You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you . . .
(5:21, 22, 27, 28, 33, 34, 38, 39, 43, 44, NIV)
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (5:48, NIV)
Jesus sure does know how to ratchet up the stakes. “You have heard that it was said,” he proclaims . . . do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not break your oath, an eye for an eye, love your neighbor. “But I say to you” . . . don’t get angry, don’t lust, don’t even swear at all, turn the other cheek, love your enemies. Lest we miss the standard, he lays it out for us: “Be perfect” – just like God is perfect.
So, is Jesus setting forth an impossible standard? Yes, absolutely. To his audience of rule-followers who thought they could be “good enough” by following the letter of the law, he has a simple message: you can’t be “good enough.” The righteousness God desires will have to come from outside of you – it has to be God’s righteousness added to your account by God Himself.
I meet a lot of people of who are trying to be “good enough” to get into Heaven. They think that when they die, their good will be weighed against their bad and whichever side is heavier, wins. Jesus is saying here, no, that won’t work — your good will be measured against perfection, and your only hope is to have His righteousness applied to your scale.
I have to say, I’m still prone to the “good enough” trap myself. Even as a believer who has accepted God’s righteousness as a gift through the work of Christ on the cross, I still find myself measuring my “goodness” against others – at least I’m not as bad as him, or thank God I don’t do that. Too often, I lose sight of the fact that the one I should be imitating is perfect and the only way I can imitate him is to let him transform my life.
God, I want you to transform me from the inside out. I want your righteousness to change me and to make me like you. Help me to renew my mind constantly, to relinquish control of my life, to allow your love to shine through me. Help me to be a conduit of your love to others and to point others to you.