In the last post, we saw that hungering and thirsting for righteousness is the desire that drives people to repent at the moment of salvation. This desire is fundamentally a desire to be right with God.
The person who hungers and thirsts after righteousness sees that sin has separated them from a holy God and that separation has immense implications in time and most notably in eternity — namely, eternal punishment in hell. And the person longs to end that separation, longs to end that rebellion, longs to be forgiven of sin so that they might enter into the blessing of God in time and the heaven of God in eternity. That’s the issue. People aren’t going to be saved when they seek a happy life. They’re going to come into the kingdom when they seek righteousness.
But a person does not stop hungering and thirsting for righteousness after God justifies them by granting them legal righteousness through Christ. Their desire simply shifts slightly so that they begin to long for sanctification — that is, lived righteousness.
Desiring to act righteously is a daily way of life for the true Christian. If God has saved you, you have a heart that desires to walk rightly before Him. You have a heart that hates the remaining sin in your life, lamenting alongside Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24)
Until we are glorified, our lives are an ongoing pursuit of righteousness. We labor to conform ourselves to the image of Christ. His righteous, perfect life has been credited to our account in justification, but we are working to have our lives conform to His in sanctification.
And Jesus says that the result of this pursuit is blessing and satisfaction. If you chase after righteousness, you will receive it. When you come to God and you pursue all His righteousness, you get it all. When only His righteousness will satisfy you, He will give it. God’s generosity toward those who pursue good is mentioned all across Scripture:
The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing. (Psalm 34:10)
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)
“I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance,
And My people will be satisfied with My goodness,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:14)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)
The person who seeks the imputed righteousness of Christ in justification receives it. The person who seeks the lived righteousness of sanctification receives it. And one day, that deepest longing will be fully and forever satisfied by perfect righteousness in glorification.
I want to give you a few questions to help you as you examine how serious you are in your pursuit of righteousness.
Do you resonate with Paul’s cry, “O wretched man that I am”? Do you have a keen sense of how short you fall of God’s perfect standard? Do you feel a nagging pain and grief over the way your sins dishonor God?
Anyone who is really pursuing righteousness is going to answer, “Yes, I understand that dissatisfaction.” And as you grow in your spiritual maturity, you will become more and more dissatisfied because of the remaining sin in your life. You will sin with less frequency as you mature, but what remains will become more and more heinous to you, because you have cultivated such lofty longings.
Do you find increasingly that material things have little influence on how you feel? There may have been a time in your life when it felt very important to own or achieve certain things. But as you continue to pursue righteousness, you find that these things no longer have that same power over you.
If you take flowers to a hungry man, it doesn’t help. If you take a violin to a hungry man and play him a tune, it doesn’t help. If you give him pleasant conversation, it doesn’t help. Nothing will fill him but food. And a thirsty man doesn’t want a melody and he doesn’t want a rose; he wants a drink. Are you this way about righteousness? If you find that material things are filling you up and satisfying you so that you don’t really have an appetite for righteousness, your heart may be in dire condition.
Do you long to be in Scripture? Do you love the truth of God? Do you love reading it and reading about it? Do you long to know more, so that you can emulate your Lord better? If you are really hungering for righteousness, the things of God — and certainly God Himself — will be precious to you. You will have, as Psalm 34:8 puts it, tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
Strive to have a heart like the psalmist’s, crushed with an overwhelming desire to be obedient to God’s law:
My soul is crushed with longing
after Your ordinances at all times. (Psalm 119:20)
If you’re finding that your heart totally lacks this desire, it may well be that you have never been transformed by God’s grace. Or it may be that you are a Christian who has drifted so far from biblical priorities that you’ve allowed yourself to become enamored with perishing things. In either case, give yourself no rest until you’ve closely examined your condition and set your life right before God.
This blog post is based on Dr. MacArthur’s sermon “The Only Way to Happiness: Thirst for Holiness,” originally preached in 1998.