The Sermon on the Mount is an extended conversation about righteousness. Jesus uses the word five times in the three chapters that comprise the SOTM but in actuality the idea is in just about every verse. The righteousness He is speaking of is what happens when God’s kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven (v. 10). It is what happens when we do the right thing for the right reason.
This righteousness is relational—it is flows out of a relationship with God. It is not an add on to our relationship with God (like leather seats or an extended warranty)—it is our relationship. God loves us, saves us and blesses us by calling us to share in His righteousness. If there is no such pursuit of righteousness in our life, there is no relationship with God—because that’s what He is. That’s why we are to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (v. 33). John says, “If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:6). If we have a relationship with God, you walk in the light as He is in the light. Our walk isn’t prefect. It is weak at times and inconsistent at times—but it is still a walk! And if we walk in the light as He is in the light then the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin (v. 7).
What Paul has to say in Romans 6 syncs well with Jesus’ words. He speaks of us offering ourselves as “obedient slaves” with the result being righteousness (v. 16). In the act of being set free from sin, we “become slaves to righteousness” (v. 18). There aren’t two stages where God saves us and then we decide to pursue righteousness. There is one stage—we give our lives up to God and He brings us into relationship with Him (righteousness). Salvation for Israel wasn’t any different in the wilderness than it was at the Red Sea—it was all about trusting God and walking in His way.
In all of this, there’s never any earning of anything. We work out only because God works in (see Philippians 2:12-13). Paul’s on record as saying he worked very hard and diligently for God yet in the same breath he acknowledges that it wasn’t him—“but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law didn’t have this righteousness. Jesus makes it clear that they were talkers rather than doers (Matthew 23:3). When they finally got around to doing the right thing, it was for the wrong reason (v. 5). In light of this, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Jesus tells His disciples that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if they want to be a part of God’s kingdom.
Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness!