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Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness

(Matthew 5:6 NKJV) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

When Jesus said this He was uttering an unimaginably great promise. For those who have really LONGED to be a better Christian, really ached to follow God better this is good news indeed! The promise is - you will get what you want until you can take no more. The promise is - you will be filled!. In this article we will first of all we examine what righteousness is and clear up the misconceptions that surround it. Then we will see what is involved in our hungering and thirsting for it - and being filled.

Righteousness True righteousness is not some sort of severe, hard-faced, ill-tempered, killjoy attitude. If you believed a tenth of the caricatures of righteousness that the world produces you would think that righteousness was almost an evil thing. A sort of cantankerous and scolding virtue. But James says(James 1:20 NKJV) for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

In other words true righteousness is self-controlled, loving and compassionate. It is not an excuse for intemperate wrath. James continues this thought for a few verses finally saying(James 1:26-27 NKJV) If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. {27} Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Righteousness is not an option for the Christian. People who are not concerned about doing right cannot be true believers in God.(1 John 3:10 NKJV) In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his bother. This is not talking about the imputed righteousness we receive through faith but the outworking of our righteous natures in righteous deeds. Unless there are righteous deeds then there is no evidence of a new creation.

The Christian is to have an appetite for godliness. Specifically we are to have an insatiable appetite for righteousness. What is the righteousness that Jesus speaks of in the Sermon On The Mount? It is not Pharisaical rule-keeping righteousness - it surpasses that! For a few verses later Jesus says:(Matthew 5:20 NKJV) "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.

Righteousness is firstly obedience to the Law.- as exemplified by Zachariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. (Luke 1:6 NKJV) And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. Yet it goes deeper than mere observance to involve a righteous and God-fearing nature. The righteousness that Jesus wants is internal and compassionate. It is the righteousness of the softened heart.

(Matthew 25:37-40 NKJV) "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? {38} 'When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? {39} 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' {40} "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'.

The righteousness that Jesus wants is the very opposite of the smug complacency so often associated with the term. It is anchored in a sense of need. True righteousness is aware that it can only be fulfilled by God's grace.: In Luke 18 Jesus tells a parable of a smug Pharisee who congratulates himself in prayer and a contrite publican who cries out to God from a deep sense of need and unworthiness. (Luke 18:9 NKJV) Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. The Pharisee receives no grace, no justification and no righteousness, the sinner who cries out to God receives pardon and grace and is the one considered righteous before God.

Righteousness dwells in the Christian in at least four ways or aspects: as a status,as a new nature,as a governing principle as righteous deeds and actions flowing from a righteous lifestyle.

Aspect 1 - Righteousness as a status before God

This has received enormous emphasis in evangelical circles as it was the great rediscovery of the Reformation and is the main doctrine that distinguishes Protestants and Catholics. Scripture is quite clear that right standing before God cannot be earned by any regimen of meritorious works.

(Galatians 2:21 NKJV) "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."In fact it is through faith alone(Romans 3:21-22 NKJV) But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, {22} even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

(Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, {9} not of works, lest anyone should boast.

This means that once we believe in Jesus Christ we are made righteous in God's eyes with our sins completely forgiven. For a clear explanation of this see last month's article "Salvation On Display" Once you are a Christian there is no use hungering and thirsting after this kind of righteousness - as wonderful as it is - because you have it already! If you are not a Christian it must be pursued at all costs since without it you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.(Matthew 22:11-13)

Aspect 2- Righteousness as a new nature in us.

For a full explanation of this see the article on The Inner Man. When we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior we are made new creations.

(2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

These new creations have a new nature which is righteous. These new natures are described as being "born of God" or "born from above" in us. They are intrinsically perfect and totally unable to sin.

(1 John 3:9 NKJV) Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

However, Christians do sin - despite their righteous new natures - because these righteous new natures dwell in old sin-filled bodies so that Paul could say of himself.

(Romans 7:23-24 NKJV) 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. {24} O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The war between our righteous new natures and the flesh is one of the chief struggles of the Christian life

(Galatians 5:16-19 NKJV) I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. {17} For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

This leads to a great hungering and thirsting after righteousness - that our new natures may be fully able to express themselves unhindered. See the above article for some encouragement on winning the war with sin. However the Christian should not hunger and thirst for a new righteous nature - despite all that the Devil accuses us of - we have it already. It is our possession - it just needs to be fully brought into play in our lives.

Aspect 3- Righteousness as our governing principle

Paul talks about the Christian being "enslaved to righteousness" as a consequence of becoming born again.

(Romans 6:18 NKJV) And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. Our new nature is enslaved to a new principle.

Just as the old nature was enslaved to the sin principle which was its mainspring and activating energy so the "new man" is enslaved to righteousness as its operating principle.

(Ephesians 4:24 NKJV) and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

In this sense righteousness is our Master, The Governor of our actions and our days. It was Christ's governing principle...

(Hebrews 1:8-9 NKJV) But to the Son He says: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. {9} You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions."

Jesus is righteous, loves righteousness and operates according to righteous principles - which is what is implied in the phrase. A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom- the scepter ("scepter" in American English) is the sign of authority and justice. Thus Christ's government operates righteously - not by favoritism or tyranny but justly and righteously. Being fair and yet merciful to all.

Since righteousness is loved by Jesus Christ and governs Him, therefore, it governs all who are "in Him" and has become our operating principle as well. Righteousness should set our priorities.

(1 Timothy 6:10-11 NKJV) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. {11} But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

In these verses we find Paul exhorting Timothy to make his priority the pursuit of righteousness just as others had made theirs the pursuit of money - to their destruction. People talk of "the profit motive", well Christians should talk of the "righteousness motive". Righteousness, godliness, faith etc. should be as important to the Christian as money is to a miser. We should be enslaved to it.

Aspect 4 - Righteousness in action -"the righteous deeds of the saints".

The Bible often speaks of the righteous deeds of the saints. They are things of great glory and eternal worth.

(Revelation 19:6-8 NKJV) And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! {7} "Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready." {8} And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Here we run into confusion in Christian circles. Some will say "Surely the Bible says that nothing we do is righteous and acceptable to God, surely all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags and unacceptable, it is impossible for us to do anything good because our evil motives always get in the way... doesn't the Bible say "there is none righteous, no not one" ? Romans speaks of three groups of people - Gentiles without the law who are ruled by their fallen nature in Adam , Jews who are under the law and condemned by it and Christians who fulfill the law of love through the indwelling Christ. In chapters 1 to 5 Paul makes a strong case that groups one and two (Jewish and Gentile non-Christians) are in need of the righteousness that is in Christ by faith.

Our "righteous deeds" as unbelievers are fatally flawed by our lack of relationship with God through Jesus Christ and our lack of a new and righteous nature. Both these things change when we become a Christian. We become capable of working righteousness because of the new nature given to us and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is quite plain that Christians can do righteous deeds:

(1 John 2:29 NKJV) If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.

(Hebrews 11:33 NKJV) who through faith subdued kingdoms,worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

(Acts 10:35 NKJV) "But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

(2 Corinthians 9:10-11 NKJV) Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, {11} while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.

(Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, {9} not of works, lest anyone should boast. {10} For we are His workmanship,created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Let's be clear about this, your righteous deed s do not earn you status before God or a new nature and they do not destroy the sin nature as your governing principle. Righteous deeds are the appropriate outcome of a faith-filled life. You can perhaps see them as the "outer layer" that depends on the other inner layers for fruitfulness. If the status before God is like the roots of a tree, the new inner nature the sap, the new governing principle the "species" of tree then the righteous deeds are the fruit. But the fruit tell us a lot about the tree. There is no use claiming to be an orange tree when all you produce is sour lemons! A Christian without righteous deeds is like a tree without fruit -as good as dead.(James 2:17 NKJV) Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Hungering And Thirsting After Righteousness

(Psalms 63:1-3 NKJV) O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. {2} So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. {3} Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You.

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness means that we press in to lay hold of God's good things concerning our salvation. It means zeal, fervor and effort stemming from a hungry desire to fill the aching void inside us. Righteousness as a status before God is to be diligently sought by those who lack this standing. The unsaved person is to hunger and thirst after salvation until it becomes theirs, at which point they will be satisfied. It is free if you seek it, yet out of reach of a millionaire who doesn't want to bother!

(Isaiah 55:1 NKJV) "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.

(John 6:35 NKJV) And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. Righteousness as a new nature is to e sought by those are controlled by the old nature and do not have Christ in them, the hope of glory. Thus unbelievers and many religious but unconverted folk will need to hunger and thirst after a renewed inner nature.

(John 7:37-39 NKJV) On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. {38} "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." {39} But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. Righteousness as an effective governing principle is to be sought by those lacking it.

While righteousness is the new master for all Christians we must submit to it before it can govern us. This includes unbelievers and believers alike for many believers are carnal and worldly in their motives and aspirations. They are governed by their own agendas and lusts not God's righteous will for their life. They need to diligently seek the rulership of righteousness.

(Revelation 21:6-7 NKJV) And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. {7} "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. Righteous deeds are to be sought out and performed by all believers, not to earn salvation, which is not possible- but to show that we have it and are living according to God's will. We are to plan righteous deeds into our lives and live by them

(Isaiah 32:8 NRSV) But those who are noble plan noble things, and by noble things they stand.

(Genesis 18:19 NKJV) "For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him."

(Proverbs 21:3 NKJV) To do righteousness and justice Is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.

(Isaiah 56:1-2 NKJV) Thus says the LORD: "Keep justice, and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come, And My righteousness to be revealed. {2} Blessed is the man who does this, And the son of man who lays hold on it; Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil."

How Shall We Seek After Righteousness?

Many today are apathetic and listless. The are spiritual sluggards of whom the Scripture says(Proverbs 26:15-16 NKJV) The lazy man buries his hand in the bowl; It wearies him to bring it back to his mouth. Spiritually apathetic people will not feed themselves on spiritual food but find it wearisome to make even a most minimal effort towards their salvation. To hunger and thirst after righteousness means that you:

a) make a considerable effort and

b) this effort is based on knowing that you have a lack, a hunger, a deficiency.

Let's continue to learn from the sluggard:

(Proverbs 12:27 NKJV) The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting, But diligence is man's precious possession.

The lazy Christian does not cook his spiritual food. He does not process the spiritual input he has but neglects it and lets it go putrid. Ever seen a spiritual gift gone putrid? An evangelist becomes a gossip, an administrator an autocrat, a teacher a chaser after fads, a prophet a railing critic full of anger and negativity? Spiritual things can go wrong if we do not diligently look after them and think about them at depth "cooking our food". Diligence preserves our gifts and develops our righteousness. Someone hungering and thirsting after righteousness is diligent to search the Scriptures, (2 Timothy 2:15) put things in context and is assiduous to learn and obey. Spiritual diligence is a precious possession.

Love longs for things. Spiritual hunger involves an intense prolonged longing for God and His goodness. It is shameless, persistent and hammers at God until He grants the things ought for.

(Psalms 107:9 NKJV) For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.

Very little is accomplished in the Kingdom of God without seeking. Many of us are too impatient, too modern, too cursory in our attention to spiritual things. We do not press in and seek day after day, year after year for the things of the Lord. Hence many of us are shallow. We feel that if we are not rewarded in 5 minutes or an hour then we will not be rewarded at all. Scripture says all who continue to seek shall find.(Matthew 7:7) That's a promise - but it depends on your continued, persistent and stubborn seeking after God.

For They Shall Be Filled

(Philippians 1:9-11 NKJV) And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, {10} that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, {11} being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

(Ephesians 3:19 NKJV) to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

(Ephesians 5:18-21 NKJV) And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, {19} speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, {20} giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, {21} submitting to one another in the fear of God.

(Colossians 1:9-12 NKJV) For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; {10} that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; {11} strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and long-suffering with joy; {12} giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.

When is a jar filled? When no more can be put it into it. We each are different in the size of "hole" within us that God has to fill - be we can all be filled with righteousness. Many a person hollowed out by life's trials has afterwards said that the hollowing out was an enlarging so that they later could be filled in greater measure with the things of the Lord. God promises us that our intense longing for righteousness will one day be completely filled. Ultimately this will happen at the resurrection when the power of sin in the members is finally dealt with forever. Before then we can live at increasing levels of filling with the things of God and with righteousness in particular.

Prayer seems to play an essential part in this. When Paul wanted people to be "filled with the fruits of righteousness" or "filled with all the fullness of God" or "filled with the knowledge of His will" Paul prayed for it. This is a pretty clear example of what we should do to grasp these things in our own life. We should develop an intense longing for them which moves us to prayer to lay hold of them. May I suggest a three step process:

Step One - Study the things of God until the Word of God arouses within you an intense desire for the things of God.

Study with the aim of desiring God not just accumulating information. Form a clear picture within you of what you want from God.(I'm not talking about visualizing possessions like some do, but clearly wanting Christian virtues such as godliness etc.) There is commonly a cost or price associated with acquiring that virtue - patience comes through tribulation (Romans 5:1-3), love is perfected in love of enemies (Matt 5:46-48). Reach the point where you are prepared to pay the price of acquiring that virtue remembering how priceless it will be for you in eternity.

Step Two - When the desire is aroused within you pray, and even fast, using Scriptures to back up your praying.

It may even help to set a time period for yourself "I will press into God each day for at least two weeks." etc. We see Daniel doing this mourning for his people and seeking God about them.(Daniel 10:2-3 NKJV) In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. {3} I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled. God heard Daniel's prayer and sent an angel to answer him! Many people have to press in alone but sometimes you can do so with a prayer partner to encourage and strengthen you. This can be a great help. Remember the following two promises as you do so.(Matthew 5:6 NKJV) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.(Matthew 7:7 NKJV) "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Step Three -Once you have got it -give it!

Spiritual food is like the manna that went stale. (Exodus 16:19,20) We cannot hoard it. Being filled with the Spirit is supposed to result in output - singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, encouragement, thankfulness, submission (see Eph 5:18-21 above). Do so tactfully and wisely without "casting your pearls before swine".

(Matthew 7:6 NKJV) "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

Some people will not be ready for what you have found -so be wise in your sharing Give freely of what God has given you for Jesus instructed His followers to... (Matthew 10:8 NKJV) "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.


This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.