Q: Please explain Matthew 5:20, where Christ says that we will not enter the Kingdom of God if our righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.


A: For an in-depth Bible study as to HOW, exactly, our righteousness must exceed the “righteousness” of the scribes and the Pharisees, including their actions, thoughts and motives, please look up and study carefully all the Scriptures quoted in this Q&A, especially those passages in which Jesus Christ condemns the scribes and the Pharisees for their concept of “righteousness.”

We need to understand the types of “righteousness” Christ is referring to in Matthew 5:20. The Bible says that all of God’s commandments constitute righteousness (Psalm 119:172), and that we sin if we transgress just one of His commandments (1 John 3:4, Authorized Version; James 2:10-12). However, Christ was not saying that we will never enter God’s Kingdom if we occasionally sin. If that were the case, then NO ONE would be able to enter God’s Kingdom, as WE ALL sin from time to time (Romans 3:9-10; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8-10). But we can obtain forgiveness for our sins through repentance and faith in the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who died FOR US, and who can and will make us righteous, by living in us, as we will explain.

What Christ was addressing first was the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and who despised others (Luke 18:9-14). They erroneously believed that they were without sin, and that they did not need to repent (John 9:40-41). They believed that they could keep the law of God, in the way that they interpreted it, based on their own strength and [self-] righteousness (compare Romans 10:2-3). In addition, even though the scribes and Pharisees appeared to be very righteous to men, they were filled with hypocrisy (Luke 12:1; compare Matthew 23:1-36; Mark 12:13-15). Although they claimed that they kept God’s law and that they were without sin, they, in reality, did NOT keep God’s law at all (Mark 7:1-13; John 7:18-19). First, they neglected the weightier matters of the law, while they appeared to be very diligent in keeping the “smaller” matters (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). But even insofar as the “smaller” areas of the law were concerned, they kept them only, if at all, to be seen and praised by men (Matthew 23:5).

On the other hand, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, in that we have to replace our own [self-] righteousness with the acceptance of God’s GIFT of HIS righteousness (Romans 5:17; compare Philippians 3:8-9). We are to seek GOD’s righteousness, not our own (Matthew 6:33), and we must allow God’s righteousness to REPLACE our own [self-] righteousness. This is only possible if we let Christ live in us through the Holy Spirit, fulfilling for and through us the righteous requirement of the law (Romans 8:3-4). Job had that kind of [pharisaical] self-righteousness which did not allow him to see his sinful nature [which we all have] and which needed to be replaced with the righteousness of God. But Job came to repentance, and so must we (Job 42:1-6).

With God’s righteousness in us comes the ability to keep the law, as well as the attitude of humility–the realization and conviction that we need to repent of our own shortcomings and that we need to let God live His life in us. When we sin, we must repent and obtain forgiveness through the blood of Christ, and the Bible promises us that the living Christ, dwelling within us, will cleanse or purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Without faith in Christ, and what He did, does and will accomplish for us, and without the faith OF Christ–Christ’s faith–in us, enabling us to do what we must (Galatians 2:20, Authorized Version), we could never obtain God’s righteousness (compare Romans 4:13; 10:1-6; Galatians 5:5 and Philippians 3:9). Without God’s Holy Spirit within us, which the scribes and Pharisees did not have, man CANNOT keep God’s law in the spirit. Our human righteousness is like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) in comparison with the righteousness of God, which God wants to give us through the gift of His Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

Christ promises us that we WILL enter God’s Kingdom if we seek God and HIS righteousness first. In doing so, we are to replace our own self-righteousness–the “righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees”–with the righteousness of God.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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