“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).
The above saying of Jesus introduces within its context the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees had devised their own system of salvation based not upon the teaching of scripture, but upon the doctrines and traditions of the rabbis. Jesus illustrates this in the next few verses by pointing out to those who were listening, “You have heard that it has been said�.” He uses this phrase in verses 23, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43. After he tells us the phrase that was heard in rabbinical Judaism, he then exposes the fallacy of the use of such phrases to create a system of one’s own righteousness. The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of creating such a system.
Jesus calls attention to this system more than once and in Matthew 15 comes into direct conflict with it. The Scribes and Pharisees here ask Jesus why he transgressed “the tradition of the elders.” In response, Jesus asked them why they transgressed “the commandment of God because of your tradition?” Their concern was not to submit to the commandments of God, but to devise ways in which one could excuse oneself from such commandments. In this way, they created a righteousness of their own.
One should recognize in this that it was not so much a system of salvation that Jesus was rejecting, but rather, a system of salvation that was based upon traditions that set aside the word of God and that replaced the righteousness contained within the legitimate observance of God’s word with a righteousness devised by mere men. Romans 10:1-3 teaches this quite clearly. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
There are those today who suggest that the idea of having ANY system whereby one may suggest that one is righteous, is an effort to establish one’s own righteousness. This, however, is NOT what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that the system of righteousness by which the Scribes and Pharisees proclaimed their own righteousness must be EXCEEDED for one to be righteous. And truly, we have a system of righteousness by which we must be saved today and which exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Romans 1:16, 17 states, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.'” God’s righteousness today is found in the gospel.
To hear what many say today regarding the subject of righteousness, one would think that there is nothing that one may do, whether given by God or not, that is involved in making man righteous. Such is not the case. The fact of the matter is that one may be righteous when one follows the system of righteousness that has been given to us by God. John writes, “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). It is not in the fact that one accepts God’s system of righteousness and follows it that one is self-righteous, but rather, when one invents/devises one’s own system of righteousness that one is self-righteous. This is what the Scribes and Pharisees did. They invented/devised their own system of righteousness.
There are those today who say that because we worship upon the first day of the week, partake of the Lord’s supper upon the first day of the week, refuse to use instruments of music, suggest that the church has a system of worship which she must do, that the church has an organization that we must observe, that the church has a mission which she must keep, and many other things�that because we demand that such things be practiced and observed, that we are creating a righteousness of our own, that we are creating a system of righteousness which God did not create. Such is not the case. In fact, it is just the opposite. The things that we demand that others observe and practice are things that are found within God’s word. In contrast, it is those who suggest that we NOT practice such things that set aside the word of God that they may keep their own tradition.
Where, within the scriptures, is it suggested that the Lord’s supper may, by the church, be observed upon any day other than the first day of the week? There is no such passage. However, those who suggest that we may so observe the supper state that it is due only to our “tradition” that the Lord’s supper be observed upon Sunday. What they fail to recognize was that the scriptures record that the Lord’s supper was observed by the church upon Sunday (Acts 20:7), and not upon any other day of the week. Those who suggest that we may observe the Lord’s supper upon some other day of the week, transgress the word of God to keep their own traditions.
Where, within the scriptures, is it suggested that singing, by the church, may be performed as accompanied by mechanical instruments of music? There is no such passage. However, those who suggest that we so sing without their accompaniment, suggest that it is only due to our “tradition” that we do not use the instrument. Again, these fail to recognize that the scriptures record that the church sang praises to God (1 Cor.14:15; Col.3:16) and that nowhere in scripture is it recorded that they played instruments. Those who suggest that we may sing praises to God as accompanied by the instrument transgress the word of God to keep their own traditions.
Example upon example could be multiplied to show that it is in actuality those who suggest that we abandon our scriptural practices who are seeking to transgress the word of God so that they can keep their own traditions. We wonder, who is seeking to establish their own righteousness and who is seeking to submit to the righteousness of God? If we desire for our righteousness to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, then we will be satisfied with the answers that we find within the word of God, and not seek to supplant such answers with the traditions of men.