Sermon: Have You Earned Heaven?
Scripture: Matthew 5:20
In this week’s lessons, we see that no amount of human righteousness can ever please God, but only the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ will lead to eternal life.
Theme: A Different Kind of Righteousness
There is a fourth reason why human righteousness is unacceptable to God, and it is most important. Human righteousness is actually a different kind of righteousness from that which God requires. God asks for divine righteousness, and human righteousness is not divine righteousness at all.
Most people think of goodness much in the way we think of light. That is, they acknowledge that it takes different forms and has varying degrees of intensity, but they believe that basically it is the same thing wherever you find it. At the bottom, there is light that you cannot even see. A little higher up the scale there is the dull light that you might find in a cave somewhere that comes from decaying bacteria. There is the kind of light men produce by incandescence. Then there is the light of the sun on a dark day, followed by the light of the sun on a bright day. Finally, there is the light produced on the surface of the sun itself. Men say, “Well, that is the way it is with righteousness. The light of decaying bacteria corresponds to the tiny flickers of goodness that are in the worst of men. Most of us resemble incandescent bulbs. Some are the light of the sun on a dark day. And then there is God, and he is like the sun itself.”
Now God says that is all wrong. You can pile human goodness upon human goodness upon human goodness upon human goodness; you can refine and perfect it, but no matter how hard you try, you fall short of God’s standard because human righteousness is qualitatively different from the righteousness of God. It belongs to a different realm entirely. For instance, if human goodness can be compared to light, then God’s goodness must not be compared to light, too, but to something like mathematics, or life, or the world of pure thoughts. For that reason God says that he cannot work with the good deeds that come from men, however much we may think of them, and instead asks us to renounce all of our efforts to please him by our own achievements and to receive the righteousness of Christ.
Many years ago, there was a Pharisee who found out that these things were indeed true, and who experienced a transformation of his life as a result. He is probably the best-known rabbi who ever lived. He is certainly the one most effective in changing the history of the world. His name was originally Saul, but it was changed to Paul after Jesus Christ took hold of him. In his youth he had gloried in his achievements as a Pharisee. He had achieved everything from the pharisaical point of view. Yet near the end of his life he writes that when he looked back to add it all up he recognized that it came to nothing and that the only thing that counted was Christ.
Here is his testimony about it:
If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith (Phil. 3:4-9).
What is the fourth reason why human righteousness is unacceptable? Explain how this is different from what many people think.
How does the life of Paul demonstrate the change from trusting in human righteousness to trusting in the righteousness of Christ?
Key Point: You can pile human goodness upon human goodness upon human goodness upon human goodness; you can refine and perfect it, but no matter how hard you try, you fall short of God’s standard because human righteousness is qualitatively different from the righteousness of God. It belongs to a different realm entirely.