20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
One should be very careful as to how they interpret this passage. Why? Because a misinterpretation could easily lead a form of “work righteousness”. By this I mean, inferring that what we do is what gets us into heaven, not what God has done for us. Since Jesus is denouncing the kind of righteousness the Pharisees are practicing, understanding what he is denouncing is the key to interpreting these verses. The problem Jesus sees with the Pharisees’ is that they were focused on the minimum requirements of the Law. They got stuck on the letter of the Law, rather the Spirit of the Law. This is the problem that comes when we focus only on the Law. We end up making it fit what we want it to be, rather than God’s original intention. Jesus is saying we need a new kind of righteousness that we can’t produce, but one that is given to us. Paul quotes Psalm 14 , “There is none righteous, no not even one!” This is not about self-righteousness. It is about a new kind of righteousness that only Jesus can bring, and comes from outside of us. It is an "alien righteousness" that comes from the outside and is given or "imputed to us". Jesus gives it to us and we need it badly.
Jesus, we know our righteousness is like “filthy rags”, but you desire our hearts and give us a new kind of righteousness. Thank you for this gift so that we can live out our new calling, Amen.