In a culture paralyzed by fear and worry the idea that we can live a life free from the bondage of worry is a foreign concept. Yet, Jesus says we have no need to worry because our Father desires to give us the kingdom.
Why Worry? – Luke 12:22-34
(Due to a technical error the audio for the first few minutes is low so you will need to turn up the volume.)
For several months I have been thinking, off and on, about the theme of cosmic warfare in scripture and how it is reconciled to the sovereignty of God. Below is a concise statement I have written. I’m not yet settled in my view, but this is a possibility.
In God’s original ordering of creation he gave humanity great freedom in their role as vice-regents mediating his kingdom reign on earth. He likewise gave the angelic beings (Son’s of God) great freedom to execute their role in administering his kingdom. After the fall, God chose not to completely rescind the freedom he had given, but rather has determined to demonstrate his sovereignty and power by achieving his ends in spite of the free choices of sinful creatures to oppose his kingdom rule. He is redeeming the fallen world under the original parameters of his design.
I think this understanding avoids the extremes of both open theism and meticulous control. It rightly maintains the tension between an all-knowing sovereign God and the reality of a powerful enemy and fallen image bearers whose kingdom legitimately opposes the kingdom of God. What do you think?
Please keep the discussion civil.
I am a very self-centered person. I desire my own comfort and happiness. Quite often I will go to any length to accomplish something that I want for myself. I will endure hardship and overcome great obstacles when it benefits me. I am always willing to serve myself. Yet, when it comes to helping someone else, I am not always willing to work as hard to be inconvenienced. We all have a self problem.
This may shock you, but when we serve self we are actually serving Satan. There is a cosmic battle underway between almighty God and his enemy, Satan. In the Scriptures we see two adversarial kingdoms. We can either align ourselves with Christ and his Kingdom, or Satan and the World. Satan is indeed the ruler of the kingdom of the world as seen in Eph 2:2 where, in reference to the world system he is referred to as the “prince of the power of the air.”
When we love the world and thus it’s ruler we are in opposition to God and his kingdom and therefore, make ourselves enemies of God.
4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
If loving the world makes us an enemy of God then it is important that we understand what loving the world is. Look at how the Apostle John describes love of the world.
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
John describes love of the world as simply the love of self and it is a testimony to the fact that the love of God and his kingdom are absent in a person’s life.
Our self-love reveals that we reject the Lord’s kingdom and have aligned ourselves with the rule of his enemy. Just a few examples from scripture are needed to make this point. Jesus says:
23 …“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)
Jesus makes it clear that an unwillingness to deny self is synonymous with man’s desire to cling to the kingdom of the world. This is futile because the one who seeks to preserve his life in the world, will ultimately lose it when Christ establishes his kingdom in its fullness. The one who loves himself loves the world, but the one who denies himself loves the Lord and his kingdom.
Earlier I mentioned Ephesians 2. In this passage Paul likewise equates love of self with love of the world.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3)
Prior to being reconciled to God each of us were actively following the course of the world in submission to its ruler. We lived in and pursed the kingdom of the world with the result that we lived in the passions of our flesh carrying out the desires of the body and mind. We were lovers of self! As a result we were children of wrath; enemies of God.
In Romans 12, Paul urges followers of Christ to no longer be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
What does this non-conformity to the world look like? It’s simply the denial of self as an act of worship to God. By deduction we conclude that the love of self is the result of conformity with the world. Loving self communicates alignment with the world, while the act of self-denial communicates that the believer has been transformed and changed his allegiance to the kingdom of God.
It is clear that when we practice the love of self we are aligning ourselves with the kingdom of the world and serving Satan. It is equally true that when we deny self and love others we are aligning ourselves with the kingdom of God and serving God. This can also be illustrated with a few examples from scripture.
In Mark 10 Jesus gives a very clear example of serving God by serving man. While the disciples were fighting for prominent positions in the kingdom of God, Jesus pointed to his own humble service to man as the model of kingdom life.
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”… 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-37, 41-45)
Having just heard Jesus foretell his death, James and John could only ask the Lord to guarantee them the most prominent spots in his coming kingdom. The other ten disciples are infuriated by this not because John and James asked, but because they asked first!
In rebuke, Jesus points out how the kingdom of the world operates; it’s rulers lord over those they lead. This is not the case in the kingdom of God. To the contrary the leaders in Christ’s kingdom humbly serve those they lead. They become their slaves. This principle is illustrated in that the incarnate Son of God came not to be served but to serve and his service is defined by the cross.
By serving man Christ was also serving God. His atoning death on the cross was service to man in that it allowed us to be reconciled to God. However, it was also service to God because it was the Father’s will for Christ to die in our place as a ransom.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;…. (Isaiah 53:10)
This is a great kingdom principle. Christ’s service to man in obedience to the will of God demonstrated his love for the Father. He served the Father by serving man.
Love of God and love of neighbor are so interconnected that they cannot be separated. When asked what was the greatest single commandment in the Law Jesus refused to give only one. Instead he forever connected service to man and service to God.
37 … “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40)
The Law and Prophets were summed up in love for God and love for neighbor. You simply cannot love God without loving your neighbor; nor can you serve God without serving your neighbor.
The Apostle John likewise connects love for neighbor with love for God. This is seen in his First Epistle.
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. (1 John 5:2)
In other words we love our neighbor when we love God. Like Jesus, John joins love of God and love of neighbor together in such a way that they cannot be separated and he defines love by the self-denial of the cross.
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
The motivation of our self-denying love for one another is that Jesus denied himself and laid down his life for us.
9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)
Likewise, the Father sacrificially demonstrated his love for us by sending his son to die for our sins. Again, the self-denying love of God seen in the gospel is our motivation to love God and our neighbor.
It is clear that for Jesus and John the love of God is directly connected to our love for our neighbor. It is equally true that love is defined as the sacrificial denial of self. Thus, for the Christian, we serve God when we align ourselves with his kingdom by denying self and sacrificially serving our neighbor in obedience to the commands of God.
This is of course a problem for all of us, because as we have already seen, we have a self problem. Paul described every one of us when he was writing to Timothy.
2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power… (2 Timothy 3:2-5)
Paul could easily have been referring to me in this passage. I am guilty as charged, we all are! What’s the answer? Work harder? Be nicer? We can’t do that; we love ourselves too much! The solution has already been discussed.
It’s the self-denying love of Christ that transforms us from serving self and Satan to serving others and God.
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:3-8)
In the gospel, when we repent of our sin and place our faith in Christ we identify with his death. Our old self is crucified with Christ and a new self is raised with him to walk in a new way; a way that is transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our new life, like the life of Christ, is marked by self-denial and service to God that is fleshed out in humble service to man.
The gospel is indeed a message of hope for the lost. The message that a sinner like me not only can be cleansed of unrighteousness, but declared righteous by God is almost unbelievable. Even more so when we realize that this is possible only by grace through faith as I place my trust in the work of Christ on the cross. The reality that I will spend eternity with God is truly a glorious truth. However, the gospel has far greater implications beyond my future in heaven. There are cosmic implications of the atonement of Christ that bring hope for today to all who believe.
In light of this I would like to take a brief but comprehensive look at the cosmic implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that by understanding the full scope of the gospel we can bring hope to anyone regardless of their current circumstances. We can bring real hope of transformation today and for eternity.
Before we can fully grasp the scope of the fall of man into sin we must understand God’s original intent for mankind. This is seen in the creation account of Genesis 1.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
In the commission of Genesis 1:26-28 God reveals his purpose for creating mankind. Certainly, we should understand the image of God to refer to mankind’s relational attributes, our creative and volitional abilities, and as the root of every human being’s dignity. These are all true, but there is much more significance to this passage.
The idea of image bearer is very significant. In the culture of the ancient near east, kings would erect statues bearing their image throughout their kingdoms. These statues would demonstrate to the people that the king’s reign extended to that region. The image of the king reminded the people of whose authority they were under. As the kingdom expanded, more images would be erected.
By creating man in his image, God was commissioning them to mediate his reign on earth. This is understood in light of God giving Adam and Eve dominion over the earth and everything on it. God was the creator and sovereign King, but mankind was to be his vice-regents ruling on his behalf. In this sense, Adam and Eve were kings. As they obeyed the commission to “multiply and fill the earth” they would carry God’s image and thus establish his reign over the earth.
God placed Adam initially in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:8) which he had planted. He commanded Adam to cultivate the garden (Gen 2:15) and he gave him Eve to assist him. Their role in the garden is also extremely important to understand. The garden was the place where God’s presence dwelt on earth.
Before the fall, mankind dwelt in the presence of God in the garden. The command to cultivate the garden carries with it the understanding that Adam and Eve would expand the borders of the garden until it covered the entire earth. The result being that the presence of God would extend over the earth. In this sense, they were also priests.
In light of this we can better understand God’s original intention for humanity. Adam and Eve were priest kings. Their role was to mediate God’s sovereign rule over his creation and to expand his presence over all the earth. God did not need them to do this, but rather entrusted them with the glorious privilege of participating with him in the created order. This was the purpose of mankind.
Sadly, Adam and Eve did not exercise dominion for very long. Adam demonstrated his mediation of God’s reign in that God allowed him to name all of the animals (Gen 2:19-20). However, we see that Adam and Eve fail to fulfill their mandate. Rather than mediating the rule of God over creation, they commit an act of treason and betray God.
They allow God’s enemy to enter the garden that they were commissioned to protect. The serpent, Satan, begins to plant doubt in the mind of Eve and pander to her love of self. He twists God’s words in an attempt to deceive her (Gen 3:1). When Eve corrects him and states God’s actual command, the serpent calls God a liar (Gen 3:2-4).
The serpent says that if they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they will not die, but that they will become like God “knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Immediately Eve was enticed in her flesh to eat the fruit. It’s clear that it was her love of self that led to her sin. She saw that the tree was “good for food” and would satisfy her hunger. It was a “delight to look at” which increased her desire of it. Ultimately, she desired to be wise like God and believed the fruit would exalt her (Gen 3:6).
Eve, just like each of us, succumbed to the tyranny of self-love and self-gratification. Adam likewise desired the fruit and freely ate of it when Eve offered it (Gen 3:6). The couple that God entrusted to rule the earth on his behalf betrayed him and as a result surrendered their dominion to God’s enemy. Through deception and mankind’s love of self, Satan was able to gain a stronghold on creation.
There were several significant results of mankind’s betrayal of God and alignment with his enemy. First, their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked and became ashamed (Gen 3:7). They attempted to cover their shame by sewing leaves together for clothing, however this was useless. When God came walking in the garden they hid from him, because of their shame. The couple that God had created to fulfill the role of priest by extending his presence throughout the earth was hiding from the very presence of God (Gen 3:8-10).
Next, we see several curses are placed by God on his creation as a result of mankind’s sin. The serpent is cursed and enmity is placed between Satan and humanity (Gen 3:14-15). Thus, as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience mankind is now caught in the middle of a cosmic battle between God and Satan. While this battle is cosmic it is worked out in the lives of mankind. Thus, those who were intended to rule now find themselves under constant assault by Satan and his cohorts. Satan desires to destroy them and wipeout the remnant of God’s image in creation.
In the midst of this curse however, there is hope. God tells Eve that her offspring will ultimately crush the head of the serpent. The understanding here is that God will raise up a man who will destroy Satan and return mankind to his rightful position as priest king mediating God’s reign over the earth. This word of hope is the first prophecy of Jesus Christ.
The next curse is placed upon the woman. God increases her pain in child birth and brings enmity into her relationship with her husband (Gen 3:16). The woman who before, had the privilege of filling the earth with God’s image bearers, now will endure much pain in the process. Though she was created to rule alongside her husband now he will rule over her.
In this curse we see the root of so many problems in the world. Problems in the home between husbands and wives stem from this curse. The oppression and abuse of women is a result of this curse. Indeed, this passage can be seen as affecting all human relationships and thus is the beginning of strife between man and his neighbor. This plays out very quickly in the life of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-8).
As a result of Adam’s sin all of creation is cursed (Gen 3:17-19). Adam was created to be a blessing to the creation to cultivate it and to benevolently mediate God’s reign over it. Instead, his sin leads God to place a curse on the earth. The cultivation of the earth which was to be a joy to Adam now becomes a hardship. The ground is no longer as productive and Adam will constantly battle against thorns and thistles.
We don’t have to look far to see the multitudes of problems resulting from this curse. Natural disasters like floods, tornados, and earthquakes wreak havoc on our world. Droughts and the resulting famine and disease are the results of this curse. The world that was to be a beautiful garden filled with the presence of God is instead a planet struggling to provide for those originally commissioned to care for it.
Finally, to protect mankind from eating from the tree of life and thus living forever in his fallen sinful state, God forced Adam and Eve from the garden (Gen 3:22-24). Though they were created to live in the garden in God’s presence they were forced out of the presence of God. Cut off from God’s presence and the tree of life they would no longer live forever. Just as God had said, they would surely die.
Thus, we see the magnitude of the scope of the fall. Every aspect of life has been affected by Adam’s sin. He surrendered his position of authority to Satan who is determined to eradicate God’s image from the earth. Human relationships have been twisted and the love of self is mankind’s driving ambition. The creation itself groans for redemption as it struggles under the weight of the curse, the exploitation of mankind, and the constant assault of the war that rages between God and Satan. Indeed, the fall of mankind has had immense implications for all of God’s creation.
However, there is a glimmer of hope seen in Genesis 3:20-21. Adam, in faith, named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living (Gen 3:20). This is a reference back to the prophecy in Gen 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan. After this, God clothes them with garments of skin (Gen 3:21).
There are two very important concepts for us to understand in this act. First, in order to make the clothing, blood must have been shed. In this we see the necessity of the shedding of blood to deal with sin. Second, we see the restoration of fellowship with God. The couple hid from God because they were ashamed of their nakedness, but God in his grace clothes them in order to restore fellowship with them. Both of these realities point forward to the hope found in the cross.
As extensive as the results of the fall are, we have hope because of the gospel! The atonement of Christ is equally extensive overcoming all of the results of the fall and sin. The immediate result of Adam’s sin was that they lost innocence and became ashamed of their nakedness. In Genesis God clothed them in fur to restore fellowship with them, but believers are clothed in Christ (Gal 3:27). That is to say our shame has been removed by the blood of the cross and we have been given the righteousness of Christ. No longer must we hide from the presence of God; we can now approach him with boldness because of Christ (Eph 3:12).
As a result of the fall there were several curses placed by God. When he cursed the serpent he placed enmity between him and humanity. As previously discussed, this explains the spiritual warfare that we all endure from Satan. He is a lion who seeks to destroy mankind (1 Peter 5:8), but as prophesied in Gen 3:15 the Son of Man has crushed his head.
This is evidenced in the ministry of Jesus. By casting out demons, Jesus was demonstrating that he was reestablishing the dominion that Adam lost.
28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matt 12:28-29)
Christ clearly showed that he had defeated Satan by exercising authority over demons. The death blow was dealt at the cross and though Christ was bruised, his ultimate victory was established by the resurrection. Satan has been defeated. He still attacks the church, but in Christ we know that we have the victory and we will reign with Christ for eternity.
The curse that was placed on Eve made the process of filling the earth with image bearers a painful one. In Christ, this process takes on new meaning. Mankind is dead in sin and the image of God is marred in us. Thus, filling the earth with the image of God requires new birth (John 3:3). Paul talks of our old self being baptized into the death of Christ and raised with him to “newness of life” (Romans 6:3-6). In Ephesians he refers to this as removing the old self and putting on the new self which is created in the likeness, or image, of God (Eph 4:22-24). In this way, filling the earth with image bearers has a spiritual significance because only those who have died and been raised with Christ participate in his kingdom as image bearers.
As a result of the curse on the woman, discord arises in the home and spreads throughout all human relationships. Yet Christ overcomes this by the cross. He lives a life of self-denial and considers others as more important than himself. Our old self was crucified with Christ and freed from the tyranny of self-love. His life becomes our model of humility (Phil 2:3-8) as we seek to love God with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves. Thus in the kingdom of God, this curse is likewise overcome by the blood of Jesus.
Adam also was cursed as a result of sin. He forfeited the dominion the Lord had given him and brought death and sin into the world. The creation itself groans under the weight of this curse (Romans 8:19-22). Christ, the last Adam, reestablished man’s role in mediating God’s reign over creation.
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
The citizens of the kingdom of God reign with Christ. This reign has begun even now as Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. He mediates that reign through his body the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of the Father.
For sure the reign of Christ has not come in its fullness. There is a now and not yet reality to the kingdom of God. The kingdom has begun and we build for the kingdom now with the hope that Christ will return and establish his reign in its fullness and completely wipe away all of the effects of sin.
This is exactly what we see in the close of scripture in the new heaven and new earth and the new Jerusalem.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Rev 21:1-7)
By the blood of his cross the Lord Jesus ultimately overcomes the fall and the curse. Because of his righteousness the stronghold of sin is broken and all things are made new. As originally intended, mankind will mediate the reign of God over a restored creation and we dwell in the presence of God forever just as was intended in the Garden of Eden! This is a message of hope for everyone!
The people of God were taken into captivity and forcibly removed from the land that the Lord had promised their father Abraham. They were sojourners in a foreign empire for decades. Undoubtedly, many had given up hope of ever returning to their beloved land. Surely they questioned whether God had forgotten or abandoned them in the nation of their enemies.
Then unexpectedly, they receive the news that they were being restored to Zion. The news was too good to be true. It was as if they were dreaming! They were filled with laughter and shouts of joy. God had remembered his promise and was going to restore his people. Just as the Lord delivered the people from captivity in Egypt, this second exodus would deliver them from exile and restore them to the land of promise.
Once again the nations took notice of the great things God was doing for his people, Israel. God was moving on their behalf and the world was in awe. In acknowledgement of this, Israel rejoiced in the goodness and blessings of God, but the rejoicing soon faded.
When the remnant of the people returned to Zion, they didn’t find the promise land they expected. When the nation of Israel originally entered the land, they received cities which they did not build and vineyards they did not plant. (Joshua 24:13) However, those returning from exile found Jerusalem in ruins and the people experienced famine. Thus, they cried out to God to restore their fortunes.
The people once again are encouraged to trust in the Lord. Though there is famine, they will sow their seed in tears trusting they will reap with shouts of joy! The Lord will bless and they will have a bountiful harvest, bringing in their sheaves. Their experience has been one of heartbreak and difficulty, yet by trusting in the Lord they are joyful and content. In Christ, we can live in the tension of the harsh reality of our circumstances while rejoicing because of our trust in Him.
I have often wondered what it actually means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. First, having grown up in a working class home in the US I have no real point of reference for what it means to be really hungry or thirsty. I have always had food and clean water readily available to me. Second, what does “righteousness” actually mean? Is it simply abstaining from evil? Does it mean reading you Bible and praying? Is it only a longing for justification?
For the truly hungry, the desire for food is all consuming. I remember walking through a slum in Brazil a few years ago and watched as a woman set her garbage on the curb to be picked up. As she walked quietly back to her home several children came running, seemingly from nowhere, to the place she had left the bag of trash. I watched as children eagerly tore through the plastic bag and pulled out scraps of food. They were kneeling on the sidewalk consuming garbage, because hunger consumed them.
In the Bible we see stories of people in famine. There are cases where they eat bird droppings and donkey heads. There are even times where mothers eat their own children to survive. In light of all of this, whatever “righteousness” is I know I can’t say that I hunger and thirst for it; at least not to the extent that a starving child searches for scraps of bread.
As a young Christian I understood hungering for righteousness to mean that I would avoid evil things like lust and adultery. I thought that it meant that I would progressively read my Bible more and spend more time in prayer. In essence if I avoided the big sins and practiced spiritual disciplines then I was hungering for righteousness. While these are good things and they are certainly an aspect of what is meant in Matt 5:6, this is a woefully inadequate understanding of the verse.
Without question we see here a reference to the righteousness of God found in Christ Jesus. Those who are poor in spirit realize their sinfulness and inability to rectify it. They mourn over their sin to the point of repentance and faith in the one whose blood cleanses them and they are justified. Christ takes their sin upon Himself and graciously gives them His righteousness. Certainly the God given brokenness for sin that leads to a longing to be reconciled to God is an aspect of what is meant in Matt 5:6.
Is justification all that is in view here? Does this verse have anything to say to the believer who is being conformed to the image of Christ? Absolutely! We see two additional aspects of this desire for righteousness. One is a hunger for personal holiness. It is clear that the one who is made righteous should desire to live out that righteousness in a practical way. Grace is not a license for sin and we are indeed called to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15).
Second, is a hunger to see God’s righteousness spread throughout the world system. In The Institutes John Calvin said “Righteousness includes all the duties of justice, that every man may receive his just dues.” In addition, Tim Keller in Generous Justice, says “If you are a Christian, and you refrain from committing adultery or using profanity or missing church, but you don’t do the hard work of thinking through how to do justice in every area of life – you are failing to live justly and righteously”. As citizens of the Kingdom of God we must be actively seeking to spread the righteousness of our King through every aspect of our lives and society. This is the aspect of hungering for righteousness that is most often neglected or totally overlooked.
In closing, we see that hungering and thirsting for righteousness is a daunting task. It is not one that fallen men will ever desire on their own. However, when the Spirit of God changes our hearts and we are reconciled to God we are made righteous. This results in a desire to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. As a result, we begin to long for personal holiness and for the world around us to be reconciled to God that He would rule and reign in all aspects of life.
Do you hunger for that type of righteousness like a starving child longs for a crust of bread? I know I don’t, but I want to! By God’s grace I pray that my life would be marked by this type of hunger and thirsting for righteousness. That I would not be content to just go to church, avoid a list of sins, occasionally read my Bible, and pray over my meals. That would be a tragedy and a life wasted.