But Jesus had a much more important and glorious aim than to correct His enemies in stating His purpose for coming. He goes on to say, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the [righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). According to scripture, if any man continually keep every commandment perfectly, he will attain to the righteousness of the law and receive life (Leviticus 18:5; Romans 10:5). But if any fail even once to perfectly keep every law, the curse of the law will come on that one (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26; 18:13; 32:3-4). Continual, perfect, actual keeping of every law is the emphasis. And because the law is spiritual, all must be kept internally and not merely externally. The law is black and white in its requirements and judgments. There is no middle ground. Either keep it and be blessed, or break it and be cursed.
The scribes and Pharisees, like every natural man, saw only the options that put man in the spot light and depend on man: keep the law and live, or fail to keep it and be damned by it. Like those men in John 8 who brought to Jesus the woman caught in the act of adultery, they only saw the options held by men with low views of God and high views of themselves: condemn the guilty without mercy, or clear the guilty at the expense of justice.
But as in the case of the woman in John 8, our Lord Jesus Christ reveals Himself as the fulfillment of the law for all who believe (Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:1-4; 10:4). Unlike the scribes and Pharisees who attempted to make the law serve their ego by circumventing it that they might appear better than others, our Lord Jesus, as our eternal Surety, magnified the law by obligating Himself to keep its every command on behalf of His people, and taught men so, commanding them to believe Him. He, therefore, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19). Only He kept every command, even the least, perfectly, continually, without fail. Only He fulfilled the law and the prophets. Only He could hold the mirror of the law up to Himself without hypocrisy. His obedience unto death is the everlasting righteousness that fulfills the law and the prophets and earns everlasting life for all of His people (Daniel 9:24). The two greatest commandments in the law are to love God with all the heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love our neighbor as our self. Christ fulfilled these as the Surety to God for His Church by His own death (John 15:13; Romans 5:6-10; 1 John 3:16; Ephesians 5:25). Therefore, He not only kept the least, but the greatest, and He brought honor to God by upholding His word, not letting even the smallest jot or tittle of God's word fall to the ground.
Our Lord teaches us to keep every commandment, even the least. To enter heaven we must have perfect righteousness. But the law was never given that we might establish our righteousness by our own law-keeping. Rather, it was given to shut us up to undeniable guilt before God, expose the exceeding sinfulness of our hearts, and leave us without hope outside of Christ. Christ alone fulfills the righteousness of the law (Psalms 71:16; 119:142,144). It is in believing Christ that we therefore fulfill the righteousness of the law, even in the least commandment. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4). To walk in the Spirit is to to abandon all confidence in the flesh and believe Christ alone, to rely on His grace apart from my works or worth. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). Christ’s obedience to His Father for His people fulfilled the law and the prophets (Daniel 9:24; Romans 10:4; Philippians 2:5-8). God’s operation of faith in us compels us to embrace and confess that Christ has done everything in our salvation and is therefore all of our boasting (Colossians 2:12; Hebrews 1:3; 10:1-18; Exodus 14:13; 2 Chronicles 20:17; Isaiah 45:22; Galatians 6:14).
But when I make my knowledge and my “being right” my aim, and consider something I am or do as the means or measure of achieving my preferred status, then I set myself above others in self-imagined superiority, rather than loving others by seeking and praying for their blessing in Christ and rejoicing when they are blessed in Him. By making “being right” my aim rather than being found in Christ, I look to my accomplishments rather than Christ's accomplishments. I elevate myself above the law and break the greatest commandment of all: to love God and my brother and sister in Christ.
In the core of my being, I must acknowledge that there is nothing good in me, and that Christ and Him crucified is the only righteousness "Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to Him shall men come, and all that are incensed against Him shall be ashamed" (Isaiah 45:24). God only recognizes and accepts and is pleased with the righteousness of Christ. Faith sees this and says so, because faith is pleased only with Christ and with all of Christ.
Only faith produces love, because faith puts me in the dust in loving admiration of Christ and esteems His people above myself (Philippians 2:3). Only faith sets me free me from spiritual pride and makes service to Christ and His people my life’s aim. With Paul I pray, Oh Lord, find me in Christ alone, having His righteousness alone (Philippians 3:9)! Make all of my righteousness more repugnant to me than dung! Give me this grace to believe Him and to seek the good of my brethren at the expense of my own reputation and ease. “Only by pride cometh contention” (Proverbs 13:10). The LORD hates six things: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands the shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet swift to do mischief, a false witness that speaks lies and him that sows discord among brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19). At the head of the list is the insidious spiritual pride of self-righteousness. Lord, help my unbelief; increase my faith!