One of the most famous sermons Jesus preached was something popularly known today as “The Sermon on the Mount”. It’s one of the first things you come to if you start reading the New Testament from the beginning, being recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Some of Jesus’ most famous sayings are there. You’re probably familiar with things like “blessed are the meek”, or “blessed are the peacemakers”, or “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”. What’s called “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” is in there too.
What’s in there that maybe you’re not as familiar with is one of the most important things Jesus ever said: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The “scribes and Pharisees” were religious leaders and teachers. They knew God’s commandments better than just about anyone, and in the eyes of the people were likely the most righteous people around. Yet here was Jesus telling the people that they needed to be more righteous even than their spiritual guides if they were to enter heaven.
You see, righteousness is the issue of issues. Righteousness is, basically, “being right”. With regard to our place before God, it is to live right by keeping God’s commandments 100% of the time. Or as Jesus put it later in the same sermon: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
So the kingdom of heaven is only achieved through absolutely perfect obedience to all of God’s commands.
What are some of these commands?
“You shall not bear false witness (lie).”
“You shall not steal.”
“You shall not covet” (long for anything your neighbor has that you don’t).
“You shall not commit adultery” (which includes even lusting after someone in your heart, according to Jesus!).
“You shall not murder” (hey! I got one! Uh, sort of… Jesus also said that if you despise or hate someone in your heart, it’s basically as bad as murder. Oops…).
These are only half of the most famous installment of God’s commandments, the Ten Commandments. And there are scores of other laws beyond this.
So the way to achieve entry into the kingdom of heaven is to keep ALL of His commands perfectly for your whole life. You’ll be even more righteous than the average religious leader in so doing.
Do you see the problem with this?
In some way, at some time, maybe you’ve broken every one of those laws I listed. And so you fall short of God’s own standard for qualifying for heaven. And I know that if you’re honest about this with yourself, YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE. The penalty: when God judges you – which He surely will – you will not be acquitted. You stand guilty before Him. YOU.
In fact, you were probably guilty before you even knew any of this. You had no chance.
The penalty – the sentence – is to pay for this unrighteousness the only way a perfectly holy God would be expected to pass sentence. Death eternally. You’ve heard of “hell”. No, it’s not here on earth. It’s where God punishes all workers of iniquity (sin) and unrighteousness.
I’m glad you’ve made it this far. Many will selfishly and unwisely say “that’s too strong” or “that’s too much, too long, nobody has time for all of this, and no one cares”. Tragic. But you’re still with it – good for you.
If you’re thinking to yourself “man, this has me pegged to a ‘T’, what am I going to do? I’m in trouble here…”, or something like this, read on.
What if I were to tell you that there was actually one person who lived who DID in fact live his life in perfect, 100% obedience to God’s commandments – achieving perfect righteousness? And furthermore, what if I told you that there was a way that HIS righteousness could sort of replace yours for you? Sort of a spiritual bank transfer… His righteousness could be “imputed” or “credited” to you… And when judgment day arrived, your verdict would be based on HIS righteousness and not your own lack of it, and you would actually stand “justified” before God… Would you be interested?
THAT, my friend, is the GOOD NEWS.
The one who we started with, the one who said “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees…”, He is the one. He is Jesus Christ. God’s “Messiah” (the chosen one to atone for all of your sin and unrighteousness). He is the very Son of God, one with the Father. He came here to this world about 2,000 years ago for the sake of bringing you the very redemption you, hopefully by now, see your need for. He is the “Lamb of God”; that is, God’s sacrifice for sin – not His own, for He committed none, but YOURS. He paid your penalty by being crucified and killed. And then he conquered death forever by rising from the dead on the third day, just as the scriptures say.
If you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering “what must I do?”. You cannot do one thing by your own effort or deeds to earn any of this. 100% righteousness is broken forever with just one sin. If you started now keeping the whole law, you can never get back to perfection. It’s not a matter of you making some sort of resolution to do better, or anything like that. In fact, to think you can is a sin (pride), thus making matters worse for you!
You need to repent. “Repent” means to “rethink” or to “change your mind” – it’s not really anything you “do”, it’s something that happens inside of you – change your mind about your sin – understand that indeed you are a sinner, humble yourself and acknowledge that this sin keeps you separated from the kingdom of God and destined for His judgment, and let go of and turn your back on all that sinning. I’m sort of hoping reading what you’ve read so far has brought you to this point.
From here, what you can do, and the ONLY thing you can do, is turn to God in faith, trusting with your whole heart in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Also, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (from that judgment I was talking about before). “The Lord Jesus” means that He becomes your Lord – I’m not telling you to take Jesus into your life as some sort of insurance policy, and I’m not telling you to just add Jesus to what your life already is. I’m telling you that you need to trust in Him with your whole heart and give yourself to Him completely. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” was how Jesus called some of His first disciples.
He’s made no promise to make this life better, happier, more fun or profitable… Nor do I make any such promise. But He DOES promise to DELIVER you in the day of God’s wrath. And He does promise to remake you into someone who can serve Him, if you will deny yourself, take up the cross and follow. And REAL JOY is found in that, not in this life’s fake goodies.
God’s justice and wrath upon the unrighteous is speeding towards us – make no mistake about it. The world is asleep to the real trouble it’s in. But the fact that you’re reading this shows that you care. So don’t miss God’s call, don’t miss His warning, and don’t miss His gift of grace. The forgiveness we need is there, the righteousness we lack is there. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Humble yourself, repent, believe, put all of your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ – in who He is, in what He’s done. Walk away from this world of lust and sin and pride and selfishness and unrighteousness, and follow the Lord Jesus all the days of your life. This is your only hope.
“For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
P.S. A couple other things that will help you: First, read the Bible. Therein is God revealed, along with His plans for the future of this world and the only hope for redemption in the face of coming judgment. Second, go to church. If you’re near Woodbridge, you’re welcome at ours. If not, seek one out where the Bible is carefully taught, verse by verse (don’t look for things like good music, stuff for the kids, lots of programs – these are OK, we do them too – but what’s taught is what matters most). Watch out for false doctrine – it is rampant in these last days – watch out for teachings that emphasize how great God wants to make everything here on earth for you while omitting things like judgment, self-denial and serving God and following Him, etc.
Thanks again for reading. May God bless you as you trust Him.