For 1500 years after Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, Israel repeatedly tried and failed to keep them. In due time the Son of God incarnate came along with his Sermon on the Mount and Israel discovered the bar was even higher–much higher–than they thought. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law [Ten Commandments] or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them … For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17, 20). Then he proceeded to show them just how woefully lacking they were in righteousness.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment …” (Matthew 5:21–22). 

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:27–28).

How many men have you murdered in the last month? How chaste are your eyes? How are you on the eight ways Jesus says you are blessed (Matthew 5:3-11)? Could you by any stretch call your heart pure?

If every hearer (and every reader of these words since), honestly examined himself, the Sermon on the Mount would destroy all illusions of his self-righteousness. It is pride destroying and humbling by God’s design. John MacArthur declared, “Jesus made the required standard of righteousness impossibly high for all who would seek to earn God’s favor on their own.” As Paul told the Romans (3:23), “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” But Jesus also pointed to the solution earlier in his sermon when he said that he came to “fulfill the Law and the Prophets.” In the following three years they would see just exactly how he would do that, living a sinless life, performing spectacular miracles, and culminating with his sacrifice of himself on the cross and his resurrection from death in the place of all his fallen chosen–the Gospel story. Christ’s atonement for sinners on the cross is like divine bail money that sets the prisoners free. Bible translator William Tyndale said it more eloquently: “The Law and the Gospel are two keys. The Law is the key that shutteth up all men under condemnation, and the Gospel is the key which opens the door and lets them out.”

So give up your self-righteousness. You must. Self-righteousness is self-delusion. Job said, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (7:20). Jesus’ told his Parable of the Publican’s Prayer to those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9-14). He said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” delivered from a contrite heart, is the prayer that makes one right with God. If you think your works make you good enough for heaven, there is no better proof that you are not. All you contribute to your salvation is the sin that killed Christ. It is Christ’s perfect righteousness accounted to you that saves your soul. John Calvin said it this way: “We shall never be clothed with the righteousness of Christ except we first know assuredly that we have no righteousness of our own [repentance].” You must have faith in Christ’s righteousness on your behalf, and that faith is also a gift from God. Paul told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8-9).

The words of an old friend, a brilliant medical professional, 20 years ago, haunt me to this day. At my invitation to come to church with me, he replied, “No thanks, but I’m good enough to get into heaven.” His very own words condemn him to eternal damnation.

The Gospel is the only solution to fallen man’s greatest dilemma. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Are you among the “whosoever”? If you are, who made you to differ from those who are not? It is the Holy Spirit that made you to differ. It’s the Gospel that the Apostle Paul taught tirelessly in his immensely successful ministry. He told the Philippians (2:13), “…it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” and in 3:9, “… not having a righteousness of my own that comes from [perfectly obeying] the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Theologians call that alien righteousness. It is the Gospel–the good news–that allowed him to say, as his death approached, “…now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day…” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). It was not a reward for his extraordinary list of good works in his lifetime, it was his alien righteousness–Christ’s righteousness credited to him through his God-given gift of faith. Paul continues, we are “… justified [made right with God] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-5). Grace–an unmerited gift! Ain’t that just amazing? The Apostle Paul speaks for me: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! (11:33)

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” (Luke 17:5)

Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Luke 16:24b).

See you in church.

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