Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. [Matthew 5:6 ESV]
In the first few verses of Matthew 5, in the passage we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents a description of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. There are in this description elements of the personality of the citizen and the evidences of reality of this Godly person living in a world which is not godly. His first four statements lay the foundation for the way a citizen thinks and feels and acts. It is no secret God’s desire to bring into His kingdom those who are His and that He uses His citizens as witnesses of His eternal working. Each Christian is a living, breathing example of the Gospel of grace.
We need not make the Gospel complicated. What is incomprehensible are the reactions of those confronted by God with the Gospel, which is everyone, and the danger and hatred toward God which comes with the Gospel’s plain teaching. It is the whole person God wants and it is the whole person who either concedes the truth in the Gospel or rebels against the One stating the truth.
Imagine yourself facing something, anything, you know in your deepest being is corrupt and vile yet morbidly attractive and provocative. You are moving toward this thing, drawn by it irresistibly and the closer you come the less vile it is and the more attractive it becomes. It is sin. Behind you is God calling you to turn away from sin and toward Him. Turning away from sin is repentance. Turning toward God is faith. Walking toward God is obedience. Every citizen of the kingdom has gone through this transition. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is the culmination of God changing those who are His and the beginning of His citizen being His.
Before we continue discussing hungering and thirsting for righteousness we must remember the process God has done in bringing us to this place.
These steps, if we can call them steps, are absolute and begin with poverty of spirit which is the recognition of sin. Those who are poor in spirit come to hate sin and love the truth. Thus, when God calls they turn because His call is the realization of the consequences of sin, which is separation from God. This realization is shown by deep mourning and repentance. Where there is repentance there is faith, for one cannot occur without the other. Faith is the flip-side of repentance. True faith is characterized by the relinquishing of control of self to the object of faith who is none other than God. This relinquishing of control of our weakness is in exchange for God’s strength. Meekness is God’s strength in me under His control. Once control is given to God there is freedom from the slavery of sin to pursue the very opposite of what our corrupted nature and the world wants. God demands righteousness. The world demands rebellion against God, which is unrighteousness. Once the citizen reaches this point they want righteousness and pursue righteousness out of love for God, not simple duty to Him. Righteousness is not a goal but the natural result of knowing God, and being known by Him.
Jesus has, in these few characterizations, defined and presented the Gospel. Return to imagining yourself walking toward sin, running toward sin, not knowing how devastating sin is. Then, God called and suddenly you recognize sin for what it is and that you are corrupted by sin. You recognize in the same way an addict must recognize the power his substance of choice has over him. He must grow to hate that substance. If there is no hatred for sin there is no turning from it.
God’s call stopped you in your tracks. But the power of sin, in the world, in your own flesh, in the enticement of Satan, fought against the voice of God. He demands obedience. It is why you were created. There is no merit in obedience, no earning your way into the Kingdom. You obey, not because you will get something but because it is what you want. Obedience is not an option but an expectation. Continued rebellion after hearing the call of God drives home the consequences, the reality of separation from God. When God calls only an out-and-out act of persistent rebellion drives some to stop their ears and close their eyes.
Once God’s call has stopped your continued journey toward sin He turns you away from sin toward Himself. No one turns them self. God has to turn. Turning away from sin requires trusting God. This is an emotional response to God’s moral character. It is repentance. Repentance is accompanied by grieving over what sin has done to you and to the world. Mostly though, deep grief comes from realizing what sin has done to God. For in turning away from sin you must turn toward God and begin to see who He is truly. And who you truly are.
Turning way from sin is repentance. Turning toward God is faith. Here, faith is relinquishing control of self. How can you or anyone fight for control against God while facing Him? You cannot, unless you take your eyes off Him. Faith is the conduit through which we receive all God has to offer. All He gives is free. Faith is believing what He has said, trusting Him and obeying His commands.
While obedience is a necessary part of faith it is also integral to salvation. God does not ask us to believe, He commands it. He does not ask us to turn away from sin and repent, He demands it. He does not ask us to acquire faith and all He wants us to have. He supplies faith as the only way to receive what He has to give. He does not ask for obedience, He requires it. His commands are not grievous and overbearing. His commands are essential to our very being. Yet, in our present corrupted state there is nothing we can do but reject. If we obey, it is in His strength. If we reject God, it is in our own strength.
When we hunger and thirst for His righteousness our desire is obedience, to grow every closer to the source of life. Yet, we are conflicted. God does not lift us out of this world or change us so we are never tempted or prevent us from actively rebelling against Him. Christians are tempted and do fall into sin. We are at war and this war continues as long as He wants us in this world. Our struggle between the flesh which wants only itself, and the Spirit, which wants only God, rages. This is why so many of the admonitions in the Epistles are to stand firm with eyes firmly fixed on Him who is our salvation. Those who truly hunger and thirst for righteousness know their place in the kingdom and before God is fixed and sure.