be more righteous part 3 - attack the root

Jesus says we need to be more righteous than the Pharisees, who appeared to be very well behaved people (read part 1, part 2). To understand, we need to look below the surface.

Matthew 5:27-28
You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Although not everyone today would be bothered by being called an adulterer, the audience Jesus was speaking to would be shocked at such an accusation. Their pride at not breaking the law is shattered by Jesus, who again goes below the surface and identifies lust as the same root sin, again proving us all guilty.

No doubt we could excuse our "looking with lustful intent" and even maintain  some sort of pride that no action has been taken and no "cheating" has taken place, but Jesus blows that idea out of the water. We are all guilty. We may keep the letter of the law externally but we break it internally. We might make a distinction between the two but God doesn't.

Matthew 5: 29-30
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Jesus shocking words show the serious attitude we should have towards our sin [1]. Where we see sin, we should take action - not that we can defeat it in our own strength, but that conviction, repentance and action empowered by the Holy Spirit should be our response. We tend to tolerate sin and prefer to just subdue it a bit rather than killing it. We should be waging war on it. As John Owen said, "be killing sin, or sin will be killing you"

The Pharisees' righteousness did not have a violent attitude to sin, it was happy to maintain an appearance of keeping sin at bay but was not concerned with going deeper and digging out the root. Our righteousness needs to be greater than the Pharisees and that means looking below the surface of our sin. In our own strength, maybe we can keep the visible weeds at bay. Jesus attacks the root.

[1] Where as the early church father Origen, followed these words literally and castrated himself, we can be confident that Jesus that Jesus didn't expect us to be chopping body parts off! Our eye and hand does not cause us to sin, we could chop them off and the sin would still be there.