Hunger & Thirst For God’s Righteousness (Not Yours)
Today we have something very important to consider. If you’ve been around for the last year – or most of the last year, hopefully you have noticed that I have been harping about the gospel.
We’ve been saying that the Bible is NOT a disconnected set of stories each with a lesson on how to live our lives — but the Bible contains ONE single story – with three layers:
- The first layer of every sub-story tells us what’s wrong with the human race and the world.
- The second layer tells us what God has done to make it right.
- And the third layer tells us how it will all end.
Good Bible exegesis (or analysis, or interpretation) will always look for these three layers in every sub-story of the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation. Some are more specific to a particular layer, but the Bible only has one story. If we SEE that the Bible begins to really come alive…
Over the course of the last year we have been considering what amounts to three aspects of God’s grace – we could describe them as past grace, present grace, and future grace.
- Past grace is what the Bible calls JUSTIFICATION.
- Present grace is what the Bible calls SANCTIFICATION.
- Future grace is what the Bible calls GLORIFICATION.
So, we could say the believing Christian has been justified by grace, is being sanctified by grace, and will be glorified by grace. Our past, our present, and our future are all wrapped-up in God’s grace.
We are justified, sanctified, and glorified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
We have spent most of the last year preaching and teaching about present grace the grace for sanctification, believing that most of us “get” grace for salvation but not grace for sanctification.
In my preparing for this message/sermon today I have come to believe that not only have we had a faulty belief (or understanding) of present grace (sanctification), but that we may also have a faulty belief about past grace – or justification.
Let me throw a pop-quiz at you – and then I’ll pray and we’ll jump into the sermon for today: Does God want you to try and be good?
At the risk of making some of you mad I will say – if your answer is “yes” there’s a good chance you’re still stuck in moralism. (Moralism is the anti-gospel, relegating change to will power and behavior modification techniques.)
If your answer is a genuine, heartfelt “no” then you may be on your way to understanding sanctifying grace – and what we will be talking about today – God’s imputed righteousness.
With that said I’d like to pray for our time together this morning and then we’ll begin…Eph 1:18-20:
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” Amen
We’ll begin with a review and then move toward a greater understanding of God’s Righteousness.
Our series is The Upside Down Life and we are taking our time moving through the introduction of what theologians believe is the greatest, most profound sermon ever given – The Sermon On the Mount, which is found in Matthew chapters 5-7. (It’s really just an overview.)
Jesus opens the sermon with 8 distinctive markings of the Christian and the Christian life – that we have come to describe as the Beatitudes.
There is a stanza in the famous Robert Frost poem titled The Road Not Taken that helps us to understand what Jesus was saying. While I don’t think this is what Frost had in mind, it DOES help us to reflect on our lives…
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Why would we take the road less traveled? Is the Christian life a hard road? Yes, because in this inaugural sermon Jesus jumps below the surface and into the question of motive – why we do what we do.
To walk this road is to encounter Truth (with a capital T). It’s the Truth about God – for God IS Truth. AND it’s the truth about us.
Now the good news is – the gospel tells us that Jesus Christ has made a way, a road for us to walk along — with Him. And the Beatitudes describe this less traveled way…
The road begins with admitting our spiritual poverty. To truly/honestly acknowledge and admit our spiritual poverty leads us into a place of mourning and repentance, which, in-turn, renders in us a meekness wherein we become humble learners (or true disciples). And as humble learners a holy craving, or longing erupts in us to know and be known by God.
Matthew 5:6 declares: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (The Beatitudes – and the SOTM ARE a road less traveled…
Here’s how King David said it in Psalm 42:1-2: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When can I go and meet with God?” (NIV)
The series is titled The Upside Down Life because the gospel-way is so counter-intuitive to the human condition – we are hard-wired in our fallen nature toward self-determination and legalism.
Last week Gene began to break down for us what it means to hunger and thirst for God – he said, first and foremost, that righteousness is not a product but a Person.
Gene likened the first three Beatitudes to a spiritual rototilling of the soul.
Gene likened a hunger and thirst for righteousness to a consuming desire for Jesus – as we become aware of hunger pangs for heaven.
Humility opens the door to holiness and happiness.
Gene encouraged us to re/discover our great Evangelical tradition of deeper encounters…
- John Wesley – Holiness not as achieving sinless perfection but as having one’s heart fully fixed on God. (His “heart was strangely warmed.”)
- Bernard of Clairvaux – “To Thee our inmost spirit cries…[for that] which only Thou canst fill…”
- Blaise Pascal’s “Night of Fire” in 1654 – 2 hours of “Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.”
- D. L. Moody’s experience with God: “…I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”
And I would add Sarah Edwards (d. 1758), wife of Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, to Gene’s list. She had such an encounter with God such that she felt her soul “being filled to all the fullness of God.” As her husband was to describe it, God had filled Sarah with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Most of us have wrongly determined that that kind of joy is reserved for heaven. It’s not. There are both a momentary and a residential joy that are available to us – no matter what our circumstances are.
Today, I’d like to zero in on the word righteousness in Matt 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for they shall be satisfied.”
Here’s the BIG IDEA: The doctrine of righteousness is a part of the larger doctrine of justification (or, grace for the past).
Think of justification as one coin with two sides…
- One side is God’s MERCY and FORGIVENESS.
- One the other side is IMPUTED (credit) RIGHTEOUSNESS and GRACE (for sanctification).
If you’ve been going to church for a while now – you’ve probably heard a definition for justification that goes something like this: Justification means “just as if I’d never sinned.”
Now that’s a nice play on words but it’s woefully shallow and certainly an incomplete definition. Because it only deals with one side of the coin.
Let’s see if we can understand a little better this essential concept of imputed righteousness…
What is righteousness? Righteousness is a validating performance record that opens doors (Tim Keller).
- Job? Resume…
- Grad school? Academic record Grades…
We tend to believe it’s the same with God – that we are to, somehow, build a resume of a moral performance record to make it into heaven.
Jesus comes along, and with the other NT writers, tells us about an absolutely unheard of spirituality, an unimaginable approach to God. Where God provides us with an unblemished record—absolutely free of charge. Not just a good record, or even a great record – but a divine righteousness – a perfect record that comes to us as a gift!
When we have this it’s the end of our personal struggle for validation, for worth, or worthiness, and acceptability.
Apart from the Christian gospel there is no other religion or belief system that offers anything like this.
The gospel is God developing a perfect righteousness and He offers it to us – and by THAT righteousness alone we are accepted.
Roms 3:21: “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”
Free Justification – Forgiveness AND Imputed Righteousness are essential to understanding the gospel. Tim Keller likens it to the table in a grand banquet room… Free Justification IS the table. No table, no dinner…
Why is free justification so important? Because it affects our assurance of salvation.
We begin to understand Free Justification as we consider the difference between IMPARTED righteousness and IMPUTED righteousness. I’ll give you a brief overview of both and what IMPUTED righteousness accomplishes and then we’ll pick it up again next week…
Many churches – including the Catholic Church teach IMPARTED righteousness.
This actually can be defined as THE single issue that brought about the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther saw this afresh in his study of the first five chapters of the book of Romans.
So, what IS Imparted Righteousness?
- The word, “impart” means to “to give.” We could also describe it as “infused” righteousness.
- Imparted righteousness thus declares that Christ’s righteousness is given to, or infused within – so that the believer actually becomes righteous. (This is NOT what the bible teaches.)
Paul is not writing that we are transformed into people who possess righteousness, but rather that we have been united to Christ
And because of our union with Him (the emphasis of Romans 5), we have that which He possesses, that is, we have HIS righteousness.
Imputed Righteousness – The word “impute” means “ascribe” or “credit.” Imputed righteousness carries the theological weight of being “counted” or “considered” or “reckoned” righteous.
Within the first 12 verses of Romans 4 (this is where Martin Luther saw this) you will notice the number of times the word “credited” (in both the NIV and NASV Bibles) is used. This word distinguishes the means of faith by which both Abraham and all other believers are justified before God.
Paul is not writing that we are transformed into people who possess righteousness, but rather that we have been united to Christ (i.e., the 30 “in Him” passages of Paul’s letters), that “in Him” — because of our union with Him (the emphasis of Romans 5), we have that which He possesses, that is, righteousness.
III. CONCLUSION — What imputed righteousness accomplishes:
- In God’s eyes Jesus’ perfect record is imputed to us.
- We are treated as if we had lived the perfect life that Jesus lived.
- We are given the love that Jesus deserved (through His obedience).
- We have the same access to the Father that Jesus did.
- The best news is that all of this comes not from us doing anything (i.e., works) at all, but simply by faith.