“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6, NASB95)
Chapters 9-11 of Romans were written largely about the unbelief of the Jewish people—the nation of Israel (and their ultimate salvation). It focused on their rejection of the Messiah sent by God as compared to God’s embracing of those who were once far away—the Gentiles (non-Jews). Speaking about the issue of righteousness Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,” (Romans 9:30–32, NASB95)
In these verses we see what made the difference between the Gentiles who were made righteous and the Jews who missed that mark, and that difference was faith. The Gentiles (and even many Jews) believed what was told them of the Son of God who became man to die for their sins and be raised from the dead, and they trusted God for His free gift of salvation. Scripture tells us that they were made righteous not with a righteousness of their own, but with the righteousness of Christ as Paul spoke of in Philippians 3.
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,” (Philippians 3:8–9, NASB95)
The Pharisees, who were in many ways poster children for Jewish legalism, believed that their future was determined by how they lived their lives. And in this they set a standard which continued to evolve of greater and greater adherence to the law and their various clarifications of how that law was to be evidenced. They were not openly opposed to God, but they were opposed to those who pointed to the failings of their works based lives and the demands they placed on people to adhere.
In Matthew 23 Jesus spoke out loudly and strongly against the scribes and Pharisees. Repeatedly Jesus says to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” And each time he expanded on why they were falling under such great woe. He ended chapter 23 with, ““Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”” (Matthew 23:37–39, NASB95)
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB95) He recognized that the efforts they made to show themselves good really just pointed to how short they actually came, and in the end they would not be satisfied nor would it last.
Paul wrote, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:9–10, NASB95) Later on in chapter 3 of Romans we read, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21–26, NASB95)
A life based upon our own works in order to obtain the pleasure of God or man is sure to disappoint. It is a fragile existence that can crumble at any time as a result of the slightest of infractions or a mere change of mind concerning direction. It is a system that is based in failure because there is absolutely no way to live it perfect, and anything less than perfection makes the judgment of how good is good enough an arbitrary judgment and an untouchable standard. God does not operate this way. He knows that we have all sinned and fallen short of His glory, and He has based our acceptance by Him not according to some level of works, but on the work of His perfect Son. What we could not do, Jesus did for us as the God-man going to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and being raised from the dead. As a result when we trust in Him by faith we are saved and His righteousness is credited to our accounts. We receive His Spirit—the Holy Spirit at that moment and are made spiritually alive, even enabled to grow in Christ and become conformed to His image.
This is what the righteousness of Christ does for us. It turns us from those bound as slaves to sin, and makes us such that we can live victoriously in the face of its temptations. It makes us such that we will never be judged by God for that sin because Jesus paid it all. This does not excuse us to keep on sinning, for if we truly have trusted Christ for our salvation, then indeed God will do a work in us and He will never let go of us. When the darts of accusation come in, even when we have sinned, we can stop and look to our God admitting our transgression before Him, thanking Him for His forgiveness, and recommit to walk right before Him with the righteousness of Christ through the power of His Spirit under the direction of His Word.
Jesus said, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” There is no satisfaction in striving to be good enough, to hopefully be pleasing and accepted. But there is great satisfaction in knowing that we are fully accepted in Christ and having been firmly placed in God’s forever family as His adopted children with a full inheritance.
“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans 8:12–15, NASB95)
And a little later we read, “But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.”” (Romans 10:6–11, NASB95)
Beatitude facet number 4: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
If you are uncertain of where you stand with God in regard to the standard by which you are judged, Andy Stanley has written a wonderful little book walking through this issue. I would be happy to send you a free to you copy of “How Good is Good Enough?” if you would just contact me and let me know your desire.