Matthew 5:20 says this, “‘For I say to you that unless your righteousness far surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Pretty scary sentence here. Seems like then no one is going to heaven…
Check this commentary out:
Now Jesus demands a standard which would have sounded impossible to His listeners—exactly how it is meant to be taken. Scribes were professional experts on the Scriptures. The Pharisees were a sect famous for their extremely careful keeping of the law of Moses. They were so careful, in fact, that they added layers of detail, rules, and regulations on top of the law so they’d never come close to breaking it. Pharisees were extraordinarily strict with their students and with the common church-goer about what it took to follow the law in order to be righteous.
Jesus is making two distinct points here. Matthew has already shown that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is false. John the Baptist called them out as a “brood of vipers” in need of a repentance that will actually “bear fruit” instead of just looking good to other people (Matthew 3:7–8). Jesus, too, will clash with the Pharisees over the way they work so hard on outward appearances while sin decays their hearts.
As Jesus will emphasize in the rest of this sermon, God cares far more about what is in a person’s heart than how other people perceive them. God values true purity motivated by true love more than technical rule-keeping motivated by spiritual pride. So true “righteousness” is something better than the rotten version paraded by religious hypocrites.
The other point being made, which upcoming teaching will support, is that nobody can be truly, perfectly righteous. No person can live a life of moral purity worthy of heaven. As Paul will write in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” He will add, though, in the following verse what Jesus’ listeners will come to understand later on, that those who come to faith in Christ “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Jesus is prepping His listeners to understand that they need a righteousness only He can earn for us.
And this last sentence is the crucial sentence. In reading this verse it would seem that we are destined for the fiery pit….but….Jesus.
We can only achieve true righteousness through Jesus. Not of our own works or our own actions but Jesus. Jesus in and through and around it all.
Let Jesus into it all. All of it. Even the dark recesses of the mind, heart and soul that are scary for even you to venture. He will bring the light as only He can.