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Pastoral 2012

Hungry For Righteousness

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Desiring for moral uprightness hardly seems to be the norm these days. Even in churches, there is so much apathy towards insisting and promoting the righteousness of God. People everywhere reject God’s Word as the standard of righteousness. Whatever pleases the hearts of men is considered to be the right thing to do. The prevailing philosophy of what is right is - “It is right when it feels good.” The world, even many Christians, would rather have the “Ten Commandments” as just “Ten Proposals!” They just do not want to walk in obedience to God’s holy law.

Contrary to the general attitude towards righteousness, Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). It is an accursed thing to neglect the righteousness that God has revealed in His Word. Conversely, it is a blessed thing to hunger and thirst after it.

An essential hunger

Jesus is saying that Christians must acknowledge that righteousness is essential, just as essential as our physical need for food and drink. There is no room for negotiation or rethinking when it comes to righteousness. There can be no argument whether one should eat when he is hungry or whether one should drink when he is thirsty. We do not complain about our constant need to eat. Three times a day, or even more often, we get that gnawing urge to eat something. We do something about it: we feed ourselves. Everyone knows that if we do not eat, hunger will lead to death. We need food or we will starve. We need to drink or we will die of thirst.

Jesus is calling us to see that just as our physical needs are real, so are our spiritual needs. The basic spiritual need to which Jesus alerts us is righteousness. Therefore, we must hunger for righteousness and all its resultant blessings since we are devoid of it on our own. But what exactly is this righteousness that Jesus is telling us about?

Paucity of righteousness

We must acknowledge our need for righteousness. For Scripture says, “There is none righteous, no, not one: ... They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12). Our natural inclinations are towards sin rather than righteousness. “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5; cf. Jeremiah 17:9). This dearth of righteousness detaches us from having a proper relationship with God. Hebrews 12:14 reminds us, “Follow... holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

Everyone who acknowledges the reality of his propensity towards sin will know how desperately he needs God’s help to be righteous. He will then hunger and thirst after righteousness as it is not found in himself.

Peril of self-righteousness

We must reject every notion of self-righteousness. Many people are proud of their morality, for they appear to be living remarkably upright lives in the eyes of fellowmen. However, outward morality is not what the Bible calls righteousness because the impetus behind it is not the glory and praise of God.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day thought that their remarkably legalistic and disciplined life was very upright. They fasted regularly, gave money to the poor and prayed several times a day. But all that good behaviour was not enough. Indeed, Jesus told His disciples later in His Sermon on the Mount that “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

One reason why the righteousness of the Pharisees was not up to God’s standard was because it was often performed for public view. When they gave to the needy, it was to the accompaniment of trumpets so that no one could miss their generosity (Matthew 6:1-4). When they prayed, they did so on the street corners in order that all could hear their pious words (Matthew 6:5-6). When they fasted, they made sure it showed on their faces, so that all could admire their devotion (Matthew 6:16-18). They were not hungry for genuine righteousness because they were already satisfied with their own self-righteousness. Yet, since their acts of righteousness were done for the wrong reasons - to build up themselves and their own reputation - they were thereby disqualified from being righteous at all.

If we examine our hearts, we will find that we also have the tendency to do our “righteous” deeds when others are observing us! Surely, if these man-pleasing, self-gratifying actions settle deep within at the expense of a genuine desire for righteousness, we will not hunger for true righteousness that God provides. When we attempt to be righteous for our own glory and just to please man, we become disqualified as surely as the Pharisees were.

The prophet Isaiah sums up our condition, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). Even our best efforts do not qualify as righteousness; let alone the many occasions when we did not even try to do what we know we ought to. What is the solution then? Is there no hope for us? Will we ever be relieved of our famine of righteousness? Who will save those who are starving for want of righteousness?

Provider of righteousness

God has provided for us a righteousness that is not the result of our own efforts. All of our righteousness is worthless. It can never please God. But God has provided a vast feast of righteousness from which we are invited to eat. As Paul says, “For he [God] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through what Jesus Christ has done on the cross, bearing our sin and punishment and eventually dying for us, we can receive righteousness - perfect righteousness - as a free gift.

We can now possess this perfect righteousness that Christ has attained for us by putting our faith in Him. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10). Through that gift of perfect righteousness, we are exculpated from our guilt as our sins are being forgiven. Then is our relationship with God restored and no longer at enmity with Him as we become His children. The sinner’s hunger and thirst for righteousness must lead him to God’s righteousness in Christ. Only Christ’s righteousness can satisfy that hunger and thirst.

Pursuit of righteousness

Finally, we ought to know that God’s work with us is not finished when we become Christians as He imputes Christ’s righteousness upon us. It is the beginning of our pursuit of righteousness. God then teaches us by His Holy Spirit to live a holy life according to His Word. Thus God nurtures the real righteousness within our hearts. We then start to do things that please Him. We also start praying earnestly that God would help us to live a life pleasing unto Him, because we hunger and thirst after His righteousness.

The more we grow in righteousness, the more we become aware of thoughts, ideas, attitudes and deeds in our lives that are not according to God’s holy law. The more we become aware of these things, the more we long for a life of righteousness that would please Him.

Conclusion

Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. As soon as we become Christians, the righteousness of Jesus Christ becomes ours to cherish and rejoice in. As we continue to hunger and thirst for that righteousness to be more completely expressed in our daily life, He will lead us by His Spirit and Word. The good news is that one day, when we reach heaven, God’s righteousness will be fully expressed in us! There will be no more sin. May we look forward eagerly for that sinless land beyond!

 

Pastoral Exhortation