Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. – Matthew 5:6
Desiring to be a moral person is not the same as hungering for righteousness; this beatitude is much more than that. The first three beatitudes focus on our lack. In poverty of spirit, we realize we have nothing that can contribute to our good standing before God. In our mourning, we lament that fact. We no longer rejoice in our sinful autonomy; instead we weep because we know what it deserves. In meekness, we stop struggling against God and begin to submit to Him because we have no way of salvation in ourselves. In our hunger for righteousness, we turn our eye away from our lack, to the One who can provide what we need.
This beatitude is not hard to define. We know we do not have the righteousness required for a right-standing before the Lord. We also know we are unable to provide that righteousness by anything we do. Through the Spirit’s continued work, we begin to desire that righteousness. One misinterpretation of this beatitude, however, is to see it as a pang of hunger after a morality that is natural and godless. This is a morality that is driven by the desire to please people, and to have a clear conscience, but, in the end, has no regard for God. Another misinterpretation is to hunger after righteousness in a way that believes if we could be good enough, God would be happy with us. This is similar to the error Christian made in Pilgrim’s Progress when he tried to climb the hill of morality to remove his burden.
A true hunger for righteousness is to seek after holiness. First and foremost, it seeks imputed righteousness from Christ. There is only one righteousness that pleases God, and that is the perfect righteousness which only Jesus possesses. For those of us who place our faith in Him, our sins are imputed to him and the punishment He bore on the cross in our place, and His righteousness is counted as ours. This double imputation is the only basis of our right standing before a holy God, even while we continue to struggle with our sinfulness. This imputed righteousness is the first aspect of righteousness for which we hunger. If we do not hunger to possess this righteousness, all other pangs of hunger for righteousness will be misguided and sinful.
Imputed righteousness is not the only righteousness for which we hunger. We will also hunger for sanctification. This desire is the hunger to grow in personal holiness. It is the hunger to mortify our sinfulness and begin to be conformed to the image of Christ. Since it is a desire to be free from sin, if we do not have a hatred for sin, we do not have a hunger for righteousness.
God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. To hunger for righteousness is, in the end, to desire God himself. It is a desire to be right with Him and to have fellowship with him.
As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, those who hunger for this righteousness will be satisfied. In Jesus, we are justified. His imputed righteousness is counted as ours. The Holy Spirit then begins the work of our sanctification, where He begins to mold us to His image, and He is faithful and just to complete that work. Finally, on the day we see Him face to face, our glorification will be complete, and we will be like Him: Righteous. Hungering for righteousness desires all three aspects of salvation.