Blessed Are Those Who Hunger
By Lee Jones
This Beatitude is simple enough on the surface that you could produce a solid one-sentence exposition from a cursory reading; God is always willing to bless his children as they seek him earnestly and desire to be righteous. That’s certainly true, but when we dig a little more into the scriptures on this, we get a fuller picture of what Jesus is saying here.
First of all, what does Jesus mean by righteousness? After all, he spent plenty of time criticizing the self-righteous. Just check out Luke 18:9-14 to see the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus tells this parable to “some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” They didn’t trust God to make them righteous, they were trusting in a righteousness they believed resided in them, whether or not they viewed it as a gift of God. The trusted the gift and not the giver. So we can scratch that kind of “unrighteous righteousness” off the list of possible definitions.
We hunger and thirst for righteousness because our regenerated souls long to be more and more conformed to the image of Christ our savior.
The best definition of righteousness is Jesus himself. Jeremiah 23:6 calls him “The LORD our righteousness.” This is a righteousness received by faith, outside of us, without doing a qualifying meritorious work. As it occurred with Abraham, “he believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Peter affirms the same, as do the other writing apostles, at the beginning of his second letter: “to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1). Not only is our faith a gift, but Jesus gifts us his righteousness even as he forgives our sin. That action is called “The Great Exchange” in theological discussion, and is described in 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Now that we see righteousness properly as the reception of Christ’s righteousness, not something we must work to produce and maintain, we have to connect it with the idea of hungering and thirsting. You might wonder how we could hunger and thirst for something we already have. Shouldn’t we already be filled with it?
“Yes and no” is the easy answer. But the “no” is what I will focus on. While we have the righteousness of God as a result of our salvation, the growth in that righteousness is a result of our sanctification. We hunger and thirst for righteousness because our regenerated souls long to be more and more conformed to the image of Christ our savior.
Here’s the thing about hunger and thirst, they can’t be satisfied except by food and water. As Thomas Watson wrote, “Bring a hungry man flowers or music; tell him pleasant stories – nothing will content him but food…So a man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness says ‘Give me Christ, or I die!’” The desire of the redeemed soul is to be satisfied by the righteousness of Christ, to feed on him as he says in John 6. Jesus Christ is true food for the soul. God alone satisfies the hunger and thirst of his children by giving them grace upon grace. As Isaiah says, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat.” The believer is no longer poor in spirit, but has been given the greatest treasure: the righteousness of Christ and the earnest hunger and thirst to grow in that grace.
Glory to God alone.