Let's Study the Beatitudes! Part 5, An Appetite for Righteousness
You are what you eat! This age-old motivational wisdom teaches that the content of our diet is exposed by the composition of our selves. This is never more true than in spiritual matters. We become what we consume, and we consume that for which we hunger. So the question comes: what are you hungry for?
The Beatitudes have been building upon one another, logically moving from happiness to happiness for the Christian by admitting sin, learning to mourning that sin, and interacting with those around us from that posture. At the fourth Beatitude, a corner is turned from leaving sin behind to cultivating a taste for righteousness. Developing an appetite for new foods takes time and effort. You eat just a little of the new item at a time. You savor what you naturally appreciate. You analyze and seek to understand that which you do not naturally appreciate. Then, you eat a variety of the new item. Over time and repeated exposure, you develop a an appetite, a desire, for that thing that just a short time ago was not part of your diet. For the believer this is what we are to do with matters of righteousness, we are to work toward a redeemed appetite, to hunger and thirst after righteousness.
After living on the delusions and lies of the world, our appetite for righteousness must be cultivated. We must be keenly interested in it, an interest that remodels the kitchen and replants the garden. Pursue spiritual “foodie” status, hungering and thirsting after all the ways to find satisfaction in righteousness. Dr. Hammond, in his Practical Catechism (1668), says: “Hunger is a desire of food to sustain, such as sanctifying righteousness. Thirst is the desire of drink to refresh, such as justifying righteousness and the sense of pardon.” He is nudging us toward that multi-faceted experience of righteousness that we learn to desire. We ultimately do so in three ways:
Hungering and thirsting after legal justification or that righteousness that puts us in good standing before God, that positional reality for the believer that indeed brings happiness, knowing that all of God’s covenantal promises will be fulfilled to us, now that we are His. This is the most basic and primary aspect of righteousness, so much so that neither of the other two matter, or can exist, without it.
Second, we find our new legal standing before God working its way out to a moral rightness of character and conduct. The believer witnesses the Holy Spirit bringing about Sanctification in his life. We are not only concerned with being received as if we are righteous, but we also desire to do righteousness. These works do not merit any initial or continued standing before God, but they are absolutely necessary as the promised outworking of the gospel in the life of a believer. This is a hunger and thirst that can wax and wane. However, even when properly nurtured, this hunger and thirst will never find fullest satisfaction in this life. We know that the battle with sin in our own hearts will carry on until we breathe our last on this earth and open our eyes to see our risen Jesus. In that moment Jesus’ promise will be fulfilled to its highest degree, as we will be utterly satisfied and completely happy.
The third kind of righteousness we hunger and thirst after is a social concern for others, that they experience justice and not be oppressed, that they be able to live in the light of righteousness. This third aspect has fallen on hard times in recent years, due to the over-emphasis of these lateral issues of the righteousness of God. This should not cause us to downplay or dismiss. So-called social justice, with no concern for justification or sanctification can turn our stomachs. Tasting what the world offers, we exclaim: “This is not how this righteousness should taste! This is horrible! Send it back, and give us the real thing.” Sometimes, it is only after we taste the sour realities of sin do we, in turn, start to hunger and thirst for true righteousness.
The Greek words for “hunger” and “thirst” point us simply to that: being hungry and thirsty. It’s hard to imagine being hungry and thirsty as good things, as a means to happiness, when they signs of dissatisfaction, of lack. Yet, we know that we will be satisfied. In the aspects of righteousness above, especially numbers two and three, we understand how our appetites will never be satisfied in the here and now. So, we see, all the more, that our hunger and thirst for righteousness, justifying or sanctifying or social, will only be fully and finally satisfied by Christ in the there and then of his drawing all history to its appointed end. In that day, all perfect justice will be rendered, righteousness in all scenarios will have its glory day. And, friends, we will be satisfied. We will have fully that after which we have hungered and thirsted for so long.
Dr. Joel Wood is the Senior Pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church of La Mesa, CA and a seminary professor.