Impeccable Righteousness Is Commanded
June 10, 2014
I have heard it taught from Mt. 5:20 that being our righteousness must surpass that of the strict Pharisees and law-teachers in order for us to inherit Heaven, the only way we can do this is to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. And that this being the case once we believe the Gospel and confess ourselves to be sinners in need of a Savior, we are then free to sin as much as we want, because God, who thereafter can see only Christ’s righteousness covering us, no longer sees the sin we have or do. But what a barrel of falsehood such teaching is!
If we look at the context surrounding Mt. 5:20, we can see that the righteousness Jesus is speaking of is righteous deeds –deeds of obedience to the law of God. Jesus says, “Whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (v. 19b) Does… teaches… –these are words about action. We must DO (put into practice / obey / apply) God’s commands. Then we are righteous.
Jesus also says, “Anyone who relaxes, sets aside, ignores, or violates even the smallest command and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (See v. 19a in various versions)
What are so many people, including the Bible teachers, doing? They are relaxing many of God’s commands. They are saying that it is no big deal to keep sinning, at least concerning the “small” sins, for we all sin many times a day. They are saying that certain commands of Christ are too difficult to live up to and we therefore are not really expected to do so. They are saying the commands are only a goal to try for –sometimes; they are not commands to live by constantly. They are saying that, in fact, none of God’s commands are that important, as long as a person has signed up for “the imputed righteousness of Christ”.
After speaking about “the Law and the Prophets” (v. 17), that He is the fulfillment of them, and about the necessity of following God’s (thus His) commands, Jesus goes on to describe how some supposedly “lesser” sins can send a person to Hell just as easily as can those sins considered by men to be “bigger” sins. (v. 21-48) “Therefore,” Jesus says, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (v. 48)
Is Jesus saying, “You are perfect because you have been (or are going to be) imputed with My righteousness”? No, He is giving a command that we DO something, and that “something” is to be perfect. This “be perfect” command is about conducting ourselves in His prescribed ways –ways which the Lord continues to describe even in the next two chapters.
For anyone who reads the verse in its context, Mt. 5:20 is a command and a warning from Jesus that we be people of impeccable righteousness. From numerous other passages, we know that this righteousness comes by being washed of sin and by living in the power of the Spirit. No one with “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) would claim that this means anything other than living in loving obedience to the Lord’s commands as revealed in our thoughts, our words, and our whole behavior.
The righteousness of Christ which His followers have been given is not a mere concept. Instead, it is a reality that is genuine, highly visible, and fully obvious. This is the righteousness Jesus speaks of in Mt. 5:20.