In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus is talking to a crowd. Jesus tells them, he did not come to abolish or do away with the law. Jesus came to fulfill or complete the law.
Jesus also tells the people, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (ESV)
This section ends with Jesus saying, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (ESV)
If Jesus came to fulfill the law and Christians are not under the law, do they have to follow the law? Also, Jesus said our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
The scribes and Pharisees were religious leaders and they made a point to live out the law. They wanted to follow the law to the letter, but they often failed to follow the spirit of the law.
When I read this passage, I think about some of the legalistic churches in my area. They are concerned with outward appearances and they judge a person’s spirituality based on those outward appearances. They may talk about the importance of a heart that is holy or righteous; however, it is not what they are truly focusing on and practicing in their lives.
I also think about some of the churches with an anything goes attitude. They never want to appear judgmental, so they just ignore the importance of righteousness.
I think Jesus wants us to live a holy life and to be an example to the world around us; however, I think Jesus is looking for more than just following a bunch of rules that make us look like good people. I think Jesus wants our hearts to be pure and that is a harder goal to achieve than just checking off a list of rules.