We Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness (Matthew 5:6)

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled. (Matt. 5:3–6)

Christians are keenly aware that we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God. Deep in our souls, we understand that we are personally responsible for our sins, and we cannot blame them on others. We understand that we have no excuse for our sins, and that our sinfulness makes us completely dependent on God for His mercy. To some extent, we had these senses before we were saved, and God used them to draw us to Him in the first place.

But now that we have obtained His forgiveness and have received His Spirit, not only are we aware of our sins, but we also have utter distaste for them. We are poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3) because we rightly judge sin to be present with us, and we don’t like it (Rom. 7:23–24). We mourn (Matt. 5:4), not only because our own sins make us feel dirty, but also because it hurts us to see what sin does to others. We are humble before God (Matt. 5:5) because we rightly understand that He is the supreme being of the universe, and that we do not measure up to Him.

As dark and dismal as this may seem, there is a bright side to our mourning, poverty, and humility. If these things characterize the way we feel about ourselves before God, then we should count ourselves among the blessed. These feelings themselves are not a blessing, because they make us feel poor, mournful, and lowly. But if we have these feelings, then it means that Jesus Christ lives in our hearts. Therefore, the feelings are not the blessing, but the fact that we have them should be a blessing to us.

This is so because God’s presence in our hearts and our union with Him causes us to appreciate both His perfect standard of righteousness and its conflict with the utter sinfulness of our own flesh. We don’t like sin because we are new creatures in Christ. Therefore, our mourning, poverty, and humility are not ours because we worked hard to get them, or because we disciplined ourselves to keep them. Our sins make us feel bad because distaste for sin is part of who we are in Christ. It is part of our spiritual DNA, and it will never change.

But Jesus did not just give us the sense of being spiritually poor because of our sin; He also gave us the knowledge of redemption. When He came to live in our hearts, He brought with Him the assurance of our salvation, the comfort of His forgiveness, and the sure hope of a sin-free eternity. He assures us, the poor in spirit, that the kingdom of God is ours (Matt. 5:3). He comforts us, the mournful, with His forgiveness (Matt. 5:4). And He appoints us, the humble, to be kings and priests to rule on the earth (Matt. 5:5).

But there is more. When Jesus came to live in our hearts, He brought with Him something else besides just distaste for sin and the knowledge of redemption. He also brought a hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6). This was not in us before we were saved. But it is in us now. Our hunger and thirst for righteousness is not separate and distinct from the pain of our sins or from the confidence that in Christ they are all forgiven. In fact, we hunger and thirst for righteousness partly because we do not see righteousness completely fulfilled in our lives (Rom. 8:24).

Of his hunger and thirst for righteousness, the apostle Paul wrote:

I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:21–24)

These words perfectly describe what is going on in the heart of every Christian. When Paul writes in Romans 7:21, “I find then a law,” he is saying that he has discovered an immutable truth that cannot be changed—an unalterable law that God has established for us. The immutable truth is in two parts. The first part is, “Evil is present with [us].” The second part is, “[Our will is] to do good.”

Addressing and clarifying the latter he writes, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom. 7:22). Addressing the former he writes, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23). And punctuating the impact on his psyche of the close proximity of sin to his redeemed soul, which loves righteousness, he writes, “O wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:24).

Every Christian loves God and the things of God in the inward man. As we have just seen, we worship God in Spirit, we love God with all our hearts, we love our neighbors as ourselves, and we love our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we also love the Word of God and all the wonderful truths presented in it.

But every Christian also faces another reality. We all inherited a sinful nature from Adam and Eve. And the sinful nature is still present with us now. Before we were saved, our sinfulness brought an expectation of judgment, but not a sense of wretchedness. But now that we are saved, our sinfulness no longer brings an expectation of judgment, but it does bring a sense of wretchedness.

We have this new sense of wretchedness because Jesus brought distaste for sin and delight in righteousness with Him when He came to live in our new hearts. Scripture says of Jesus, “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness” (Heb. 1:9). He brought these things with Him when He came to live in us.

Therefore, we do not hunger and thirst for righteousness by being obedient to the Scriptures or by disciplining ourselves to do what God requires. We did not find “hunger and thirst for righteousness” in the Bible and hide it in our hearts. It belongs to us because Jesus gave it to us when He took up residence in our hearts. Only people who possess new life in Christ hunger and thirst for righteousness. It helps define who we are in Christ. It is built into our spiritual DNA, and it will never change.

If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, then we are truly blessed (first half of Matt. 5:6). The hungering and thirsting itself is not a blessing, because hungering and thirsting leaves us hungry and thirsty. But we are blessed if we hunger and thirst for righteousness because only those who have Christ in them feel this way. And Jesus tells us that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, then a day is coming in which we will shed our sinful bodies, and our hunger and thirst for righteousness will be completely satisfied (second half of Matt. 5:6).

Then will be fulfilled what is written:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Cor. 15:50–58)

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