I generally paint with a broad brush. The lawnmower picks up most of the leaves and the one's it doesn't it chops into really little pieces that are hard to see from the road. Good enough. Rarely do I get to the point of worrying about the little things.
That's how most people handle their spiritual lives as well. I'm amazed at how quickly I can convince myself that I'm a good guy. That is the most common response I hear when asking someone about their spiritual life. One problem with that is that I have no frame of reference for that comment. They seem nice enough . . . but when they shut the door and close the garage, who knows? After all, how many times have you heard an interview on the news with the neighbor of a murderer and they say, "He seemed like such a nice person."
The other problem is that we grade on a sliding scale and God doesn't. What God expects is perfection (5:48) and perfection as He defines it, not me. There's defiinitely a different definition when my wife tells my boys to "clean their rooms." Clean means one thing for her and something totally different for them. It's the same way with us, God defines perfection differently than we do. We define perfection as pretty good, as in "I got more than half of it right." God defines perfection as being, well, perfect. Not only that, but He takes the things we think we've gotten right and makes them even tougher to meet.
That's what Jesus is doing in these chapters. He's taking the traditional religious interpretation and defining it as God sees it. For example, the traditional religious interpretation of murder is "don't take someone's life." Jesus defines it as much more than that. Rather than just the outward expression of murder, He talks about the internal attitudes and motivations. God expects that you will not become angry with your brother. That is a whole different ballgame.
The point of Jesus' teaching is to expose our sin and shame. He wants to do more than just make us feel guilty or further weighted down by God's expectations. The people that Jesus is addressing were worn-out, tired, poor, and marginalized. Most of the religious community simply pointed out how much they were not worthy of God and tried to keep them seperate. Jesus' did not intend to increase that feeling. Instead, He wants to get them to the point where they give up all hope in themselves and see Him as their only hope.
When perfection (as God defines it) is our standard (and it is), it pushes us to the point that we realize we are hopeless. We look at the area of our life that we really want to change and see how hopeless we are to alter our behavior. This leaves us with only one hope - God. God has provided us with hope in Jesus. We can't meet God's righteous expectation for our lives, but Jesus has already done that for us. He fulfilled the law completely (5:17). In His life, we see life as God desires, with no failures, no faults, no sin whatsoever. He is perfect.
While He is perfect, God placed on Him all of our imperfections. Every sin we committed was placed on Jesus. Every wrong thought, attitude, action, or omission was placed on Him. God said the penalty for those things was death, so Jesus died for them. He took our place on the cross. We deserved to die, not Him. We earned the punishment that was coming, not Him. But He stepped in and took our place. He became the sacrifice for our sins.
The one thing that remains for us is to confess how hopeless we are without Jesus. We confess that we cannot live the life God desires. We also express our belief that Jesus died for us, in our place, to pay the debt we owed and could never pay. This belief is called faith and it brings the gift of God's grace, His unmerited favor. That favor grants us a place in His family, forgiveness of our sins, and the power to live a new life. Alone, we cannot change. We are bound to our habits and sins, but with God's presence in us, we are freed from our bondage to sin and enabled to live a new life.
The bad news comes first, you have to be perfect and you're not even close. Then God shares the remedy, Jesus died in your place to fulfill all of my requirements for your life. This is the good news, that "by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Heb. 10:14).
With Jesus, we are perfect.