“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Matthew 5:20
In other words: Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the most holy people you know, don’t even try.
This was one of the main things Jesus accomplished in the Sermon on the Mount. He established a new order. He put the law on a new basis. He made the law harder (indeed, impossible) to obey, but easier to fulfill. If that sounds like the same thing, it’s not. Think of it this way: If you are setting out to make yourself righteous on the basis of following all the laws of God … forget it. But if you want to know the point of the law — the reason behind it — so you can know why God gave it in the first place, and what to focus on, because you want to please Him and align your life in close proximity to His will … then you can do that by following only one law: the law of love.
Jesus made the law impossible to follow by reinterpreting some of the basic laws of Moses from an internal basis. He’s concerned with what is going on in our hearts and minds not just our behavior. So six times in this sermon He says something like, “You have heard it said,” or “You have read,” and six times He says, “But I say to you …” and that’s when He restates the depth of the law in our hearts, which we all have broken and continue to break because of our sinful nature.
Instead of murder, hatred in your heart will do the same thing. Instead of committing adultery, wishing you could, will put you in the camp with adulterers. Instead of allowing divorce, as Moses did, think of divorce as another trip to Camp Adultery. Instead of keeping your vows, don’t even make them, because you’ll break them before you even walk out the door. Instead of meeting evil with evil, meet evil with good. (This is what we talked about yesterday.) And instead of hating your enemy, which was acceptable by law, love your enemy. Six times He stated the law; six times He reinterpreted it in a way that made us all guilty.
This restatement of the law did two things. 1) It showed how the law is impossible to follow from the inside out. (The Pharisees followed the law on the outside but inside they were full of dead men’s bones.) We are all guilty. No one can justify themselves by the law specially as Jesus reinterpreted it. 2) There’s a New Deal as far as the law goes. Jesus said, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
So we follow not the laws, but the purpose of the law which is love. And we follow as those who have been humbled to realize our spiritual poverty. We start where the sermon starts: Blessed are the poor in spirit. And from that place, we realize His power to make us into those who love as Christ has loved us.