Except Your Righteousness Exceed :: by Joseph Chambers

The Son of God made one of the strongest proclamations of His life using the title of this article.  It is downright awesome to realize the plain truth of the Lord’s words.  Let me give you three verses that put this title in the proper context.  “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:17-19).

Already in Matthew’s day, shortly after the death and resurrection of the Son of God, men were trying to water down righteousness and to attack holiness as the Biblical walk of faith.  A very sharp and critical name was given to the heretics of the faith.  They were called antinomics, which means “no law.”  We have a multitude of men and women today that follow the same mindset.  They teach grace without responsibility and holiness without righteousness.    It is one of the church’s present day pitfalls.  Unregenerate people or backsliders love these doctrines.

Jesus Christ’s words forever destroy the possibility of born again saints disobeying the laws and commandments of God.  Jesus Christ was the “Word” before He was born of woman, and the First Testament is the revelation of that Word.  The basic Ten Commandments and the clear principles of His laws are just as real and even more complete in the Second Testament as in the First Testament.  Notice that Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law (five books of the Torah) or the prophets (the major and minor prophets of the First Testament), I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill (complete).”  (Matthew 5:17).  The Son of man came to put the final touch on His revelation.  He was the Jehovah-Jireh of the first division of His Word and came in flesh to finish and complete the whole of His Word.  When you throw the First Testament out, you have a corrupted and defiled Holy of Holies with the great vail of woven tapestry removed.  Holiness is non-existent in any redemptive plan that has destroyed the commandments of God.

The whole of the Word (Genesis to Revelation) will never pass away. “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.”  (Luke 21:33).  Every one of us will be judged by the words of Holy Scripture on that awesome judgment day.  Jesus really laid this on the line with the second verse of our present text.  Let’s look again.  “For verily (to emphasize) I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle (the two smaller marks of the Greek alphabet) shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”  (Matthew 5:18).  Do what you want to with the Ten Commandments and all the principles of the Laws of God, but they stand unmoved and shall judge you in the last days.  No wonder Apostle Paul said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  (Hebrews 10:31).

Except Your Righteousness Shall Exceed 
On the foundation of those first two verses that we have considered, the Lord Jesus established the absolute fact of what the New Testament saints are required to live.  Free grace or cheap grace is utterly excluded.  Jesus Christ did not come to cast off the righteousness of His Word, but to provide the grace to change man’s heart.  He did not come to cover sin, but to destroy sin.  The First Testament standards are the very standards that Jesus and the early church preached and lived.  They simply gave them a Second Testament of completed interpretation.

Apostle Paul is accused by some of preaching a different gospel than Jesus Christ.  This false idea is expressed by separating the gospel of Christ as a Jewish message and the gospel of Paul as a Gentile message.  Such thinking is false and damning.  The Apostle Paul preached nothing but the gospel of Jesus Christ and the righteousness of the completed Word.  To the Hebrews, he stated the following words from the Holy Ghost.  “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.  Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”  (Hebrews 10:16-18).  The laws of the Lord thus stated cannot be separated from the whole of the Word of God.

Yes, He freed us from the ecclesiastical laws that the Jewish sacrifices required because He became the perfect sacrifice.  He also removed the commandments of men that had become equal to God’s laws and commandments in the Pharisee systems.  He actually purified the whole of the First Testament by fulfilling the laws of sacrifice and breaking the yoke of ceremonial bondage.  We, as the saints of the Second Covenant, have entered into a “new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.”  (Hebrews 10:20).  Does that make us “loose” from the Ten Commandments and free to live as we please?  No, a thousand times no!

Listen as the Holy Ghost continues to speak by the pen of the great apostle,”And having an high priest over the house of God.  Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”  (Hebrews 10:21-23).

“Having our hearts sprinkled (the application of Christ’s sanctifying blood) from an evil conscience” is not modern day Christianity, but it is still Biblical.  The soul of a born again believer is a picture in purity.  The commandments of God become our delight and we rejoice in the peace of a pure heart.  Worldly and sinful people love religion without holiness, but it will be wholly inadequate when they face the awesome judgment bar.

Listen as the Holy Ghost continues to speak. “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses.  Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?  For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  (Hebrews 10:28-31).

The Half-Brother of Our Lord 
James wrote what is said to be the first book of the New Testament.  It is an incredible book and beautifully ties the great commandments of the First Testament to the New Testament church.  He stated in the first chapter. “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.  But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:  For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.  But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.  If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”  (James 1:21-27).  What a message of holiness, “Keep yourself unspotted from the world.”  Surely, you say, the early church didn’t preach that.      It gets better.  James begins to quote from God’s commandments in the Book of Leviticus.  “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:  But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.  For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.  So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”  (James 2:8-10,12).

This is beautiful truth that forever destroys the loose living of this generation.  Someone may say that this letter was only to the Jews.  There are two things to remember.  If it was only to the Jews, why did he write it in the Greek language and second, it was written to the born again Jews, not to the Orthodox Jews still outside of Christ.  Apostle Paul had plainly said the following when speaking of the New Testament church.  “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”  (Colossians 3:11).  It is sheer folly to claim that the New Testament has a twin message.  All such thinking originates because of theological systems, not from the literal study of Scripture.

Faith Without Works is Dead 
The Lord’s earthly brother really landed a theological bomb with this great truth.  Apostle Paul called James an “apostle” and spoke of him as together with Cephas (Peter) and John that they “seemed to be pillars in the church.”  (Galatians 1:9,2:9).  His words therefore are weighty words and cannot be treated lightly.  He declared, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.  Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?   Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?  Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?”  (James 2:17-22).

We have an entire generation of church leaders and members that have been schooled and taught the doctrines of lawlessness.  The greatest task of a soul winner today is to get the sinners lost so you can get them saved.  It’s tough to find a lost person because of the doctrines of cheap grace.  People that live totally outside of Holy Scripture will boldly state that they are Christians and will be highly offended if you press the claims of the Holy Word of God.  Even the devil believes, but he certainly is not a saint.

The Law Is Our School Master 
One of Apostle Paul’s great lessons is found in Romans chapter seven.  Conviction of sin always precedes conversion to Christ.  It is impossible to repent of sin without a sense of guilt.  The majority of our world will be lost forever because the church world will not preach against sin.  When a Holy Ghost filled man of God begins to boldly and humbly preach the whole counsel of God, conviction of sin rises and revival from God draws near.  A thoroughly anointed man of God proclaiming the claims of righteousness preceded every great revival.

Listen to the apostle.  “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.  But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.”  (Romans 7:7-8).  Sin, when identified by the Holy Spirit, not a judgmental preacher, creates “all manner of concupiscence” (the sense of guilt, the foreboding of one’s lost condition).  This is the foundation of a “rending of the Heavens” by the Holy Spirit that causes revival to occur.  Revival never comes until there is conviction of sin.  This conviction always first occurs in the church and then in the world.  One man prayed, “Move the church so you can move the world.”

Paul continues, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.  Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.  For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.”  (Romans 7:12-14).  The apostle said that the law is holy and spiritual.  Why?  Not because God is magnifying sin, but that He might magnify His grace to forgive and cleanse.  He reveals His laws of holiness that we might see our nature of sin.

Except Your Righteousness Shall Exceed
That statement sounds unfair and harsh until you discover what Jesus came into our world to accomplish.  If He were telling dark sinners that they must lift up themselves to live more righteousness than the Pharisees, then He would be a taskmaster, not a Savior.  But, His death was already sealed in the plan of God and Jesus Christ knew well the glory of His suffering.  He came to break the powers of sin and to create a brand new family called the church.

Jesus Christ was manifested to destroy the “works of the devil.”  The Apostle John, whom Jesus loved, proclaimed, “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.�  (I John 3:8).  John used the word “manifested” in declaring this statement because he was speaking beyond the matter of His birth.  God had sent His Son into the world by a series of prophecies and miraculous events which made His life and death a divine occasion.  The life and death of the Son of God was a triumph over every limitation and calamity of human life.  He came out from all eternity into our little limited world to bring an end to Satan’s schemes and plans.

The result was redemption on the highest level possible to the human family.  We were redeemed, transformed, translated, made new creatures, filled with His Holy Spirit; and we live and walk far above the Pharisee’s religion.

Apostle Paul could not have echoed the idea of Jesus Christ better than in his second letter to the church of God at Corinth.  He penned by the Holy Ghost the following, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).

We are new creatures.  We have been translated into a heavenly family and fellowship and we walk no more by the world’s bondage.  It is His grace in us that accomplishes Holiness.  We earn nothing by our good lives or works.  It is grace into this family and grace for each step we take.  Soon, our last step will be taken and then it will be glory forevermore.