Lenten Devo #21—Righteousness
"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20)
You probably don't feel the weight of just how startling that statement is. You see, the scribes and the Pharisees were the most righteous of all. They were the ones who knew the law, who followed the law scrupulously, who tithed even their garden herbs to make sure that they were doing what they should. More than that, they weren't beset by sins like drinking too much or theft or adultery or anything else.
So the idea that you have to exceed their righteousness...well that's not really possible. That is, unless you find your righteousness somewhere else.
Martin Luther called the righteousness of a Christian an "alien righteousness." That is, it doesn't come from us, but from a source outside of us. You see, the truth is, we can't exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees because we ourselves are not righteous. And we can't make ourselves righteous either. That's like trying to use dirty water to clean the dishes: it just spreads the dirt around.
That's why the Christian faith isn't "do better." That's not really good news; it's good advice. Instead, the Christian faith is, "receive this gift of righteousness." And it's through that gift that we become righteous. That's how our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees; it's given to us as a gift rather than something we earn by our own efforts.
And that's why anyone can receive it. And because anyone can receive it, we have good grounds to pray for anyone who doesn't know Jesus, that their righteousness would exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.
Who are you praying for today?