v 20. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!
What! More righteous than the Pharisees! Better than the Pharisees! ‘You must be joking!’ people probably thought. It was obvious that nobody did ‘religion’ better than the Pharisees. People greeted them with respect; you might see them on the street corners praying; and they would certainly be there at Sabbath worship not having done a stroke of work. For sheer legal obedience to the Law of Moses they were absolutely tops.
But Jesus doesn’t seem to mean ‘better’ in that way; it is not a case of being ‘better of the same kind’, it is the better of a ‘different kind’. Jesus is not thinking of legal-obedience-kind of righteousness, but rather heart-loving-kind of obedience. It is obedience of the heart to the principles of love, generosity, and all the other qualities that make a person’s character more like that of God. So now – that’s a target worth aiming for isn’t it!
More to the point, these are the very qualities that God is aiming at as He works in us by the Holy Spirit. This ‘Better-than-the-Pharisees’ religion is in fact the fruit of the Spirit which Paul writes about in Galatians 5:22-23. ‘But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! ‘ It is this Spirit-directed life that Jesus is talking about!