What the Conscience Knows – Excuses or Accusations
Matthew 5: 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The conscience knows that you have to have a certain amount of righteousness in order to please God and enter the kingdom of heaven. The question that Jesus answers today is how much righteousness one has to have.
Everyone knows this about that certain amount of righteousness because God has built into us a conscience can do 1 of 2 things: accuse us or make excuses (Romans 2:15). Furthermore, you only want to make an excuse when you have first been accused. The Law says, “You’re angry and you deserve to be judged by your anger. Repent.” The excuse is, “What did I do wrong? Everyone gets angry. I’ve seen worse. They deserved it.”
“Eh. So What?”
The excuses somehow or another look like this: ehh, so what? So what, I lied. So what, what I gossiped. So what, I’m lazy. And you want to say, “so what,” because you know in your conscience that you will be judged by those seeming little sins – that little bit of anger, that little bit of lust, those little, but harsh words about others, that little bit of unhappiness and discontentment with your life. If these things count against you, then what chance do you have? You really want to have a chance to have the right amount of righteousness in order to please God.
So, what amount of righteousness do we have to have to please God and enter the kingdom of heaven? Jesus, in his brilliance, takes one of the commandments that we think we have kept without fault, the easiest commandment to keep – 21″You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Violence on the Inside
Judgment and condemnation are for the big sins, but also the subtle sins, the hidden sins, the its-easier-to-excuse-sins. We’re called not to live by violence, but also called not to have violence in our heart. When someone isn’t listening to you (I’ve told you that before, are you hearing me?), or when someone is mocking you or disagreeing with you and your heart begins to get tight, clouds start to form in your mind so that you can’t think of anything else except what that person is doing, the body clenches, the face scrunches and if looks could kill – it is at this point that Jesus says, “You’re liable to judgment.”
Or as you are talking to someone you’re thinking, “You’re an idiot. You clearly aren’t as smart as I am.” Or if you’re scheming against someone, “Did you hear what this person did?” Or if you’re trapping someone, “I’ll give them a chance, but if that they cross that line right there, if they ignore me one more time, if they talk about that one more time, I’m going to pull the trap and they’re going to get it!” You’re in danger.
Loving God and Hating Neighbor
Then Jesus squelches any notion for the Christian that you can think you have an alright relationship with God while your there is enmity between you and someone else – 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Our faith toward to God and His love and mercy bleeds out and is intimately connected with our love toward neighbor. One of the things Jesus emphasizes here is that he doesn’t need your love or your gifts but your neighbor does.
The Law is Good
Everyone knows that you have to have a certain amount of righteousness and Jesus blows that amount up. Now, the response for the Christian can either be excuses or let this word accuse. The Law is good. It is good to not be angry or think someone is an idiot. It is good to stop laying traps for someone. It is good to have a clean and pure heart rather than a heart that is clouded and tormented and tense because of wrath. Jesus wants to release you from these things.
The big sins matter and so do the subtle sins. Making sins into big sins vs. little sins is like asking if I should drink a glass of poison or a gallon of poison. It is good to know God’s will and way for us and it is also good to know that our righteousness does not measure up. If we are continually looking to our works, it will be like trying to cover up with a blanket that is too small. When your arms are cold, you pull them up and you feel good for a bit until you realize your feet are cold.
For the Christian, the accusation makes us hungry for Jesus’ Word, Body and Blood, righteousness. It makes us hungry to pray and receive Christ’s gifts. Matthew 5:3, 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:6, 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
The Law Calls for a Different Righteousness – Christ’s Righteousness that is Received by Faith
But Jesus comes to covers your whole body, conscience and shame with His righteousness. He did not come to abolish the law but fulfill it. He did not come to abolish the Law but did come to destroy the works of the devil. He did not come to abolish the Law but did come to break our bondage to sin – Romans 6:3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…you also must consider yourselves(R) dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.. He did not come to abolish the Law but did come to promise us resurrection as He breathes into us life now and will breathe life into us after death – 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
A Conscience That is Declared Right
Because of the gift of His life, God who had every right to have something against you, is completely reconciled and is at peace with you. The conscience can do one of two things: accuse or excuse. But the conscience can also have something done to it – it can be declared clean, declared righteous, justified. Romans 4: 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”