? Have you ever felt that way about your walk with Jesus? You know you can't meet this expectation day in and day out, so you just decide to stop trying?
I want to encourage you today to just that…stop trying. Now before you tune me out or say, Faith, you can't say that, I'd ask that you read a little further. As I'm walking with my small group through the Sermon on the Mount I am challenged to put these verses in context not only with the rest of the sermon, but also with the rest of the Bible. So let's dig a little deeper.
Remember that before Jesus sets this standard, He begins this famous sermon with these words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those who realize they are spiritually bankrupt. Blessed are those who realized they have nothing to offer God on their own. Not only are these people blessed, but these are the people to whom belongs the kingdom of heaven.
So how do we justify that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the people who have nothing to offer God spiritually, and at the same time to enter the kingdom of heaven one must be more righteous than the Pharisees and the teachers of the law? It seems like an oxymoron at first, but that is why we must look at Scripture as a whole and not just take verses out of context. How can these two thoughts support each other? How can someone have nothing to offer God and be more righteous than the Pharisees at the same time?
I Corinthians 1:30 says, “It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our RIGHTEOUSNESS, holiness and redemption.” (emphasis added) Verse 31 goes on to say, “Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” We must remember that Jesus didn't just provide for our salvation, but HE also is our righteousness and our holiness. When we understand this, we can stand before God and say, “I have nothing to offer You Father, so fill me up with Jesus.” It is only through Jesus that we can be more righteous than the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.
So stop trying to be the best Christian on the block. Stop trying to achieve the standard set before us here, and start emptying yourself of you, and letting God fill you up with Jesus. It is only through Him that we can be righteous.