19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 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.

Matt 5:19-20 (NIV)

The righteousness Jesus demanded from His followers - and continues to demand - was and is unlike that of the Pharisees or of the legalists of our day who were and are simply into the externals – only what man can observe and not into what God thoroughly examines. Our Lord gives forth a clear “Woe” to those who walk in that path. Jesus taught quite the opposite by stating we are to clean the inside of the cup and the outside would then become clean – one must first get to the root of the problem – not merely the effects of the problem. It is obedience at the core – at the heart level - a good tree will produce good fruit. If cleansing takes place internally, the external will follow suit.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matt 23:25-26 (NIV)

Our Lord aimed at the heart – a true inner righteousness based on faith in God. Remember in Scripture, the heart is the term used for the seat of all our affections and desires. Our actions and words flow from the overflow of our hearts – particularly when we are pressed on every side. That is why Jesus told us our fruit would be a good indicator of the condition that lies within us. Are we full of selfish ambitions, vain conceits, greed, anger and the like? It will manifest itself in our behavior and words. We may be able to mask it for a while but it will eventually come forth. If we are His, God will see to it that it does! It is His desire for us to get rid of the evil that lies hidden within our hearts. We are pros at justifying our poor behaviors basing and blaming them on all types of dysfunctions as a balm to cover our gaping wounds. Our hearts are also prone to delude us – leading us astray and taking us down the wrong path. We are often clueless of the depravity that remains within us.

"Christians are rapidly losing sight of sin as the root of all human woes. And many Christians are explicitly denying that their own sin can be the cause of personal anguish. More and more are attempting to explain the human dilemma in wholly unbiblical terms: temperament, addiction, dysfunctional families, the child within, codependency, and a host of other irresponsible escape mechanisms promoted by secular psychology. The potential impact of such a drift is frightening. Remove the reality of sin, and you take away the possibility of repentance. Abolish the doctrine of human depravity and you void the divine plan of salvation. Erase the notion of personal guilt and you eliminate the need for a Savior." John MacArthur

It is God alone Who knows the true condition of the heart of man. Scripture tells us:

9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10 "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve." Jer 17:9-10 (NIV)

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Prov 3:5-6 (NIV)

23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Prov 4:23 (NIV)

Jesus also tells us that it is a dangerous thing – either by practice or doctrine – to disannul even the least of God’s commands. Furthermore, He clearly shows it demonstrates impudence to break the Law and even greater disrespect to teach others to do likewise – which always follows albeit often unknowingly. It is for our own good and God’s glory to both practice and teach that which is good, pleasing and perfect - God’s Word. Those who practice what they preach are truly great – shining like stars in the universe as they hold out the Word of life.

14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life-- Phil 2:14-16 (NIV)

Lastly, our Lord tells us the righteousness He came to establish surpasses any good works on the human level rather it is the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. In a forceful refutation of mere human effort to please God, Paul writes in Philippians:

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Phil 3:7-9 (NIV)

“The grace of God is love freely shown towards guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity, and had no reason to expect anything but severity. We have seen why the thought of grace means so little to some church people—namely, because they do not share the beliefs about God and man which it presupposes. Now we have to ask: why should this thought mean so much to others? The answer is not far to seek; indeed, it is evident from what has already been said. It is surely clear that, once a man is convinced that his state and need are as described, the New Testament gospel of grace cannot but sweep him off his feet with wonder and joy. For it tells how our Judge has become our Saviour.” J.I. Packer

What I Glean

  • I am to deal with the mess in my heart – not cover and conceal it but reveal and repent from it.
  • God alone knows and searches my heart.
  • My “righteousness” before God is as filthy rags – it is Christ’s righteousness imputed to me that is my hope of glory.