Internal vs External Righteousness – Great Expectations Part One

This is the beginning of a multiple part series I’m calling Internal vs External Righteousness – Great Expectations.
In this first series I focus on the teaches of Jesus in particular the Beatitudes and what it means to be salt and light. This will eventually lead up to Jesus’ continued teachings of parables and what it means to have an internal relationship with Him versus having external righteousness, namely by works, which I spoke of briefly in a previous blog when I focused on Ephesians 2:1-10.

“Authentic righteousness involves obedience to the commands of God.” – RC Sproul
What does authentic righteousness look like? What does it mean to have authentic faith?

In Matthew 5:20 Jesus says “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
What did Jesus mean when He said this? This is an internal versus an external faith paradigm.

The Pharisees had an external faith. To be clear, Jesus was not criticizing the Pharisees strict observation of the law, but for the emphasis on the external conformity to it without the heart application. They lacked the internal relationship and heart application of the scriptures they so diligently practiced. They knew the Scriptures inside and out, forwards and backwards and every which way the pendulum could swing. But, they only had an external faith because they wanted everyone to see how righteous they were. By focusing on their external righteousness, they avoided the real intent of the law and ignored its real demands. Jesus goes quite into detail of their external righteousness in Matthew 23.

While this issue speaks more about legalism, the sentiment here is the external hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:20, is rather startling when I look at it from a deeper context. The deeper issue we see here is Jesus’ warning of external righteousness and the lack of internal righteousness. You cannot “check the box” your way into Heaven. You can go to church every Sunday, go to a Bible study every Wednesday, pray, read your Bible etc, but still be stuck in the religiosity of external righteousness. Jesus breaks this down multiple times, particularly in the parables, in which I will get into greater detail in another blog.
The parables should shake you to the very core, lest you be stuck in external religiosity. Even more so, in Revelation, the letters to the seven churches, which I’ll also dive into, is a screaming warning of external religiosity and the dangers of carnal Christianity.

This is such a deep complex subject, because it’s written all over in the teachings of Christ, Paul, the book of James and in the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. My ultimate goal is to explain all of these in a greater detail in multiple blog posts.
Many of the things written in scriptures are startling and it really tells us, as His elect how we are supposed to live our lives in accordance with said scriptures. Jesus’ parables alone, will separate the men from the boys for a lack of better terms.

With that being said: What does it look like for our righteousness to exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees?

PART I: The Teachings of Jesus Christ
First and foremost let’s examine the teachings of Jesus, primarily what does Jesus have to say about internal vs external righteousness?
Towards the end of His ministry on earth before His resurrection, Jesus began to speak in parables. The term “parable” like the Old Testament term translated as “proverb”, refers broadly to a comparison of some sort. Most of Jesus’ parables are clear, but some contained a depth of meaning that one a person with the right relationship with Jesus would have understood. Only in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:18-23) and the parable of the weeds (vv. 36-43) does he give an interpretation to the disciples. Otherwise, the ungodly are left to miss the deeper meaning, because of their darkened thoughts and hearts, they a lacked a relationship with God (Romans 1:21).
But first, with every text there is a context. Therefore, I want to dial it back a bit to Matthew 5-7, by looking at The Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus begins to break down what it means to be one of His disciples.

Chapter 1: The Sermon on the Mount

A: The Beatitudes
I love how Matthew 5:2 (NASB) starts out by saying “And opening His mouth He began to teach them saying,” and then He begins His teaching with what’s known as The Beatitudes. He, Jesus, the Word became Flesh, God incarnate was about to drop a bomb on His disciples and the multitudes that came to hear Him teach.
He started saying how blessed 9 groups of people are followed by an eternal reward.

“And he opened His mouth and taught them saying:
Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:2-11 (ESV)

There is an interesting contrast between The Sermon on the Mount in Mathew 5:2-11 and the Law-giving in Luke 6:20-23. The latter begins with the Ten Commandments, which give the fundamental laws governing the behavior of those that would be in a covenant relationship with God. The Beatitudes are addressed to those who show their lives that they have achieved what the Decalogue demands. So far from being a new law, as some dispensationalists believe, the Sermon describes the life of those who by grace have passed beyond the law. The contrast between the two in Luke 6:20-23 reads as follows:

“And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples and said:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:20-23 ESV

What’s interesting in the account of the Beatitudes written in Matthew and then in Luke. Jesus follows up the Beatitudes with a list of “woes” in verses 24-26 that have a counterpart with the blessings of the previous verses. The woes were meant to be for those who do not realize their spiritual poverty but rely on their own achievements (external righteousness), and will reap the consequences until the end. The term “woe” often introduces a prophetic oracle of dooms.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you when people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Luke 6:24-26 ESV

Both version begin with a series of utterances, defining true blessings, which form as it were the text which the rest of the sermon expounds. Matthew has a series of nine; of these Luke chose to select the first, fourth, second and ninth; but adds them to four antithetical woes, which recall the prophetic language of the Old Testament. Furthermore, whereas the account of the Beatitudes were written in third person, Luke chooses to use them in the second person form.
Since the Beatitudes are worded differently between Matthew and Luke, some have claimed that Luke was focusing entirely on socioeconomic categories, as opposed to Matthew’s more spiritual focus. However, the word for “poor” (anawim) in Luke’s account is used in the Old Testament and first century Judaism to describe pious people (e.g. 2 Sam 22:28; Ps 12:5, 69:29; Is 49:13). The “poor” are those who have God as their only resource. Thus, in Luke’s account, they are associated with the Son of Man and the prophets and expect end-times vindication on the one hand and are identified with Jesus’ disciples on the other. Matthews use of the word “poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3), makes the implication explicit. Jesus more than likely said something as how Luke phrased it, and Matthew chose to phrase it to bring out the implication. Therefore, Jesus’ coming is especially good news for the poor and the oppressed.

B. Salt and Light
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus continues to keep His focus on character rather than works. Salt and light function in virtue of what they are, not what they do. It is probably the preservation rather than the seasoning value of salt which here is being stressed. The emphasis of salt losing its saltiness in verse 13, this is usually explained by the salt being the outside layer of rock salt, where the salinity has been lost by the action of the sun and rain or that it has been adulterated. Neither really suits the context. Rather the physically impossible shows that the disciple without a salty effect has never been a true one. Note that our light (v16) is not our good deeds, rather the means by which people see that they are good. So again, we see Jesus’ contrast about internal vs external righteousness.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness {has become tasteless NASB}, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16 NIV

In verse 14 the word used for “light” (phos) means to make manifest, especially by rays. In comparison with the word luminous (phaniano) meaning to lighten or show or literally appear, seem, be seen or shine. The emphasis here is much greater then light itself. In the same way (v16) we are to let that manifested ray of light shine before men.
Later on in Matthew 6:1, Jesus was speaking of an external righteousness; but that is not the case in 5:16. Here Jesus commended good works properly motivated, so that God might be glorified. In verse 6:1 He discouraged improperly motivated good works, namely those intended to bring self-glorification (external righteousness). The stress was not on the openness or hiddenness of actions but on the reasons for them.
It’s extremely important that that we put emphasis on the fact that our good deeds not ought to bring attention to ourselves, but to God. What Jesus is saying here is him speaking out against “theatrical goodness” much like that of the Pharisees that Jesus later warns about in verse 20.

In part two I will focus on the Jesus’ warning of the external fulfillment of the Law


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