Yesterday our Sunday School teacher said that he found this to be the scariest verse in the Bible:
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
As I noted in They wouldn’t like the Sermon on the Mount if they understood it, Liberal theologians and even some skeptics claim to revere the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), but that is just because they don’t really understand it. If they read it properly they would hate it. That verse is one of the reasons why.
The first hearers of Jesus’ message would have considered the scribes and the Pharisees to be the most righteous people going. They worked very, very hard to follow the law. If they had to be better than that there was no hope for them . . . unless . . . they could attain that righteousness another way. Say, through Jesus.
I find this to be a rather scary verse as well, and it should also point you to Jesus:
Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
If those verses don’t make you squirm, you aren’t paying attention. Sadly, the Liberal theologians are too busy abusing the rest of the Sermon on the Mount to notice those passages.
Here’s a message by Charles Spurgeon pointing out how our inability to be perfect or to have a righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees doesn’t give us an excuse:
If responsibility began and ended with ability, a man would be out of debt as soon as he was unable to pay; and if a man felt that he could not keep his temper he would not be blamable for being angry. A man may be bound to do what he cannot do: the habitual liar is bound to speak the truth, though his habit of falsehood renders him incapable of it. Every sin renders the sinner less able to do right, but the standard of his duty is not lowered in proportion to the lowering of his capacity to come up to it, or it would follow that the more a man is depraved by sin the less guilty his actions become, which is absurd.
Every Christian will confess that it is his duty to be perfect, and yet he mourns over his inability to be so. It never enters into the Christian’s head to excuse his failings by pleading the incapacity of his nature; nay, this is another cause for lamentation.
Charles Spurgeon, via Pyromaniacs: On the Inability/Responsibility Conundrum.
Remember, you either are Jesus or you need Jesus. Despite what the lies of the world say, your “righteousness” will not make you right with God.