Wanna hear a difficult teaching of Jesus? Here’s one:
“You must obey God’s commands better than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law obey them. If you don’t, I promise you that you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20, CEV)
Jesus basically is telling us here that his true followers will be the ones who obey God better than any of the most religious/spiritual people of whom we can think! But how can we do that? I’ve known some people in my life who seemingly have been miles ahead of me on the journey. They seem to accomplish things for God that make me scratch my head in wonderment. I’ll admit that I even get a little jealous of some people who seem never to do anything wrong. How then can we ever measure up and even surpass the obedience of some of the others? This is like someone telling me that I have to be a better golfer than Jack Nicklaus in order to be acceptable to God!
I think Jesus is actually teaching us something beyond the comparison and religious games that we sometimes play. The religious elites of Jesus’ day were known for not doing anything wrong, but that actually doesn’t count as righteousness! Being right with God is an operation of the heart, the inward. Righteousness is not based on outward deeds. A great theologian named Dallas Willard said it like this: “The law is the course of righteousness, not the source.” We can surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees by getting right in our heart with Jesus, by following him in trust.
Beware today of the desire to find approval from others. We live in a culture that loves to brag and show our “credentials.” We definitely should not hide good deeds, but let’s practice them in order to be seen by the “audience of One,” who is Jesus Christ.