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: External Righteousness
Jesus’ words were also difficult, however, because he was not saying that in order for a man to get to heaven he must have a slightly higher degree of the same kind of righteousness that the scribes and Pharisees had been accumulating. The first part of the Sermon should have dispelled any thought of that. He was saying that if a man was to get to heaven he must somehow have a different and better righteousness than these men were showing. This meant that he must turn his back on human goodness altogether and receive instead the freely offered goodness of God. The Phillips translation of the New Testament makes this a little clearer by saying, “For I tell you that your goodness must be a far better thing than the goodness of the scribes and Pharisees before you can set foot in the kingdom of heaven at all.”
Perhaps you are saying at this point, as people always do, “Well, what is wrong with human righteousness? I think we should be in a bad way without it.” I agree with you in part. It is certainly much better when we have men who are honest, and when we have them in a greater abundance than men who are not. But the point is that human goodness is not good enough for God. It will see a man through this life, often with flying colors, but it will not see him to heaven.
There are several reasons for this. First, the righteousness of which men are so proud is an external righteousness and, while men look naturally on the outward appearance, it is God’s nature to look on the heart (1 Sam. 17:7). Jesus knew men, and thus he knew that although the scribes and Pharisees were taking a great deal of trouble to shine up the outside of their lives, they were nevertheless unable to do anything about the true state of their hearts. For in their hearts they were as sinful and, therefore, as unacceptable to God as anybody. On one occasion he said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27).
Moreover, what Jesus said of the Pharisees is true of every life. To a certain extent you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps morally. If you are an alcoholic, you can discipline yourself to attend the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and get rid of the habit of drink. You can get control of yourself and enter into a useful life. People will even admire you for having overcome this weakness of character. But although you can do all this outwardly, you cannot do anything about your heart. You can be scrupulous in the affairs of your life, so that you are not the least bit dishonest in business. But you cannot make your heart loving if your heart is not loving. You cannot make it humble if you are not humble. You cannot make yourself pure. Hence, the first reason why human righteousness will not get anywhere with God is that the only righteousness of which we are capable is external, but God demands a transformation of the heart.
Why else were Jesus’ words about the scribes and Pharisees difficult to hear?
Explain how human righteousness is a good thing. What benefits does it produce?
What is the first reason given for why human righteousness is not good enough for God?
Application: How might Christians wrongly think that they are pleasing God when, in fact, their hearts are not where they need to be?