Grace Emerges

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What's Wrong with Righteousness?

by Brad Duncan

20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5, Common English Bible

I'm full of questions:
  • What is the righteousness of the legal experts?
  • What's wrong with their righteousness?
  • What is this greater righteousness that Jesus is advocating?
In my last post I concluded that the search for righteousness is a mistaken priority of the church, as it often trumps the quest to love.  Love should be the higher priority.  In a previous post I summarized I Corinthians 13 similarly:

"Perfection of self
without love for others
is not worth the effort." 
  -- Paul, I Corinthians 13
And yet righteousness is a hard goal to abandon.  We think of it as a ticket to audience with God, both now and in the afterlife.  We think that to participate in today's work of God in the world, we have to be righteous.

So back to my questions: what is the righteousness of the legal experts and Pharisees, those that were the religious elite of the day?  Their righteousness was: RIGHT BELIEFS and RIGHT ACTIONS.  They had to hold to a specific set of beliefs as a part of their faith system, and this made them part of the club.  Not only that, they had to do all the actions and requirements of their religious tradition.

And what was wrong with this righteousness?  As we see play out so many times in the story of Jesus and his disciples, their righteousness often lacked TREATING PEOPLE RIGHT -- or RIGHT LOVE.  They were content to fulfill the requirements of religion, but turn their noses up at love.  Whatever spiritual and mental gymnastics that led them to conclude that this was going to make them right with God, was gravely mistaken.  Thus Jesus points it out.  Their righteousness wasn't right.

What's the greater righteousness?  In the context of this passage and the entire ministry of Jesus, you see that he expounded on how to treat people right, as opposed to how to be righteous.  While it may be legal to lust after your neighbor's wife, it shows the wrong condition of the heart, and a lack of respect for your neighbors.  While it may be proper to fight enemies, it shows a lack of love, acceptance and willingness to forgive.  The greater righteousness is TREATING PEOPLE RIGHT -- or RIGHT LOVE.  Examples abound of this concept in the gospels.

What do you think ?

Related posts:
What else is wrong with righteousness?
The system doesn't love
Inspiring repentance
God works for good, and so should we


  1. Could it be simpler than that? What is the righteousness of the legal experts was external, based on works? As in "I thank God that I am not like that tax collector over there. I pray X times a day, etc." What could be a greater righteousness? How about a righteousness that comes from God, based on our relationship with Him? That means that, if you are a part of the community of Christ, you share the knowledge that we are all on the same level, an unrighteous people made righteous by Christ, and we love each other as a result. And this is a kind of love that means we serve one another, and spur one another on to good deeds, not to "earn points" as works, but out of the greater righteousness, which is a loving relationship with God (and as a result, his fellow children (which is cyclical, by the way))

  2. Thanks Steve! Sort of the chicken and the egg, but doesn't following Jesus simply mean learning to love, and this is our righteousness? Or is it something else - an "other" righteousness granted by God and then we sort of automatically learn to love as a result?