August 15, 2014 Broadcast

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger

A Message by R.C. Sproul

When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst,” He was not referring to a physical desire for food or water. Instead, He was referring to a spiritual longing for righteousness, and a desire to be filled with the Bread of Life. In this lesson, Dr. Sproul explains the practical meaning of this Beatitude.

From the series: The Beatitudes

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Righteousness and life

  2. article

    Christ, Our Righteousness

  3. devotional

    A Hunger for Righteousness

Righteousness and life

Scripture clearly teaches that God is "unchangeable in his being" (WSC Q&A 4; see Mal. 3:6), and one consequence of the Lord's immutable character is that His ways are consistent throughout history. For example, God's use of Moses to rescue His people from Egypt is not the only exodus Scripture records (Ex. 3). The prophets also describe Israel's restoration after the exile as a new exodus (Isa. 11:16; Ezek. 20:33–38). Furthermore, the New Testament sees Jesus' ministry as the final exodus (Matt. 2:13–15; 1 Cor. 5:7).

Knowing that God works in similar ways in every generation helps us interpret Old Testament prophecy. The historical context of Isaiah 7 tells us the sign of Immanuel had meaning for eighth-century BC Judah. This sign had a fulfillment then in the birth of Isaiah's son because Israel's and Syria's threat had to end within that generation, as it was tied to Assyria's invasion of Judah in 701 BC during King Hezekiah's reign (Isa. 7:10–17; 8:3–4; 36–37). In fact, Israel and Syria no longer threatened Judah after 732 BC.

Thus, Matthew's citation of Isaiah 7:14–17 does not necessarily mean the Apostle thought it was a direct vision of Jesus' birth (Matt. 1:18–25). Instead, it seems that Matthew saw similarities between the first century AD and Ahaz's era that told him God was acting in a manner analogous to but greater than what He did in Isaiah's day. A foreign enemy (Rome) threatened Judah in the first century, just as foreign enemies (Syria and Israel) had threatened Judah centuries earlier. Mary conceived a son just as Isaiah's wife did in the eighth century BC (Isa. 8:3–4), only the virginal conception of Jesus was a greater miracle (Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 1:26–38). Moreover, Ahaz's rejection of the sign in Isaiah 7 led to Judah's later devastation, just as Jerusalem fell to Rome in AD 70 after the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus (Matt. 24:15–31; 26:56–68).

Matthew's discovery of these analogical connections is known as typology, which was the Apostles' favorite way to read the Old Testament. They did not read secret meanings into the prophets (allegory); rather, they saw how God was fulfilling His covenant promises during the first century in a manner that had precedent. God's earlier dealings with Israel hinted that there was more to come. Since Assyria devastated Judah for its sin during the eighth century BC (Isa. 8), a better Immanuel was needed— God with us to such a degree so as to destroy evil once and for all (1 John 3:8).

Christ, Our Righteousness

Roger Nicole

“To know that one has died and been raised is far, far more pastorally significant than to know that one has, vicariously, fulfilled the Torah.”
—N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, p. 233

N.T. Wright in his advocacy of a “new perspective” on Paul and his teaching makes a special plea that “justification” should relate to the question “who belongs to God’s covenant with the world?” rather than “how can you be saved?” Wright’s answer to the question is “Jews and Gentiles alike, who believe in Jesus the Messiah.” This position is discussed widely in the present issue of Tabletalk. The subject of our essay is to consider how the perfect obedience of Christ to the Mosaic law does apply to those who believe in Him. The answer to this question, according to the Reformed understanding of Scripture, is “the active obedience of Christ is imputed to the justified believers as their positive cover in the last judgment.” The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “Those whom God…freely justifieth…accepting their persons as righteous…by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them” (11:1).

First, this position is articulated in an emphatic way in Romans 4:3–24. The pivot of this passage is the word logizomai, to credit, to include in one’s accounting. This word is used ten times in this context in Romans, and the word is used elsewhere in a similar fashion in Psalm 106:31, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23.

What is credited is not the believer’s good works in obedience to God’s law (vv. 9–11). Not even his faith is meritorious, but one is justified by grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ (3:24).

The effect of justification is that no one can boast of being better than others; rather, each one must own that, being no more worthy of the divine choice, he was saved by God’s grace alone (Eph. 2:5, 9).

Second, the fact that salvation is a blessing apprehended here and now, and not merely a hope to be realized at some point in the future, is made very clear in Scripture (see John 5:24; Rom. 8:1; E ph. 2:5, 8; 1 John 3:14).

This assurance of future salvation could not be had on the basis of perfection in people who have not actually reached perfection, but it is freely appropriated to those to whom the imputation of Christ’s perfection has been applied.

Third, the prophet made this clear in Zechariah 3:1–5. The taking away of the filthy clothes is a metaphor for the divine atonement for sins; the putting on of the rich garments represents the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ. But if the imputation of righteousness were not taking place, Joshua would have had to appear naked before God. The same concept is found in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:11–13).

Commonly, there are three objections that are raised against this understanding of imputation:

• “If God cancels both the iniquity and the insufficient obedience of His people, this wipes out personal responsibility.”

Answer. No, for responsibility remains and will be the basis of the ultimate judgment (Ezek. 18:4, 25–29; 33:17–20), but there are some elements of corporate responsibility, particularly in the covenantal unity, where the head of the covenant may absorb the punishment due to some members (Isa. 53:5–6, 11–12) and cover by His righteousness those whom He represents. This substitution has a double impact: forgiveness of past sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us.

• “If Christians are viewed by God as covered with the righteousness of Christ, it is urged, it does not matter what sins they may commit.”

Answer. This objection, already raised in Paul’s time (Rom. 6:1, 15; 1 Cor. 15:32–33), is a travesty of justification. A position that would achieve impunity and forget that our Savior suffered and died for our sins is the very reverse of what God teaches everywhere. If someone asserts that faith in Christ opens the door to sinning, it is obvious that this faith is not alive but is dead!

So Paul and James (2:14–18) are in agreement on their view of justification as follows:

Paul: Faith that validates dead works is itself dead.
James: Faith that is not accompanied by a renewal of obedience to God is also dead. Both teach salvation is apprehended by a faith that produces good works.

• N.T. Wright asserts that Paul does not deal with the question “how can I be saved?” but simply with the question “may the church accept into its membership people who have not accepted circumcision as necessary?”

Answer. It is true that many passages from Paul can be quoted in response to this query, but it remains that this answer was established by the church at large as early as 50 AD at the meeting in Jerusalem that gave a definitive answer long before Paul wrote Galatians or Romans. It is inconceivable that Paul would write so long a treatise like Romans after the matter was settled without using the church’s response that he had solicited (Acts 15).

The gospel ministry with its proper emphasis on justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the repenting and believing sinner does not need a new perspective but a renewal of spirit-filled preaching.

A Hunger for Righteousness

Anyone with even a passing interest in American culture would undoubtedly agree that our society is driven in large measure by competition. Although there are always forces in power that want to eliminate competition and merit-based economic achievement, academic success, and so forth, the fact remains that competition has been a net positive for our country. The greater the competition, the harder companies work to produce well-crafted goods and services. The stronger the opponent on the playing field, the greater the achievement when one’s favorite team wins the game.

But competition is evident not only in America, it is present in every society and culture. The setting of goals and striving for quality seem to be inherently human endeavors. We might even say the pursuit of excellence is evidence we are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Being made to reflect what is excellent, we develop a passion for noble ends. In fact, this passion — this hunger — is so vital that we see those who lack passion as not living up to their human potential.

Today’s passage is one of many places where Scripture speaks positively of hungering after something. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is specifically commended (Matt. 5:6). Jesus chooses His words carefully. Hunger and thirst are powerful physical impulses. They drive us to attain that which is necessary for our survival, namely, food and drink. Christ wants us to understand that righteousness is likewise necessary for our ultimate survival. Without the passionate pursuit of righteousness before God, we cannot hope to inherit eternal life. But when we pursue it rightly, Jesus tells us that we will be satisfied.

Hunger and thirst for righteousness result in two things. First, in striving after righteousness, we see how far short of the mark we fall and despair of our ability to be pleasing in God’s sight. As the elect, we then rest in Christ’s perfect righteousness alone for salvation (Gal. 2:15–16; 2 Cor. 5:21). Yet having been justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, we are also given the desire to follow God’s law. With our new love for Jesus, we begin to follow His commandments and seek to put our sin to death (John 14:15; Rom. 8:13).

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