Hungering and thirsting after righteousness tests what we believe about salvation. First of all, we should check our understanding of righteousness. It is not just being moral up to a point. We know this because Jesus said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Righteousness is even more than “being right with God,” a definition frequently used today. It is that, of course, but righteousness is being perfect…living like Jesus did…being like God. This is the standard God confronts us with! “Be ye holy, even as I am holy.” Don’t dilute this measuring stick. Without it, will you be poor in spirit? Will you mourn very much? Do you have much need for being meek? No, unless you fall so far from your culture’s accepted code of behavior. Those who want a Savior, but are uncomfortable with God’s requirements, prefer a lower standard too. Neither of these approaches require a continuing on after sanctification with this hunger and thirst which results in repentance and faith and self-denial.
Thomas Watson, who was very familiar with this definition of righteousness, looked at each of the Beatitudes as commands as well as descriptions of character. Be hungry for holiness. Be meek. Be pure in spirit. Be hungry. He saw the blessings as sugar sprinkled on the command as an encouragement and reward for obeying it. Or like the ballast in a sailboat–holding our life on course and speeding us along God’s way. Being in God’s kingdom, being comforted, inheriting it all, being satisfied is a lot of sugar! God knows our frame…that we need” a little bit of sugar to make the medicine go down.”
The essence of this being filled is having the assurance that we are not hoping for forgiveness and righteousness, but that we have it. Here is that evangelical teaching that we can know we are saved. But, this blessed assurance can be taken from us when we fail to discipline ourselves to maintain this pursuit of holiness. Our appetite is dulled. Our thirst is for other things. We must order our lives so as to seek this perfection and be on the road to receive grace to become more holy. If something we are doing, no matter how innocent, feeds our pride and our love of self-assertiveness, then we should avoid it. For instance, if we love movies or sports and too much of them make God’s word seem laborious and dull in comparison, we should cut out what is necessary to restore our appetite for righteousness. If God’s standard for sexuality being restricted to marriage between one man and one woman seems too strict to us, then we would be wise to seek out the Bible’s teaching on this to counter what our culture is telling us. These are examples of ordering our lives so we can receive grace to grow more like the Lord Jesus Christ.
But, of course, we are going to fall flat sometimes. Knowing this, Paul applied Abraham’s experience to ours:
“He did not waiver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:20-25).
How wonderful this imputed righteousness is for us when we fail to do what is right. Knowing that Jesus’s perfect life covers us like a warm coat encourages us to keep on keeping on. It is sugar to God’s commands. But, using it to excuse our hungering after worldliness instead of righteousness is wrong. Don’t be conned by false teachers who try to convince you that once you are justified by faith, holiness is optional or a big spiritual experience is what counts. Desiring to do what is right, and in a small sense to be like God, is like being really hungry and thirty. It feels so good when our stomachs are full and a glass of cool water is in our hand.
FOR THE CHILDREN
Sugar has a bad rap today. And, of course, too much of it is bad for all of us. But, this concept of sweetening a command works wonders with getting kids to do what you want them to do. A simple reward for doing well goes a long way toward establishing good habits. Good habits contribute to moral virtue. But, always include a personal comment about the good news that salvation is by faith alone and if we hunger and thirst after being like God, we shall be satisfied with an assurance that we are truly His child. This assurance is like you feel when you’ve just finished a piece of cake with ice cream on top!
But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life..” (I Timothy 6:11-12).