"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." (Matthew 5:20 NKJV)
This passage is taken from the famous "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7). It wasn't a mountain though. It was actually a small hill called Mt. Eremon located between Caperneum and Tabgha. The natural landscape of this hillside surrounded by a small valley created an amphitheater of sorts, perfect for the word of grace to reverberate into the gathering crowd. It was here that Jesus tells the people that unless their righteousness exceeded (surpassed) the righteousness of the Pharisees they would not be able to enter the kingdom of Heaven. To the typical, self-righteous mindset of their time this was impossible. The Pharisees were supposedly the most righteous on the face of the earth. Who then could enter Heaven? God's standard of righteousness was to be perfect as God Himself was perfect (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16). Even the Pharisees knew they weren't as perfect as God. OUR answer to Jesus' question also lies in our concept of righteousness. If making it to Heaven is based on our righteousness (our goodness, godliness, devoutness, etc.) then none of us can make it. The Bible tells us there is no one on the face of earth who is righteous, NO NOT ONE (Psalms 14:3; 53:3; Romans 3:10-12).
At no point in our own efforts are we righteous (in any part, even to the minute level). Only Jesus meets every requirement and standard of God. We must completely get this revelation! Our reliance must not be on perfect performance but But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25 NASB)
The reason we don't produce fruit is because we too often stare into the wrong mirror: the mirror of the Old Covenant, which reminds us of everything we USED TO BE. The Bible tells us the old has passed away and the new is becoming (2 Corinthians 5:17). However, when we look into the right mirror (the mirror of God's grace) We see who we really are in Him and the more intently we gaze into the right mirror, our focus becomes more clear and we see who we really look like: Jesus! Today during my teaching, my German translator rendered it as… “If we remain in the law of liberty (grace) we will enact the ability to change” WOW!
God wants us to be doers of the Word but this is totally contingent on what mirror we look into. The mirror of the old covenant will always reveal imperfection and no matter how hard we try to fix the flaws it will never reveal perfection. The mirror of grace says I’m forgiven, acceptable, holy, free, loved, sinless, complete and perfect. How? Because I am in Christ. This image of who we are in Christ is the only thing that will deeply change us and produce in us the overcoming life. Simply put, when we place our focus and faith on the legal degree of God's grace over our lives (the PERFECT law of LIBERTY) we will become much more effectual doers.
The reason why we can’t grow spiritually is because our born again spirit cannot grow. It is already perfect. We are the righteousness OF GOD (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, our spirit is as righteous AS GOD. The implications of this are staggering. As a believer our spirit was born in Heaven and therefore is completely perfect in every way. The facts are, spiritual growth is impossible. However, our mind is what needs the changing. The scripture doesn’t say our spirit needs renewed. It says we are transformed by the renewing of our MIND (Romans 12:1-2). The reason why we don’t grow is because we obsess about growing. But when we live in the right environment (grace) we naturally mature because the conditions are right.
Similar to the mirror of the old Covenant, The Holy Spirit doesn’t remind us about what’s wrong with us. He reminds us constantly about what’s right with us. Therefore, when we stop expending necessary energy through self-effort to make ourselves better, we allow God’s power to put to death the old deeds and bring about effective change compatible to the work of Grace in our life.
Meditate on this until it becomes revelation… You will NEVER be the same again!