Most, if not all of us, know what we need to do to go to heaven. We know that we need to be converted and become pure as little children (Mat 18:3). We know that we need to be born again through water baptism according to the inspired words of the Holy Spirit (Joh 3:5). We know that we need to do the will of God (Mat 7:21). However, human nature is such that we often want to do the bare minimum to achieve the desired results. In school, we want to know the passing mark for exams. At work, we want to know the sales quota to meet. In the home, we want to know what are the chores we need to finish (and leave the rest for another day). Unsurprisingly, there are some like the rich young ruler who also want to know the minimum requirement for entering heaven (Mat 19:16). We want to know what is the minimum amount of time we need to spend in personal devotion to God. We want to know what is the minimum amount of money we need to give to God in the weekly contribution. We want to know what is the minimum amount of effort required in serving God. In this article, we shall examine the benchmark set by Jesus for entering heaven, that is, to have a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Mat 5:20).
The scribes and Pharisees were righteous in teaching God’s law (Mat 23:2), but the problem with them was that they did not practice what they teach (Mat 23:3). In fact, they bound heavy burdens on others that they themselves would not do (Mat 23:4), such as imposing Sabbath restrictions on others that they themselves would not follow (Mat 12:10-11). By not doing what they teach, they actually cause the name of God to be blasphemed (Rom 2:24). While we may be active in the ministry of edification, let us consider if our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees in practicing what we teach (Rom 2:1). We condemn denominations for not practicing true worship in not following the truth, but do we condemn ourselves in not having the right spirit when we worship God (Joh 4:24)?
The scribes and Pharisees were righteous in converting souls (Mat 23:15), but the problem with them was that they hindered their converts from entering heaven (Mat 23:13). In fact, they made them twice as much a son of hell as themselves (Mat 23:15), by compelling Gentile Christians to be circumcised and to keep the law of Moses which they themselves could not keep (Act 15:5,10). By stumbling their converts, they actually bring woe upon themselves (Luk 17:1-2). While we may be active in the ministry of evangelism, let us consider if our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees in not stumbling those we convert (Luk 17:3-4). We are welcoming and forbearing of visitors that join us for worship, but do we exhibit the same kind of love and forgiveness towards them when they obey the gospel and become our brethren (Col 3:13)?
The scribes and Pharisees were righteous in their external obedience to the Law of Moses (Mat 23:23), but the problem with them was that they neglected the more important internal virtues (Mat 23:24). In fact, they were beautiful on the outside but ugly on the inside (Mat 23:5,27-28), being more concerned with pleasing man than God (Mar 7:1-23). By doing good to be seen of others, they actually lose their reward from God (Mat 6:1). While we may be active in the ministry of benevolence, let us consider if our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees in doing good with the right motives (Mat 6:2). We do good to those who are good to us, but do we also do good to others who cannot repay us (Luk 14:12-14)?
The scribes and Pharisees did much edification, evangelism, and benevolence, but they could not escape the condemnation of hell (Mat 23:33) because of their sins of hypocrisy (Luk 12:1) and self-righteousness (Luk 18:9). The standard of righteousness set by the scribes and Pharisees are by no means low, yet to enter heaven we have to exceed this standard (Mat 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees thought themselves better than their fathers, just as we sometimes delude ourselves in thinking ourselves better than the scribes and Pharisees (Mat 23:29-30). But let us examine ourselves constantly to make sure that we do not become modern day Pharisees (2Co 13:5), and take heed to ourselves to make sure that we do not fall (1Co 10:12).