Who is truly a good and moral person? Can you describe it without giving the typical religious non-answer? (“No one is righteous, not one!”, etc.) As I said in part five, philosophers and scholars had been trying to answer this question for centuries before Jesus came on the scene, which is why this section in Matthew five (vs.20-48) is so important.
This is part six in this series. If you haven’t read the other parts, I would suggest you do so before continuing here. Each part builds on the former parts.
Jesus begins this section by qualifying what kind of person participates in the Kingdom of the heavens:
20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness abounds more than [that of] the scribes and Pharisees, you will by-no-means enter into the kingdom of the heavens! (Matt.5:20 DLNT *)
Again, “entering into the kingdom of the heavens” is not talking about going to heaven when you die; it’s about a cooperative relationship with God, partnering with what He’s doing in His Kingdom among us and in us, here on the earth (Luke 17:21 AMP).
The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees
We should first ask, just what is the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?” The answer is pretty straightforward.
What Jesus is referring to is the righteousness of the outward deed.
This is the “goodness” of the world we live in. If you get caught doing something considered bad, you’re a bad person. If you’ve never been caught, it’s assumed you’re a good person.
Going “beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” means that our righteousness is based in something other than what we want people to see on the surface.
As I said in part five, what made Jesus so iconoclastic was that He bypassed appearances and the morals of the well-behaved, delving deep under the surface, even dividing the spirit from the soul, where the motivations of the heart reside (Heb.4:12).
For instance, Jesus defines a thief, not by the act of stealing (the deed), but as one who would steal if the situation were right (heart). The same goes with murder, adultery, manipulation, revenge, greed, etc.
Dealing with our iceberg: “going beyond…”
The Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5-7) deals with our “iceberg”; the 90% of “us” hidden below the surface. What we see in the rest of chapter five is Jesus dealing with six major relational issues of the heart that hinder us from “loving our neighbor as ourselves.” These six relational root issues are as follows:
- Anger – vs. 21-26
- Sexual attraction (lust) – vs. 27-30
- Marital dissatisfaction – vs. 31-32
- Influence through manipulation (vows) – vs. 33-37
- Revenge – vs. 38-42
- Hating our enemies – vs. 43-48
Dallas Willard, in his classic book, The Divine Conspiracy, put together a table like the following, showing the contrast between the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” and Jesus’ Kingdom way:
Notice that all of these deal with our “normal” way of relating to others, which is almost always hypocritical and self-serving. Following Jesus forces us to walk in other-centered, self-giving love (definition of “agape” love), which is what “taking up our cross” means (Luke 9:23).
As a “Christian,” if I don’t let Jesus deal with these underlying issues that dysfunctionally drive my heart, my “morality” will be no more than “keeping up appearances.” It will be because I want to look good to others, or negatively, because I don’t want to get caught, punished, sent to hell, or kicked out…. My righteousness will be “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.”
That’s not freedom, people. That’s religious bondage!
Until I get honest with myself and trust Jesus, letting Him cast out this self-preserving spirit of fear with His relentless love, I will only hurt others and judge their weaknesses according to my strengths. I won’t look at all like Christ. Sadly, this is the case with a lot of professed Christians.
But when I finally do enter into this cooperative process with His Spirit, I will begin living in His other-centered, self-giving love. This love is the only motivation that transforms the heart, and it’s what surrender to Jesus looks like.
14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Cor.5:14-15 NASB *)
I need to emphasize again that, according to Jesus, it’s only in this cooperative process where we’re actually following Him. And, just as important, we have no hope whatsoever of being successful at this apart from His empowering grace.
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age (Titus 2:11-12 *)
This is why we must put our mind on His potter’s wheel, to be reshaped and reformed, so that the Kingdom realities can flow through us (Rom.12:2).
Otherwise, we won’t be participating in the Kingdom blessings meant for us; we will be shaped and controlled by the culture around us instead.