Vol. 6, No. 6
~ Page 16 ~
A correspondent asks for an explanation of Matthew 5:20: "For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven."
The "scribes" in Jesus' time "were the 'scholars' or men of letters (John 7:15), to whom belonged the professional study of the Mosaic Law" (Bible Dictionary, p. 106). The Pharisees "devoted themselves to the most scrupulous fulfillment of the Law as expounded by the scribes" (Bible Dictionary, p. 98).
Righteousness (dikaiosune) is "uprightness," "what is right," "what God requires" (Greek-English Dictionary, p. 46). But the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was not "what God" required. They had "a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness," had "not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3).
As part of "the righteousness of God," Christ came to establish "my kingdom," a kingdom "not of this world" (John 18:36), a kingdom of "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). It was called both "the kingdom of heaven" and "the kingdom of God" and "my church" (Matthew 5:20; 12:28; 16:18). Accordingly, "the manifold wisdom of God" is made "known by the church" (Ephesians 3:10), "according to the eternal purpose which he [God] purposed in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 3:11).
The scribes and the Pharisees and other Jews rejected the Christ, whom God sent from heaven not "to destroy" the law "but to fulfill" it (Matthew 5:17). "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Romans 10:14).
Believing is a package word, including not only a mental conviction that Jesus is "both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36), but also the good confession, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37), and also repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). Faith only was in an "unclean spirit" who confessed "I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God" (Mark 1:24). Also faith only was in many "chief rulers" of a synagogue who "believed on him [Jesus]; but "did not confess him" (John 12:42). "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:20).
Thus we learn that sinners become "children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27), and so have entered "the kingdom of heaven," "the kingdom of God," "my church." They have been "born again," not by entering "the second time into" their mothers' wombs, but "born of water and of the Spirit" (John 3:3-5).
Their being "born of water" is not to remove "the filth of the flesh" (1 Peter 3:21), but is simply a reminder of Jesus' being buried and "raised up from the dead" (Romans 6:4). A reborn person has not been reborn in his flesh, but his spirit has been reborn by the teaching of the Spirit (John 3:6). "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).