A THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS
The first four of the Beatitudes represent the saints as conscious of their need for salvation and responding to that conscious need than as though they already possessed it. The next three are of a different kind, representing such as have already experienced salvation and who are conducting themselves accordingly.
The fourth of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount is, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6 NKJV) Christ presents here three things that we need to consider. 1) The object of the blessing – righteousness; 2) the means for obtaining the blessing – hunger and thirst, and 3) the effects of obtaining it – happiness.
The simple definition of righteousness is, “equity of character or action.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary). Character refers to what we are, our mental and moral qualities. Actions refer to what we do, that is, what we do and why we do it. There is a biblical basis for both.
“THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS”
The Law and righteousness are equated in the Bible, the Law revealing God’s righteous character. Romans 1:17 reveals also that in the gospel of Christ, “the righteousness of God is revealed from[OT] faith to [NT] faith….” Righteousness is inherent in God. He treats his creatures with equity and fairness, but also with grace, love, and mercy.
In Isaiah 51:7-8 (NKJV) the Lord spoke to Israel by the prophet, “Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, You people in whose heart is My law: Do not fear the reproach of men, nor be afraid of their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment, And the worm will eat them like wool, but My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation from generation to generation.”
The message of the prophet, Jeremiah projects to the end time when He says, “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely. Now, this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NKJV)
The God of whom the Bible says, “GOD IS LOVE” also makes this awe-inspiring statement through Jeremiah: “Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Righteousness is of the Lord and comes to us by His marvelous grace. The Bible reveals three kinds of righteousness: self-righteousness, the righteousness of the Law, and the righteousness which is by faith in Jesus Christ.
Several things characterize self-righteousness. It is not of God nor His Word, it is based on self-made principles and tradition. It is conducive to self-deception, and it is hypocritical. The Lord identified the Scribes and Pharisees as self-righteous. “He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.” (Mark 7:9) Paul warned the Colossians (and us), “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
In one of His most scathing confrontations with them, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23)
THE LAW AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
In Romans 10:5, we are told, “For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” (Romans 10:5) James, in his brief epistle, makes this sobering statement, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:10-11) Philip Doddridge in his Commentary on the New Testament concluded that “The man who perfectly observes these precepts in every particular… he and he alone if such a person there be, may claim life and salvation by them. Now, this is a way of justification which, when the law has once been broken, becomes… impossible to the transgressor.”
Some claim that the writers of Scripture are saying that only the ceremonial part of the Law was fulfilled through Christ’s sacrificial death. Paul explains in Romans 8:10, “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Paul also expressed this truth in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” That is, when we receive Christ, our bodies are crucified with Him , and we are made alive in the Spirit and are guided by the moral laws of the Old Testament permanently. Christ did not come to destroy the moral laws, but to fulfill them, and we are obliged to observe them and yield to them for our daily living.
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH IN CHRIST
So, how may we avail ourselves of the blessedness of righteousness? First, we must understand that blessedness (happiness) is in righteousness. Second, we strongly desire righteousness. Third, we must understand that, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)
On his first missionary journey, Paul came to Antioch in Pisidia where he preached one of his greater sermons concluding with this answer, “And by (Christ) everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:39) When he was in jail in Philippi, he explained to the jailer, “”Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
I would like to conclude my remarks with quotes from William Burkitt’s New Testament Commentary who poses this question relative to this fourth Beatitude:
Wherein their blessedness doth consist?” (They shall be filled with righteousness).
“By righteousness, we are to understand:
- Righteousness of justification; the righteousness of the Mediator imputed to us, by which we stand righteous in God’s sight, being freed from condemnation.
- Righteousness of sanctification, wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to act righteously.
- By the former, there is a relative change in our condition; by the latter, a real change in our constitution.
- All and only such as do spiritually hunger and thirst after Christ and his righteousness, are in a happy and blessed condition.
- That to hunger and thirst after holiness is to apprehend the worth of it, to be sensible of the want of it, to be desirous of it, and restless in endeavors after it, as men usually do that are pinched with hunger.”
Two final comments, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves, slaves, to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16) We may expect to be happy when we hunger and thirst for righteousness when we desire and do what is right!
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