Earlier in this sermon Jesus told His audience that their personal righteousness would have to exceed the standard of the most morally disciplined among them. Without this excess they would “in no case” enter the kingdom of heaven. He then proceeded to display the insufficiency of biblical law to reach this goal.
A person with perfect moral nature would never have to be told what to do or not to do. Their pure heart and mind would guide them, making a statute unnecessary. The very existence of moral law points to a deficient morality in the first place. Corruption precedes law.
Let me illustrate it this way. Some middle eastern cultures highlight their moral purity by touting the precision of their laws and the harshness of their punishment. Some will go so far as to cut off the hand of a recalcitrant thief. But such law really only advertises the moral failure of the people and their culture. Imagine how corrupt a people must be to be threatened by their leaders with amputation to keep them from stealing. A morally pure people would never think of a law against stealing. It would be totally unnecessary because their nature would never be tempted to steal. Moral law and punishment is evidence of corruption not righteousness.
This text gives the true standard of moral righteousness. It is a person not a body of laws. Only an intelligent being can possess the beauty and balance of moral purity. This purity flows from the inside out, and only becomes a law for impure moral creatures. The impure study the statute, systematize it, and enlarge it, but those very acts reveal their failure to attain it... To BE it.
This is where all human religion is deficient: it is law based. The Bible uniquely claims to have given the law to show the inability of the law to bring true righteousness. From Adam to Israel the Bible displays the failure of statute law to bring righteousness. The failure is in us... not the statute.
The Creator is the standard of moral purity. Those who move from the coarseness of the statute to the living nature of the person find themselves facing an unattainable standard: perfection. We cry, “I can't ever be as He is! The standard is too high!” Ah... now we see the righteousness that exceeds. Now we understand why Jesus had to die, and why the Gospel is really good news. By faith God imputes to us a righteousness that is living, pure, and sufficient.