You are not good enough.
Okay, just bear with me for a minute.
"I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:17.
I don't know if you have much education about the 1st Century Jewish culture, I certainly don't have much, but I do know this: the scribes and Pharisees kept the Old Testament law of God more strictly than any other people in the world at this time. They went above and beyond the Law. The Pharisees were the men who were famous for their holiness and sanctity. The very word "Pharisee" means "separatist." They were people who set themselves apart by their careful observation of rules and regulations that they themselves had set up. Everyone in Israel thought of the scribes and Pharisees as the epitome of virtue, as examples of morality. The average man said to himself, "Those Pharisees are so good, so much better than us. There is little hope that I can ever be as good as they are, so why try?"
But...in Matthew 5:17, Jesus tells us something that seems impossible: "...unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus says that the righteousness of the Christian – the very least Christian – must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus tells us that if we aren't seen as "better" than these men by God, if we aren't seen as ABSOLUTELY PERFECT before a Holy God who has to punish sin if He is truly just and good, if our righteousness isn't above and beyond the Pharisees who already go above and beyond the Law...we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
Um. Eh. Ouch. Yikes.
How is this possible? How can anyone possibly exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees? As I already said, they were known for their strict observance of the law. We may laugh about their self-imposed rules and regulations, yet no group of people has ever succeeded in surpassing their meticulous obedience to the law. And if you know anything about yourself, you must know that you are not perfect: you did not score 100/100 on the whole "Keep Every Law in the Bible" test.
So how can anyone surpass their righteousness?
The fact is, as we shall soon find out, their righteousness was not the righteousness that God requires for salvation at all.
The point of this verse is that on the cross when Jesus was being killed, Jesus exchanged our unrighteousness (our inability to keep the Law of God) for His righteousness (a holy, spotless life lived in perfect obedience to the Law of God). Jesus took on all of our punishment from God, so that we might actually be seen as MORE RIGHTEOUS than the scribes & Pharisees: we are seen as perfect.
This is because when God looks at those who have trusted their entire lives over to Jesus, He no longer sees our sinful nature and punishable rebellion (active or passive rebellion, might I add) against Him: He sees Jesus' perfect life in our place.
It's like this illustration:
You are standing alone, with no equipment, in the middle of nowhere. All of a sudden, you see the most disconcerting storm coming full-speed ahead right in your direction. There is nowhere to run. You cannot tell the storm to just go away: it is coming this way no matter what. The flood will come, and you will drown in the force, fury, intensity and measure of the flood.
But then...a giant bird appears (bear with me, I am no JK Rowling). Right before the rain starts falling on you, the bird spreads it's wings on top of you and all the rain starts pouring on it's body and rolls down off of it's wings, but no water gets on you. The storm lasts for days, and this bird stays there protecting you, receiving the water upon itself and keeping the water away from you. You are covered by the bird's wings. Not a speck of water has touched you. You are dry.
Sorry for the cheese-factor, but this is really an image that's been replaying in my mind for the past few days. Jesus (the bird in the story) swoops in to cover us (with his body/the bird's wings) from the Father's wrath (water). We are untouched by the wrath of God, though it was coming straight for us. Jesus is the only way that we can be saved from the wrath of God that is due to us for our sinful nature.
As the old hymn says:
"Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me."
And now the good news for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ: we ARE good enough, because JESUS is good enough. We don't have to drown under the weight of our sin: Jesus already suffered enough for our sin. We have freedom because we are seen as righteous and we have a purpose, a hope, a future with Jesus and lived for the glory of Jesus: for His great exchange.
For those who are trusting Jesus only for their salvation today, for those who know that Heaven is not just for the "good people" because we are all very NOT good when compared to the perfect standard, the righteous requirement of God; to those who know that they are so sinful, yet our Jesus is so perfect; to those who know how lost and hopeless they were before God grabbed them, breathed new life and new desires and a new law of grace inside their hearts and saved them from their quickly-approaching destiny to an eternity apart from God...would we cling to these verses today:
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENT OF THE LAW might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according the the Spirit of Christ." Romans 8:1-4
Joyful for the covering of Christ.