In the time when Jesus walked the Earth, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were regarded by Jewish society as easily the most righteous of all people. They spent day and night studying and codifying Scripture for themselves and others (much like today’s pastors, theologians and Bible Study Nerds…!). Yet Jesus demanded even more, declaring that “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
So if the Pharisees were the best, yet still not good enough, how can anyone measure up? Theologian R.T. Kendall offers helpful insight into what it means to have a “surpassing righteousness.”
First, Pharisaical righteousness “is surpassed by an imputed righteousness. Jesus fulfilled the Law as our substitute. Therefore, the moment you and I transfer trust…to what Jesus has done on our behalf, the very righteousness of Jesus Christ is put to our credit.”
“Second, one surpasses the piety of the Pharisees by an implanted righteousness. This means that the Holy Spirit imparts the Word into our hearts…the promise of the Holy Spirit who indwells us.”
Third, Pharisees are outdone by the means of “internal righteousness. The Pharisees had only external righteousness…But Jesus has an internal righteousness in mind.”
Fourth, surpassing the Pharisees is accomplished by “an integrated righteousness. It is something that affects the whole person’s life—not just in public, but in private. Not only before men, but before God…This integrated righteousness gives an ever-increasing awareness of the Holy Spirit—an experience that was alien to a Pharisee.”
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