How Can Our Righteousness Exceed That Of The Pharisees?

How Can Our Righteousness Exceed That Of The Pharisees? February 15, 2017

Jesus told His followers that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, but is this humanly possible?

The Pharisees

The Pharisees were the most affluent and powerful group in the Jewish culture, at least at the time of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. Even their name drips with self-righteousness, as they are the “separated ones,” which is from the Aramaic (Semitic) and comes from “perishayya,” meaning “separated, separatist,” and closely corresponds to the Hebrew word “parush,” from “parash,” meaning “he separated,” with the “he” being God. Ironically, they were separated, but not from sinners, but from God because they rejected Jesus, and they hardened their hearts so much that they conspired along with the other Jews, to have Jesus murdered. They regarded themselves as above others and separated from the “unclean masses,” but Jesus must have shocked them when He told them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matt 23:23). Don’t miss the fact that Jesus said “these you ought to have done,” but obviously they rejected true justice, mercy, and faithfulness to God, and so they were the “separated ones,” but not in the way they thought. They were separated from a Holy God by their sins of hypocrisy and self-righteousness (Isaiah 59:2). They rejected grace and mercy because they were so entangled in their ritualistic religion of tithing, washings, purifications, and other manmade traditions that no one could possibly live up to them, so thus Jesus tells them to their face, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matt 23:13), and you “travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matt 23:15). Obviously, Jesus was not pleased with their hypocrisy, but neither were they pleased with Him, because He was truly righteous.

For-our-sake-he-made-him (2)

The Pharisees Righteousness

Why would Jesus say to His disciples, “your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees” or you won’t enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20), but were the Pharisees really righteous? Weren’t they self-righteousness? The Pharisees didn’t have the righteousness that God demands to enter the kingdom of heaven, and the Pharisees thinking they were righteous were wrong, because the Bible teaches none are good or righteous (Rom 3:10-12), so why does Jesus say our righteousness must exceed the Pharisees? Remember, they only had their self-righteousness, which is unacceptable to God. Instead of trusting in Christ, Jesus said these were they “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9), so He told the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). They trusted in their own righteousness and exalted themselves above others, and thus, they were the “separated ones.” They failed to see that only those who trust in Christ can be justified, and everyone needs the righteousness of Christ (2nd Cor 5:21) or you can’t even enter the kingdom of heaven. When people feel self-righteous, they can “treat others with contempt,” however, their own works, just like ours, are nothing more than filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6), and He will not accept them. Nowhere in the Bible does it teach that people are good enough to go to heaven or can do enough good works to get there. Our sins have cut us off from God (Isaiah 59:2); at least before we trusted in Christ, but thankfully, Jesus ended that separation, and now we are separated unto God but not from God, and separated unto good works for His glory (Eph 2:10). If it were a matter of good works, then we’re altogether hopeless because our works cannot ever be enough to save us. All the good works in the world couldn’t help the Pharisees after they died and face judgment (Heb 9:27).

Jesus and Righteousness

How then can a person receive the righteousness that is required to enter heaven, since nothing unclean can enter in (Rev 21:27)? It isn’t going to be a “self” righteousness because we’ve seen that’s not enough. It will take a perfect holiness to enter in, and we know how that’s achieved (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Rom 10:9-13). The Apostle Paul writes it was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2nd Cor 5:21). This is exactly why “God put forward as propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Rom 3:25), so it’s not our righteousness, but Jesus’ own righteousness that is imputed on our behalf, and it infinitely exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees. This was expressly done “to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26).


If it were not for Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, all of us would still be separated from God by our sins and deserving of the wrath of God (John 3:13, 36), however, “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6a), and “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7), and even “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). It is through repentance and faith, and by Jesus’ “blood [God] ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). Believers, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1st Pet 1:18-20). The Sinless One became sin for the sinful ones because His righteousness was credited to us. That exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees in ways that cannot be measured.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

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  • Amen. Very good article per usual Jack. God bless you brother!

    • Jack Wellman

      Thank you my friend. You are so kind, but as we both know, we have nothing but that which comes from God (1 Cor 4:7) so to Him be all the glory.

      • Amen…. I would say that is a fact Jack BB but I won’t Love yah! Sis

      • pud

        All powerful creators of universes do not “need” anything let alone “glory”

        Try thinking like a 5 year old…at that level of critical thinking…all this nonsense will melt away.

        And stop using the word “know” You don’t “know” anything…you “believe” a book of nonsense, fable and story from the Bronze Age

        • Julie Steadman

          ..have you read the New Testament.

          • pud

            I’ve read your entire disgusting, deranged, wicked, violent, cruel, absurd, ridiculous completely wrong book written by primitive savages…yep

  • pud

    “jesus” told nobody nothing…A book of hearsay said he said this and that. There is no actual evidence that anyone name of “jesus” ever existed at all.

    Oh yeah…forgot about the self loathing, guilty, filthy rags we all are and how lucky we are that the creator of the entire universe conducted a human blood sacrifice so he could forgive the creatures he created and had complete knowledge of everything they would fail at in their disgusting filthiness….praise the lord!

    “The Sinless One became sin for the sinful ones because His righteousness was credited to us.” LOL What a senseless statement

    Try actual critical thought for once in your self loathing life! You’ll clearly see how delusional a life you’ve been living…

    If your “god” doesn’t exist…and it doesn’t…you have nothing. Grow up and embrace reality for once while you still can!

  • Oyakhire Igein

    You just hit the nail on the head. May the Lord fill you with his surpassing wisdom.

    • Jack Wellman

      thank you for your kind words and your blessing my friend.

  • Theodore A. Jones

    Pastor Wellman,
    Begging your pardon sir, but you’ve admitted that you know that crucifying Jesus was the sin of murder. Those people who murdered Jesus by crucifixion knew that too ,according to the scripture, and even alleged that it was a good idea that he die to save the people. It is rightly judged that they did not obtain a direct benefit for themselves by murdering Jesus. However God is no respecter of persons. My point is you are alleging that the sin of murdering Jesus Christ is a direct benefit to yourself but castigating those who did indeed murder Jesus as unworthy to receive the same direct benefit you are alleging to have received. Sir. Never is any sin a benefit for anyone. How is it possible that your allegation isn’t as false as Caiaphas’ allegation, “It is a good idea that one man die to save the people.”? Sir are you not aware of Jesus testimony in the scripture wherein he says “When he comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin” Jn. 16:8 post of him being murdered by crucifixion? Isn’t the word world an inclusive descriptive of the world’s populace of which you cannot deny being a member of, and isn’t it a false soteriological perspective to assert that just the sin of murdering Jesus Christ relative to your personage is the direct benefit for you of him having died in your place but not every one else’s too?
    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13 Sir are you not fully informed that is absolutely imperative that you must have the faith to obey that law or the only result is you will not be declared righteous by God and since obedience of that law is mandatory and God is no respecter of persons are you exempt? I’ll give you an advisory hedge, and you had better not ignore what I’ll telling you sir. Don’t you dare think that law Paul has referenced is the OT written code and if you choose not to obey this law sir, be advised that offending God by not obeying this law carries the penalty of eternal death and this law is the only law of God which carries that penalty. Jesus Christ was not murdered in anyone’s place.

    • Jack Wellman

      I am glad Jesus prayed “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing” and I hope that applies to bad theology many have. Mr. Jones, I fear for you sir, are you going to fall from grace as Paul wrote in Gal 5:2-6 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified[a] by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love?”

      • Theodore A. Jones

        I clearly stated to you pastor Wellman that the law Paul references in Rom. 2:13 is not referencing the OT written code of law. Fold up your expression of any sentimentality and put it away. Because even just the existence of Paul’s statement regardless of what law he is referencing. Does no other thing than specifically mandate that a law must! be obeyed or you will certainly not! be declared righteous by God. Your protest is totally against the validity of that statement. Because in just that it exists it fully compromises the soteriological pandemic you promote. The only defense you have to defend the way of faith you have hope in is that you must prove that apostle’s soteriological paradigm to be false. And there is no possibility of you nor anyone else ever accomplishing that.
        It is true that Jesus prayed “Father forgive them”, but his Father will not move toward that on anyone’s behalf until you first have the faith to actually obey that law Paul references. “Obedience is better than sacrifice”, and you had better get that fact straight between your ears. For if not you and everyone you have taught will serve the penalty of eternal death.

  • Christiane Smith

    we have no righteousness but Christ’s

    want to be ‘more righteous’ than a Pharisee? not so hard . . . you just go into a temple and say ‘Jesus Christ, Son, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner’

  • Anne Horst Ahrens

    For in essence, the Pharisees were not that righteous; so it does not seem impossible, to ever be that righteous?

    28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
    Matthew 11:28-30 New International Version (NIV)

  • edwitness

    The righteousness of the pharisees was a righteousness of works. That which exceeds that righteousness is the righteousness of faith. The same righteousness that Abraham was reckoned or considered by God to have when he believed God.

    Because in Gal.2:16 Paul clearly states that we are reckoned or considered to be righteous just as Abraham and Jesus were, through our belief in Jesus that is the same as Jesus’ And Abraham’s belief in the Father. This is the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the pharisees. This shows that it is not the righteousness that Jesus has being taken from His account and placed into ours. It is our righteousness that comes from our belief in Jesus, that is just as His righteousness was from His believing the Father.

    “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

    Even so… Maranatha!!