THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT EXCEEDS
One of the most important statements that Jesus makes in His Sermon on the Mount is, “Except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. This does not mean that He is expecting us to keep the Law better than the Jewish leaders. He means that we must define righteousness in a totally different way. Jesus taught that righteousness was not doing the right thing, but doing it with the right motive. If you hit a man, the hitting is not the sin, but the anger that caused you to hit him is.
You are a spiritual being walking around in a physical body. The body does only what the spiritual man tells it to do. Your body is not to blame for your actions, but your spiritual self is, and it is this spiritual heart, mind and personality that you must discipline to do the will of your Creator. Otherwise, after the physical body is dead and disposed of, the spiritual person that is you will not be prepared to live in the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is also true in the positive sense. It is not the religious act that you perform that is righteous and pleases God, but the motivation and reason in your heart that you do it. I often see people cross themselves and point upward as a ritual act, but it has no meaning, because there is no heart in it. Repeating memorized phrases, no matter how pious, is meaningless without their coming from a sincere heart. It must sadden the heart of God to hear the songs sung by people in church without any thought or heartfelt intent. Taking the Lord’s Supper as a ritual is blasphemy, if we do not “Remember Him”, as He requested.
This was the whole point that Jesus was making in the Sermon of the Mount. The Jewish leaders were very strict in keeping the rituals of the Law, but they had no love in their hearts, no close personal relationship with God in their ritual obedience. To exceed their righteousness, we must change a lot of things that are obviously typical of much that is called worship today.
However, this is not a mass problem. It is an individual one. The church cannot make the change. It is one you have to make yourself. To be a Christian, you must have a personal relationship with the Lord and daily walk and talk with Him. He promised His disciples (and now that is you and me) that He would be with them always. That means that in the myriad decisions we are called upon to make every day, we should consult with Him and be conscious of His presence with us. Only when you are conscious of the presence of God can your worship be acceptable and exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.
In the Hebrew letter, God says that He is going to make a new covenant with His people. He says that His will will be in their minds and in their hearts. So He took the Law off the carved tablets of stone and lovingly placed His love and mercy in the hearts of those who are His. Let no one tell you that we need to be legally correct. We have a loving relationship with our Father, and He does not want our rituals and our correctness; He wants our faith and our hearts to belong to Him, and then we will be His.