“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:20 ESV]
Until we allow God to talk to us and reveal our true selves, we tend to think that we have got it right. We want to believe that we are going to be in a better place when we die. A religious leader said this week something to the effect that it does not matter if you are a Christian as long as you do the right thing dictated by your conscious.
Here is what my conscious told me before I encountered Jesus. My righteousness consisted in outward ceremonial observances of Christmas and Easter. They offered sacrifices, fasted often. I prayed, was baptized, and gave tithes, and copied the ceremonies of others who I thought were religious. But I neglected justice in my judgment of others, I told the truth as it suited me for the circumstance, held purity toward church people but lust in the heart, and there was no room for holiness of heart as God intended.
To say that my righteousness was very defective would be an understatement. I was concerned with an external observance of religion. In no way did my faith arise from a purified heart. My life knew nothing of the principles of grace. I attended church to either impress some girl, obey a parent or to look for new friends. There was no sincerity with a view to the glory of God. When I helped in leadership of a youth group, it was for my own applause. I thought that I was doing the right things … I was following my conscience in order to obtain eternal life. But I was wrong.
My conscious minded only the outside things. God showed me that I must make my conscience aware of inside godliness. I aimed at the praise and applause of men, but Jesus showed me that I must aim at acceptance with God and that was something that only He could provide me through death on the Cross. I was proud of what I did religiously, and trusted that it would be sufficient as righteousness with God. God explains to us that when we have done all that our conscious tells us, that is not enough. We must deny our conscious, and humbly trust only to the righteousness of Christ. That is how we may go beyond the scribes and Pharisees.