“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven”.
In our text the meaning of “kingdom of heaven” is nothing else than the state of a man wherein he enjoys favour with God and wherein God reigns over him. This state can be divided into two stages. We speak about the state of grace and the state of glory. The state of grace is the spiritual reign of God in the heart through His Word and Holy Ghost, so that this man has learned to pray with Paul of Tarsus: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” The state of glory is the enjoyment of the immediate fellowship with God in Jesus Christ in heaven (so not through faith). The entrance into the kingdom of heaven is eternal salvation.
So it is out of the question – thus is the meaning of what the Lord Jesus Christ is saying here – that anyone will ever go to heaven, who is not covered with the righteousness and beautified by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. For, mark well, where the righteousness of Jesus Christ is, there His Spirit is also.
I am of the opinion that we stand less far from the Pharisees than we habitually think. We say, it is good to place ourselves under the hearing of the testimony of God. But do we do that while opening our heart? We feel, we have to obey our parents. But do we grant our obedience in Jesus Christ, as the apostle Paul says: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1). We are all convinced that we are commanded to seek God’s face. But do we unite this duty with the bending of the knees of the heart? Our righteousness too, is an outward righteousness. God is not known by us either. And then it goes without saying that we are missing the right insight into ourselves. Although knowledge of God and self-knowledge are two distinct matters, yet they are always found together. The Lord Jesus is an unknown God. Which of us can tell how the Lord Jesus appeared unto him and what this appearance has brought about in his heart and in his life?
(From: Meditations, 10 February. Sermon on Matthew 5:20, 7 September 1949 in The Hague.)