“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 5:20
That is a strong statement for Jesus to make. What Jesus is informing His hearers here on the mountain is that in order to obtain salvation, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, one must be more righteous than the most righteous people. The scribes and Pharisees counted themselves righteous because they were sons of Abraham and because they followed what the law required. According to them they were righteous because they obeyed the law. They made themselves righteous.
The Bible is clear that in order to obtain salvation one must be righteous, one must be free from sin. Jesus says in Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We must be righteous in order to be saved. Which then leads to the question, how do I become righteous?
Many will say that if we keep the ten commandments, obey the Bible, do good works, all those things will make us righteous. Sounds good right? “Righteousness is right living” is what I’ve heard before. And many Christians focus on being good and following what the Bible says. The unfortunate thing is that when we do that we become legalists because we are trying to become righteous in our own power.
What does that look like to God? Isaiah has some words about that, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” All our righteous deeds are a like a filthy garment in the eyes of God. We can’t make ourselves look more righteous in God’s eyes. When we try in our own power to be good, we are trying in our own power to save ourselves, to make ourselves righteous. And when we try to make ourselves righteous in our own power we are putting on filthy rags.
Jesus asks us to put on His righteousness. In Revelation 3 Jesus tells the church of Laodicea who is lukewarm and believes themselves to be rich and fully clothed that they are instead naked. And that the only way to solve that problem is to “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you m ay become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourselves and that the sham of your nakedness will not be revealed.”
We Christians today think we have it together. We think because we obey the commandments, help people out, believe the right things that God has to save us. The problem is that we are relying on our own righteousness. Christ says, “Buy from Me My white garment of righteousness. Put it on.”
Even though it’s free, it will cost you everything you have, everything you are. Because to buy from Christ means to give Him all. When we buy His righteousness we trade ourselves, we give up ourselves. And when Christ clothes us with His white garment, we are instantly righteous. Now we always have the choice to take the garment off (and frequently do), but when we submit to Christ, He puts it back on us and we are righteous again.
We get righteousness by submitting to Christ, moment by moment, day by day. We get righteousness by taking Christ’s righteousness as our own, infiltrating our lives, and running our lives. Definitely easier said than done.
For the previous post in this series on the definition of righteousness Click Here.
For the next post in this series that deals with what righteousness is not, Click Here.