What does your heart hunger for? What does your spirit thirst for? What is that thing that if you had it, that dream that if you achieved it, that reward that if you gained it, you’re sure you would now be satisfied, you’re sure your restless heart would finally be at peace?
There are many things we hunger for, but only one so very good that Jesus promises to satisfy it: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” he says, “for they shall be satisfied.” Here is a hunger so good that it should take preeminence above all others; here is a hunger so right that it should subsume all others; here is the one hunger that is so close to the heart of God that he promises it will be satisfied.
But what is this “righteousness” that we are to long for? The root word is used about 600 times in the Bible so it’s obviously quite important. Like so many other words, it can be translated in different ways—sometimes as “righteous” or “righteousness,” and other times as “justice” or “justified.”
The word is associated with salvation so that in God’s sight we are either righteous or unrighteous—either saved or unsaved. It’s associated with sanctification so that behavior can be righteous or unrighteous—either consistent or inconsistent with God’s will. It’s associated with justice so that society itself can be righteous or unrighteous—either promoting peace and equality or partiality and favoritism. And it’s associated with the future, the fullness of the kingdom of heaven when righteousness will permanently conquer unrighteousness.
So the question is, when Jesus says “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” what kind of righteousness does he mean? I think it’s best to see him as including all of these dimensions because they are so closely linked to one another. While personal holiness may have been foremost in his mind, surely he would not wish for us to disentangle that dimension from the others. After all, it’s impossible to long to be saved but not sanctified; it’s unnatural to long for holiness but not heaven. And so there is a hunger within the Christian soul that is very deep and very wide: A hunger for righteousness expressed in salvation, in holiness, in justice, and in heaven.
And what is God’s promise toward those who have such a hunger? “They shall be satisfied.” The hungry shall be made full. The thirsty shall be quenched. But here’s the thing: Of these four hungers, only the hunger for salvation is completely satisfied here and now. In the moment we are saved, we are fully justified. We can never be more righteous in God’s eyes than we are right now, and never less righteous. And that’s because when God looks at us, he sees the perfect righteousness of his perfectly righteous Son.
But we can be more holy than we are right now; we can see more justice than we do right now; we can have a deeper longing for heaven than we have right now. And so we need to observe something interesting about these appetites. As God begins to meet them, he also increases them. The fuller we get, the hungrier we get. The more we drink, the more we thirst. Our longing for righteousness doesn’t diminish over the course of our Christian lives, but grows all the more! Our growth in holiness makes us crave even more holiness. We are glad to see advances in justice, but it increases our longing for perfect justice. We have a deep longing for heaven, but the closer we get the more we yearn for it.
We will long and yearn and hunger and thirst until the day God finally fulfills the great promise he makes in the book of Revelation. In that day…
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
All those tears we’ve shed over the sins that made our salvation necessary, God will wipe them away. All the hunger we have to be holy even as God himself is holy: God will satisfy it. All the thirst we have to see justice extend from sea to sea, from pole to pole: God will quench it. All the craving we have to live in a world where there is only ever righteousness forever: God will grant this most precious desire. We will eat, we will drink, we will feast, and our hearts will be at perfect peace. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.