Exceedingly Righteous

"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 on the perfect performance of Jesus. IN CHRIST we are as perfect as God Himself is perfect (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). We are recipients of God's perfect nature and completely clothed in His ultimate divinity (2 Peter 1:4). Jesus is perfection personified. In fact, Jesus surpasses perfection and in Him we also far surpass God's perfect standard. Through Christ we are EXCEEDINGLY RIGHTEOUS! Amazing!

Gravity of Grace

"Now which of them will love Him more…" (Luke 7:42 ESV)

To Love Jesus more... This is a lifelong pursuit. Yet, even more important is the life long quest to simply be loved (1 John 4:10). After seeing the movie Gravity win so many Oscars last night, it reminded me of the compelling power of God's Grace. It is astonishing that some persist if we preach grace too liberally it will result in loose living and sinful behavior. There is nothing more false. Grace is the force that pulls us deeper into the love of God and His holiness. The gravity of grace keeps us grounded in God's love. Nothing but good can come of this.

"That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith that you, being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:16-19 NASB)

In Luke 7 we're introduced to a prostitute whom Jesus delivered of seven demons. Later, He is invited to a Pharisees house for dinner. As they recline at the table, the former prostitute barges into the gathering and begins to wash Jesus feet with her tears and anoint them with a very costly perfume. Such extravagant acts of worship could only be motivated by Grace. The appalled religious man thinks, "If Jesus knew her ill repute, He would stop her." Religious people refuse to see the redeemed for who they are but rather dwell on who they were.

Jesus tells the Pharisee a story of two men who were forgiven of a debt. One was released from a much greater debt than the other. He asks the Pharisee a question, “Which do you think will love his benefactor more?” The Pharisee states the obvious, “Of course the man who had the greater debt.” When we accept that our sin debt is completely cancelled we will cease serving Him out of duty, fear and obligation. Rather, Grace inspires unceasing and liberal acts of obedience and devotion (verse 45).

Religious people guard themselves from too lavish a display of adoration, judging others for their liberality (verse 39). However, notice that Jesus does not condemn His friend. Likewise, we must not hasten to judge or disassociate with those who do not yet have the full revelation of God’s grace. The greatest evidence of a life marked by grace is not how we respond to those who agree with us, but to those who disagree with us.

Receive

"Those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life." (Romans 5:17 NASB)

Have you ever questioned why we don’t reign over certain situations, circumstances, the "stuff" of life? It's simple really... The way we reign in life is to receive God's grace. Too simple? That's the point! We complicate things with religious formulas. Here's a couple of thoughts on receiving God's grace. 

First… We must receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness. Grace is a gift that is freely given. It cannot be deserved, earned or merited. We qualify for God's favor and blessings not because we work hard to live righteously; but because we are already made righteous by Christ's finished work. The religious mindset that prevails in so many circles is that we must achieve the blessings and favor of God by self-effort or good behavior. However, the favor of God is unmerited. It isn't how we behave but how we believe. The moment we try to balance grace with our own efforts to be righteous we neutralize grace (Galatians 5:4). Reigning in life is not about achieving but receiving the abundance of God's grace! Abundance can be defined as never running out, never sparse, having excess and overflowing. We never teeter on the brink of running out of God’s grace. Whenever we sin God’s grace is greater (1 John 3:20) and where sin abounds grace does much more abound to overflowing and swallows up our sin (Romans 5:20, 6:24).

Secondly… How do we receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness? By simply believing in Christ’s finished work. That’s it! We don’t have to be experts on grace. We just simply have to be recipients. We don’t have to comprehend it; we only need to receive it! We must believe in God’s grace without doubt and go on living life in that belief. We have to consistently believe the truth that we are righteous apart from our own works (Ephesians 2:7-9) and that nothing we do or don’t do will separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). I have news for you… You will never be able to fully wrap your mind around the awesome Grace of God! God’s grace is too amazing to comprehend. So what do we do when we don’t understand it? We believe it anyway! Leaning on our own understanding of the things of God causes us to question God’s Word and thus prevents us from entering into the benefits of all that His finished work has provided for us. Quit trying to understand it and simply trust it (Proverbs 3:5).

Romans 5:19 goes on to say that we weren't made sinners by anything we did but by what Adam did. The same is also true of our righteousness. We weren't made righteous by anything we did but by what Jesus did. The moment we believe that we are totally acceptable before God based on what Jesus did, not what we did or continue to do. And that same grace will do it's work in our lives to save us and keep on saving us (in every area of our life). The blood of Jesus is not only all sufficient it is all efficient. Once we begin to receive God's grace in our lives we will start experiencing the power to reign in life just like Jesus reigns in life (1 John 4:17).