“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” (Matthew 5:20) NIV.
There are many spiritualties in the world today. In fact it is an in-thing to be spiritual without necessarily being religious. Most of these spiritualties are based on the teachings of famous spiritual (religious) leaders, dead or alive. The other characteristic is that they are performance based—one has to follow a set of instructions or orders to attain a certain degree of spirituality. This is, however, is not a new trend. It’s been so since time immemorial. This is not surprising because humans are by nature religious, regardless of whether they admit it or not. People are always looking for something or someone transcendent to look up to as a standard of their molarity.
In this passage, Jesus redefines righteousness, that is, how one can have a right relationship with God. Lest they fault Him for contradicting God’s Word, Jesus makes it categorically clear that “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). But he goes on to set the bar even higher, “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” (Matthew 5:20). The Pharisees and teachers of the law were regarded by their contemporaries as perfect as far religious matters were concerned. So, to tell anyone that their righteousness could surpass that of the Pharisees was more than shocking. The Pharisees were rigorous in keeping the ritual requirements of the Law. They cared so much about their outside appearance, performance, and reputation before the people.
Jesus’ standard of righteousness is different. It is about the state of your heart. It begins with one’s relationship with Him. For those who have believed in Jesus Christ, our righteous is the not based on our performance but His performance. It is not about what we do but rather what He did. It is inward (as opposed to the outward performance of the Pharisees and Scribes). It is not a show that we put up but rather an overflow of the life-transforming grace we have received. It is from the inside out. State-of-the-heart spirituality is premised on the life and work of Jesus Christ. Many times I find myself struggling with the outward reputation and neglecting my state of the heart?
What is the state of your heart?