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BE RIGHT—OR BE LEFT: Wrestling with Scripture #16

If we continue to see the Beatitudes as a progression of instructions, then Matthew 5:6 (“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …”) is the logical next step. After recognizing our need for a Savior, mourning over our sins, and humbly surrendering our desires to God’s will, it’s only natural to want a better understanding of His expectations.

So, what exactly is righteousness? It’s a virtue we hear about in church that sometimes seems interchangeable with other big concepts like sanctification or justification, but I struggled to come up with a good definition. Maybe that’s because righteousness is an attribute of God that speaks of His perfect justice and is, therefore, beyond real human comprehension. But Psalm 146:8 says “… the Lord loves the righteous,” so it seems worth spending some time wrestling with the concept.

The Greek word translated righteousness is a legal term derived from the idea of a just and binding contract or an equitable deal; therefore, Biblical righteousness involves living up to the high and unchanging standards of God’s Law. It requires us to be in right relationship with Him and with other people and for our thoughts, words, and deeds to be moral—or just—in God’s eyes. That’s something we can never achieve by our own efforts because, according to Scripture, “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10) and “all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags …” (Isa 64:6).

If righteousness is impossible, why does Jesus urge us to hunger and thirst after it? Why does 2 Tim 2:22 tell us to “… pursue righteousness,” or Jesus promise in Matthew 25:46 that “the righteous [will go] to eternal life”? I think the answer is found in Romans 4:9, which says that “Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.” Similarly, our faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross serves to clothe us in His righteousness. Seeking after righteousness then is all about following Jesus.

In the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Therefore, when God’s Son paid the penalty for our sins, He fulfilled the legal obligation we owed to God—and God, in return, agreed to accept us into His Kingdom. To become God’s righteousness, we must look to Eph 4:24 and “… put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Although 2 Tim 4:8 promises there is a crown of righteousness in store for those who have “longed for His appearing,” is that true of us? Do we yearn for Jesus’ quick return or are we so entrenched with our lives and what the world has to offer that we secretly hope He delays?

The phrase “hunger and thirst” is a metaphor whose urgency can be overlooked in affluent America, but Jesus’ words would have resonated deeply with His original audience—people living in a dry desert climate where food and water were often scarce. Few of us have experienced real hunger, so let’s focus on thirst instead. Think of a hot summer day spent outdoors—perhaps hiking, sunbathing at the beach, or mowing the lawn. When your mouth gets so dry that it’s hard to swallow, there’s nothing more refreshing than a cool glass of water.

Now consider that thirst isn’t limited to a need for fluids. People thirst after all sorts of things—power, fame, money, acceptance. Let’s pause and consider what we crave the most. Is it something seemingly crucial to our well-being or to that of a spouse, sibling, or child—health, salvation, a forever love? Or do we altruistically yearn for an end to poverty, disease, or war? There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these longings unless our thirst for them comes before our thirst for God. Our heart’s desire must always be for more of God—living to please Him, hating our sin, and seeking His righteousness.

Psalm 42:1 says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God.” Clearly, to hunger and thirst for righteousness requires a passionate desire to know God more intimately. Just as food and water are basic human needs to preserve physical life, the Word of God, prayer, and the power of His presence are necessary elements to nourish our spiritual one. It’s no accident that Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

Although perfect justice does not exist in this world, something deep within us longs for a time when truth and fairness will be the norm. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to actively ache for the new heavens and the new earth, and the day when God’s perfect order will be restored and all things set right. On that day, we will know ultimate satisfaction for Rev 7:16 promises, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.”

Just as food satiates our hunger and cool water our thirst, spending time digging deeper into Scripture and drawing closer to God is the only thing that will satisfy these spiritual longings now. As noted pastor John Piper wrote: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Only in realizing that we were created and saved to bring God glory can we get a taste of the supernatural contentment that awaits us.

May we all experience the blessing of satisfaction by doing our best each day to pursue righteousness and glorify our King.






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1 Comment

Pamela Pfankuch
Pamela Pfankuch
Jan 10

Wow! Love how you tied in Bible verses with this! I will never forget a sermon one of our Pastors had for a confirmation class several years ago. He, too, reminded us that we need food and water to keep our bodies alive while we need God's word to sustain our faith so that we may one day join Him in life everlasting.

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