Summary: When God works “in us” His cleansing, purifying work, then the truth of Jesus’ solutions for “unrighteous righteousness” will become reality. We must make sure the inner spiritual control center is fully complete – pure – and then the outer control cente
Text: Matthew 6:1
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness before people, to be seen by them; for if you do, you will have no reward from your Father Who is in heaven.”
Unrighteous righteousness! This sounds like an oxymoron – two totally incompatible concepts. But, that is the theme of this part of the Sermon on the Mount. In the whole of this magnificent Sermon from the lips of Jesus one finds what it means to live the Christian life the way God intends it to be lived. There are many parts to this great message from Jesus, and in this sermon I want to focus on the issue Jesus confronts in the first 24 verses of Matthew Chapter 6.
Jesus introduces the issue in the text. It is the matter of righteousness. The passage of Scripture that this verse introduces seems to focus primarily on four major concepts. This message will deal with each of these as they become evident in the passage.
1. Righteousness Defined.
What is meant by the word righteousness? Briefly, it is nothing less nor more than rightness in one’s person, purposes, plans, procedures, practices, processes, and productions. It is the outward expression of what one is on the inside.
Two things need to be said about this word. First, it is an attribute of God. In other words the Bible teaches us that God is righteous. That means what He is, what He thinks, what He says, what He plans, and what He does have the characteristic of “rightness.” Second, it is the anticipation of God relating to the human beings He made in His image. The image of God is intended to be the image of His moral attributes, His righteousness evident in human beings.
There are many things about the image of God that are not a part of His image in human beings. Those fall into the category of His natural attributes. For example, God is all powerful; people are not. God is all knowing; people are not. God is everywhere present; people are not. God had no beginning; not so
with people. Since there are things about God that are not true of human beings, it must be concluded that the image of God in human beings is very specific. The focus then, is on the moral image of God that is the attribute of God and the anticipation of God for His moral creatures.
For example, God is love, and He expects people to possess and express love in appropriate ways. God is kind and gentle, and He expects His people to be kind and gentle. The righteousness of God is the expression of the nature or character of God, and that is summed up in the word holiness. In other words, the moral image of God as the character of the human beings He made and is anticipated to be the character of His people is to be the expression of His holiness (divine character) and righteousness (divine action.)
Therefore “righteousness” is defined as the outward actions of what defines a “person.” It includes his/her purposes, plans, procedures, practices, processes, and productions … whatever those may include.
2. Righteousness Depraved.
There is a serious problem. Human beings are a big problem! The Apostle Paul made this very clear: “There is no one righteous, not even one!” (Romans 3:10) This is Paul’s paraphrase of the last of Psalm 53:1.
So, what is the real problem? The heart, the spiritual control center of a person! The Prophet Jeremiah caught the issue:
“The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick – who can understand it? I, the LORD examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10) (HCSB)
Therefore man’s spiritual control center, the “spiritual” heart is seriously infected. This is what creates the problem that results in “unrighteous righteousness.” And how does this happen? The Bible makes it clear. Hear the counsel of King Solomon:
“Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) (HCSB) Again Solomon speaks:
“…for as he (a person) thinks within himself, so he is.”
Think of the space exploration program of the United States. When a space shuttle is sent into space for whatever mission it is designed, there is an amazingly intricate internal control center that functions under the skilled and well-trained hands of the astronauts. But there is also an equally amazingly intricate external control center. We are acquainted with that external control center being in Huston, Texas. The internal control center must comply with the instructions and directions of the external control center. If it does not, then serious complications arise.
The problem in human beings is with the internal spiritual control center … the “spiritual heart” of people. Since the “spiritual control center” is infected with the disease called “sin,” one can only expect that what comes out of the inner control center will reflect what is there. That is why the words of Jesus have meaning, when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, our text: