True Righteousness

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven”  (Matthew 5:20, NIV).

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”  (Matthew 23:27-28, NIV).

I went to Haiti in 1996 on a short-term mission trip.  One of the things I remember about the trip was the tombs.  They were these elaborate structures that were quite striking and beautiful in a way.  They were decorated with the finest adornments.  Sometimes they were nicer than the homes in which the Haitians lived.  Yet these beautiful structures were filled with death and decay.  Such beauty on the outside, but so ugly on the inside.

It must have sounded quite shocking to hear Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount call people to a higher standard of righteousness than that of the Pharisees!  On the outside, the Pharisees looked like the most righteous dudes on the block.  They did all the right things.  They said the right words.  They were the “Holy Joes” of their day.  They had a problem, though.  Jesus knew their hearts.  He knew that even though they had all this outward righteousness that their hearts were full of wickedness and filth.  They appeared to love God, but in reality they only loved themselves.

It’s the heart that matters most.  Being declared right with God is a matter of the heart, not a matter of outward appearances.  Right actions and behavior that flow from a heart that desires approval and applause from people may look good on the outside, but it is putrid in God’s eyes.  Right actions and attitudes that come from a heart that truly desires to love and please God do exactly that.  They please the Lord.  May our righteousness come from penitent and grateful hearts and not from a desire to be noticed and lauded by those around us.


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