There seems to be a difference when we say we are to “be righteous” or to “live righteously”. To live righteously would seem to imply that our actions we do are to be righteous. To be righteous would imply a constant state of righteousness. Which is easier to carry out?
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus gave his disciples a command that is impossible to carry out:
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I would say it would be impossible to surpass the righteousness of law-abiding Pharisees even if in today’s modern-day context. Unless Jesus becomes our very own righteousness, or gives us his righteousness, there is no way to have a perfect righteousness. Living out perfect moral lives is impossible and Jesus seemed to be giving us the impression here to the effect of saying, “Since you can’t surpass the righteous of typical lawyers, there is no way you can do it on your own, you are then forced to run toward Jesus to be our righteousness.
Can we live righteous enough lives to have a righteousness that is better than perfect law-abiding people? I have admit that I don’t.
My prayer: Jesus, be my righteousness because I cannot be righteous enough to surpass the righteousness of good people.