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What it really means to be righteous

October 15, 2019 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

What comes to mind when you hear the word “righteous,” and what is your understanding of what it means to be righteous? Perhaps, like me, you instinctively think that to be righteous means to achieve some kind of moral perfection, that the righteous person is the one who lives a moral and ethical life. Let me ask you to consider a better way of understanding righteousness.

The first course I ever took at seminary was Biblical Greek, and I still remember my Greek professor encouraging us to think of the word “righteous” as right-related, and “righteousness” as right-relatedness. In other words, the righteous person is the one who is a right relationship with God. These many years later, that way of looking at righteousness still resonates with me. It does not negate the other definition of “moral perfection,” but for me it adds a heart motivation to the pursuit of righteousness. In other words, I do not find much motivation in striving to be morally perfect. I do, however, find inside me a strong desire to be rightly related to God.

First and foremost, we know that there is no way to enter into a right relationship with God apart from trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection that pays the penalty for our sins and reconciles us to a right standing with God. As Paul writes in Romans 3:22-24, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” But apart from that legal standing, there is the daily pursuit of living in sync with God’s will. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus tells his listeners that “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). When I thought of that verse in terms of hungering for moral perfection, it did not move me. But when I began to think of righteousness as being rightly related to God, my spirit cried out “Amen!” to this verse. There is a longing inside of me to live fully for God, to be the man that He has called me to be, and to put no one or nothing above Him. That feels very much to me like hungering and thirsting for righteousness. To put it in my own words, “blessed is the one who wants above all else to know God and live for Him.”

Jesus promises that the one who hungers and thirsts to be rightly related to God will be filled, or satisfied. Again, my spirit cries out “Amen!” to this. There is a deeper satisfaction that I find in my pursuit of God that nothing else in this world can provide. The feeling I get in a particularly intimate time of prayer and worship, or after I have used my gifts in service to others, is satisfying on a much deeper level than any other pleasurable experience in this world can give. Even so, I know that there is a greater satisfaction to come, on that day I am finally with the Lord forever, with all the sin and the evil of this world taken away. On that day, I am finally and truly be righteous, in a right relationship with my Lord and Savior.

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