Thursday: Excessive Righteousness

Matt. 5:20

Read Matthew 5:17-20. In the context of the week’s lesson, what are some of the ways that Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 5:20 could be understood? See also Rom. 10:3.

Image © Lars Justinen from

Image © Lars Justinen from

If read in isolation, Matthew 5:20 could be seen as an invitation to out-Pharisee the Pharisees; that is, do what they do, only do it more.

But is this what Jesus is saying? Fortunately, the answer to that question is within our reach. Yesterday’s lesson pointed out that it was not unusual for the scribes and Pharisees to elevate traditional laws over the law of God. Jesus had to tell them that their actions in effect invalidated the plain Word of God. Monday’s lesson also mentioned that, although the scribes and Pharisees probably had good content in their teaching, many of them lived hypocritical lives.

Given this background, it is not hard to see the true sentiment behind Jesus’ statement. He very well could have been referring to that which He had elsewhere warned about: 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 (Matt. 5:19, NIV). The Pharisees were so focused on the laws of human origin that they blatantly broke the law of God. Their righteousness was based on their own efforts and, as such, was defective. Isaiah had long declared that human righteousness is nothing but filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).

The kind of righteousness that Jesus promotes is one that starts in the heart. In the hand-washing incident, Jesus pointed to the Pharisees’ error by quoting from Isaiah 29:13: These people . . . honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me . (NIV) The righteousness that God seeks goes deeper than visible action.

Jesus calls for a righteousness that exceeds what the Pharisees themselves thought that they possessed. The righteousness that counts is not obtained by checking off every item on a task list; it can be gained only by faith in Jesus Christ and by claiming His righteousness for ourselves. It is a righteousness that comes from a complete surrender of self and a passionate realization that we need Jesus as our Substitute and Example.

Read Romans 10:3. How does this text help us to see what true righteousness is all about?



Thursday: Excessive Righteousness — 14 Comments

  1. The righteousness from the heart and not mere eternal forms is what Christ teaches, this indeed is righteousness by faith.No amount of human tradition,no matter how well intentioned can take the place of God's plain words.Let God's words be elevated and sinners be pointed to it for His word alone is perfect.

    • The heart cannot be trusted, unless it is made anew. Even then, our trust and assurance is to be in the righteousness of Christ alone. My bible tells me that man's thoughts were evil continually. We cannot trust the human heart for it is fickle and changes with the weather. Happy Sabbath

  2. The true righteouness comes from a complete surrender of self to Christ and accept all change he makes into our lives. So, the true righteousness is not measured by what is visible. Rather, who is righteous by faith in Christ has the right motives to do the right thing irrespetive of whether it is visible or not. Let us evaluate our motives.

  3. Only Jesus can make us righteous, ''not our riches, not our material wealth, not our high or low positions, not our works, nor our associations, nor how much we have done. We cannot work our way to righteousness, because all our ''works are like filthy rags''. Its Jesus and only Jesus. Daily we should surrender our lives and hearts to God for the infilling of the grace, mercy and His Holy Spirit to lead guide and direct us to gain the 'early rain', and subsequently the 'Later Rain''.

  4. What exceeds self-righteousness? Christ's righteousness, which makes self-righteousness null and void. The scribes and Pharisees were selectively ignorant of God's righteousness, for it's revealed in the very laws they claimed to uphold. Unwilling participants cannot receive what they will not submit to with God. Therefore, in my opinion, excessive righteousness is an oxymoron in relation to Christ. We must Daily submit to His will, His way, His law and His grace, love and mercy so that the righteousness seen in us will reflect the image and character of Christ and rightly represent Him.

  5. I believe that when obedience to the law is held up as the requirement for eternal life there is usually a subtle lie being propagated along with it. I can do it, glory to me. This is the root of every heathen religion, salvation by works. Obedience is life eternal, obedience brought into existence the same way the world was brought into existence. He spoke and it was.

  6. Going beyond an outward conformity we are united in Christ by the love of God who gave His Son. As our Substitute, he died the eternal death that we deserved. We, separating ourselves from God through transgression had no possible out the result would have been instantaneous death, except for the character of love from the Father.

  7. Jesus said, “without Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5 NKJV). Even if we knew exactly what the law requires and faithfully tried to conform to that standard we would all still fail anyway because our fallen human nature is at war against the commandments of God. Dealing with this I like what Peter has to say:

    as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:3-4 NKJV).

    It is the promises of God that enables us to live righteously. That is what the new covenant is all about – His promises, not ours.

    So then what do we do with the law? “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Rom 3:31 NKJV). We do so because it gives guidance, it is the markers along the path that tells us where to go. Even though we cannot keep the law on our own it is necessary for us to know what the goal is and when we do and desire to go in that direction the Holy Spirit will intervene as an intercessor and do for us what we are unable to do on our own.

  8. Amen Tyler, well said.
    What a wonderful God who through the power of His word and the work of His Spirit can fulfill in us His promises as laid out in His law. But it takes faith. We must believe that God has the power, and the willingness to accomplish this. We must also decide if this is what we really want. Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. Do we believe His words, His promises? Below are a set of promises, that as we surrender our lives to Him, fully trusting in Him and allowing Him to work in us daily to impart to us His righteousness and holiness, and that if we believe that what He promises will assuredly come to pass, these will become real for us in this life. Place the stress on the word 'shall'.

    You 'shall' love the Lord thy God with all the heart, with all the soul, and with all thy strength.

    You 'shall' worship the Lord thy God and you will only serve Him.

    You 'shall' not have any other god before Him, nor 'shall' you make any graven image.

    You 'shall' never take the name of the Lord in vain.

    You 'shall' remember to keep holy His Sabbath day.

    And you 'shall' love thy neighbour as thyself.

    You 'shall' not dishonour your parents.

    You 'shall not murder.

    You 'shall' not commit adultery.

    You 'shall' not steal.

    You 'shall' not lie.

    You 'shall' not covet.

  9. I love your reasoning, but I realized dealing with Christ and his high standard of righteous, the "righteous by faith" has to do with all aspect of our lives not only our spiritual life (when we go to church) but in totally (physical, mental, and social/emotional). Jesus told the elders those words because of their connection to the common people and the way the common people were treated in their everyday, day to day life. Why I am saying so, every time I am going off the part, the Holy Spirit always tries to bring me back to understand how I need to deal with people(whether friends or foes) and what it requires for me to live a righteous life.
    One of my experiences a few years ago was- I saw the manager made up her yearly report about all the staff that came to work for the year and did not took a sick leave, did not call off for any other reason, those people had perfect attendance. I saw the list and my name was not on the list, I approached my manager about my name not on the list. She stated according to record, my name did not appear to have a perfect attendance. I said to myself, come next year at the end of the year my name will be on the list come what may. I went to work for the entire year and did not have any absent day. At the end of the year the manager did not do the report, I felt angry, disappointed and wanted to know why she did not do the report so as to include my name. A few days after the Holy Spirit visited me and asked me these questions (some of them). What was the reason why I went to work for the entire year? Was it that I love Him? Was it that I love the people that I rendered my service to? Then I realized what I did. All I did for the entire year going to work was not for Christ but for ME, to exhort MY_SELF so I can look good.
    My brethren, let us not be like the elders and Pharisees. Christ said our righteousness must exceed theirs before we make it to heaven. Let us ask ourselves, what do I do, do I do it for Christ to uplift his name?

  10. Jesus does call on a righteousness far greater than the Pharisees. I suppose the verse if taken out of context could be taken to out Pharisee the Pharisees. But I think are missing the point entirely that Jesus was making. There is a righteousness that God expects. We have to know what it is, and we have to know how to get it. It is true that it involves a changed heart, but how do we know the difference between the righteousness that God calls us to and the righteousness of the Pharisee.

    Both God and the Pharisee agree that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. The question asked by the lawyer in Luke 10:29 sums up some of the difference. He asked “and who is my neighbour?” The other question that I would like to add is “How far do I have to go to love my neighbour?” Both these questions relate to the righteousness God expects.

    We are all familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke Chapter 10. It is important to note that in Moses law there is a directive to going to the aid of someone in need. “…you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord.” Lev 19:16 NABS. Many translations have translated the word, which is rendered as life, as blood. The meaning of this verse means, that if our neighbours life is in danger, we are to respond by doing everything possible to save it, even if it means that our own life is endangered. We see this principle in action when Abraham gathers a fighting force of three hundred and eighteen men from his servants and pursues an army of a size far greater than his own for the sake of his relative, Lot. (Gen 14:1-16). We also see this principle in action in the theme of the Great Controversy, where the lamb comes to do battle for the sake of the saints. The same principle is at work when God sends Jonah to the wicked city of Ninevah to warn them of impending destruction. It is also at work when we preach the Gospel to anyone and everyone we meet, whether it is the way we live our lives, or the way we present it.

    The story of the Good Samaritan is about how an outsider who doesn’t know the law fulfilled the law, while the ones who know the law failed in their duty. “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus says that we are to love our enemies (Matt 5:44) while the Pharisees take Deut. 26:3-6 out of context and use it as a licence to hate their enemies. Laying one’s life down for their enemy can only come from God. It is the love Jesus showed us when in our rebellion, we made Him our enemy, and He came to die to pay the penalty we deserve. “…you are not to act against the life of your neighbour”.

    This is the righteousness that we are called to. But God, knowing that we can’t naturally do this, offers a new heart, to replace of the heart of stone, for those willing to accept it. He gives us a new heart with His laws written on it and on our minds. He also gives us Jesus for the times we fall short.

    This is the righteousness which is far greater than the righteousness of the Pharisees.

    • I like your comments, but I also liked the righteousness mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13. It tells me what love is and what love is not. I can die for my foes and still not have love it profit me nothing because righteousness by faith (faith and love) has to do with the Holy Ghost coming and living in our lives. We no more live by sight, but by faith. Paul stated, I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ....

      • I really don't know how you can say "I can die for my foes and still not have love". John 10:11-13 puts it into perspective. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep."

        Apart from that you are right. We love because God first loved us and demonstrated that love. Thus through the Holy Spirit, we are taught how to love. It is the Christlike love that separates the shepherds from the hired hands.

        I picked up on this point of "I can die for my foes and still not have love", because the picture of God that I grew up with was a stern god who would even sacrifice his own son to achieve an end. This is not the god I worship today.

        My God is a loving God. He acted in a way in which only Love can dictate. Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus went to the cross willingly. The Father would not have allowed Him to go through what He did, had it not been willingly. We don't worship a tyrant like some Pharisees like to think.

        We all have a mechanism built into us for self preservation. This is a good thing. But the hired help run because the self preservation mechanism kicks in. The ones with the law of love in their hearts, can override the self preservation mechanism out of love, even for their enemies.

  11. I picture the heaven we are to gain as our vision while all that we do I consider it the mission. Unfortunately we are forgeting God's map towards the vision and proudly coming up with our own map of the mission. We are confusing the method of understanding the gospel with the gospel itself. May God help us that we may not dwell on mistaken zeal.


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