Most of us deep down inside, wish we could be better people. Seriously, most people sincerely desire to be better in some area of their moral life. It could be as simple as wishing we weren`t so moody or angry with our kids so much. Maybe we would like to be more generous or loving to others. Humans naturally want to be considered "righteous." There is a real need for us to feel like we are on the side of "good" isn`t there?
However, on the other side we have "lawlessness" always pulling on our physche. When we see a set of rules, we may feel strongly against them and rebel choosing our own way as the absolute authority. That is the essence of the criminal mind.
Yet with as many laws and codes within the religions of man, we cannot stand as completely righteous people. We are all imperfect, fractured people. We have to admit, we are missing something. Some days we know it more than others. We can follow all the rules and do a lot of good in our lifetime, but when it comes to even our own ideals we fall short. We cannot live the "perfect" life.
Is that okay?
Well "yes" and "no." God does not expect perfect results, if He did there would be no need to establish the Old Testament laws and statutes. However God does expect "perfection" in our effort. This meaning our commitment to pursue godliness, or in other words, holy and God-likeness in our character. God gave commandments to the people of Israel saying "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach" Duetronomy 30:11. God understood their limitations yet still created a system to promote godliness among His chosen people at that time.
So God knew His people were going to make mistakes, and within that sacrificial system there was allowance for the forgiveness of lawlessness or sin. In addition to obtaining forgiveness in creating the sacrificial system, people also could tangibly understand the cost of sin. I.E. They had to give up physical things for their sin. Through the system people were able to maintain a status of so called legal righteousness. In fact, Paul himself, claims to be perfect regarding the "law" of the Jews, but again something was missing in his life, and luckily he found it on the road to Damascus one day.
But let me make this clear, God does not want us to abandon rules and regulations for utter wickedness and chaos in our lives. He wants us to use those rules and precepts in His Word as a tutor, a training and a guide to follow in the path of the God-man, Jesus.
"Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24)
So what is this new kind or different brand of righteousness I am talking about?
Jesus said, "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)
The Pharisees were legally the most kept and righteous people around. They were the "Supreme Court" of the land, they were the good guys, the "District Attorneys" and prosectors of law breakers, they were the really well respected and proper people of the day who knew and kept the law perfectly.
Yet Jesus knew of their money laundering scams, and the many other legal loopholes they had made for themselves. (Read more in Mark 7) This accusation by Jesus showed they did not possess true righteousness. Hence Jesus` words stating "surpass." The Pharisees` righteousness was of the letter only, but not of the heart. They did not have the Spirit of the Law but only the letter of the Law as their guide.
So why all this talk about ancient laws and people who seem to have little relevance to society today? Well, simply this: Righteousness is developed through the journey of the human heart with God, not in fundamentalist legalism, or striving for legal perfection.
If you are in an authentic, living relationship with God and are walking with Christ, you will find yourself becoming more righteous as time goes on. It is an incremental, life changing, metamorphosis. It is essentially becoming the form of righteousness that Jesus expounds on in Matthew Chapter 5
Righteousness is the result of walking with Christ, and knowing and living His words in your life. There are many different facets of that experience. There is the Word anchored in the Bible and unction of the Holy Spirit, there is belief and understanding, also the good deeds that come from that understanding.
It is best to see ourselves as a progressive work of righteousness. That being the result of faith, not something that we have earned, but a gift of God. Grace gives us a new kind of righteousness that is not "self" righteous. It is a humble and contrite form of righteousness that is grateful for each day, and the opportunities that await.
So be relieved and have peace because righteousness is achieved not through our hard work, but relying on the both the finished work of the cross of Christ and the faithfulness of God to work in and through our lives, so that we become a new kind of "righteous."