How are you going to stand with Jesus when vast numbers of other people are moving away from Him? Pastor Colin talks about what it takes to have a faith that lasts.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6
We saw last time that the mark of a true Christian is not that he feels righteous, but that he longs to be more righteous than he is. When it comes to righteousness, the blessed people are not those who think they have it, but those who feel their need of it.
The person who is blessed is one who has become poor in spirit. He mourns over his sins. He has become submissive to the will of God, and out of that comes a great hunger and thirst for God and for righteousness.
Aren’t you glad that Jesus did not say: “Blessed are the righteous, for they will be satisfied.” Where would that leave us? Nobody would be included, because none of us would be in that category.
Thank God he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” It is not the realization of the desire, but the desire itself that Christ pronounces blessed.
Righteousness and regulations
I’ve been thinking about the professions in which so many of you serve—
banking, law, teaching, finance, medicine, construction, manufacturing, the caring professions, insurance, and property development, etc. Every one of these worlds has its own world of complexity. Each one gives rise to a whole series of ethical questions.
Where are the boundaries between legitimate competition and destructive aggression? Where is the line between using the systems that are in place in your profession and manipulating them? Where is the line between appropriate reward and raw self-interest?
In any line of business there are some people who need to be restrained, lest they exploit others. In every profession we have more and more regulations—endless documents, processes and procedures to be followed.
But every law that is passed has more loopholes than their authors ever imagined, and human ingenuity will always find them. “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19). We should never be surprised when sinners choose to sin, if we’ve understood and embraced what the Bible says.
What hope is there for righteousness in the business where you work? Only one, and that hope is that some people will hunger and thirst for it, that some people will actually choose it, not because of regulation, but because they actually want it.
Think of the impact if there were some people at every level of the business or profession where you serve who really hunger and thirst for righteousness. Imagine if instead of asking, “What’s in it for me?” people would begin to ask, “What would honor God and be good for others, as well as for me?” Ask God to make you that kind of person.
To these people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). This hunger and thirst for righteousness is of huge importance in every area of life. Today we’re asking the question: “How can I cultivate this hunger and thirst for righteousness?”
Appetite can be cultivated
I’ve been enjoying some great insights that you have been sharing through the POSTS. One lady shared this wisdom: “Hunger is natural. Appetite can be cultivated.” We saw last time that the new nature hungers and thirsts for righteousness. This hunger is natural to a person who has been born again by the Spirit of God.
Appetite can and should be cultivated. You can learn to like and enjoy things that at one time you had no taste for. Paul said to Timothy, “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). “Timothy, there are certain things you can do that can help you advance in godliness.”
I was talking this week with someone who survived a major heart attack.
He said it was “like an elephant sitting on my chest.” In the kindness of God he has made a good recovery, and part of that recovery has involved a complete change of diet.
I asked him what he liked to eat before the heart attack: “Burgers, fries, pizza, and ice cream.” I’m sure that’s not all he ate! Then he said, “After my heart attack, the doctor told me I would need to completely change my diet: Low fat, low sodium, vegetables, fish, chicken (grilled, not fried) and some rice.” My friend said, “This is going to be absolute torture!”
I asked him how the change had gone. “At first it all seemed bland and tasteless, but after a while I thought: ‘This is not so bad.’ I felt better, and I had more energy.”
I asked him about the burgers: “I don’t miss them as much as I thought. When I do, I think about the elephant sitting on my chest. Burgers and fries still smell good, but when I tried a few fries, they gave me a stomach ache.” He said, “I discovered that my whole appetite has changed.”
I asked him how long that took. He said, “It began to change after about two months.” A change of diet led to a change of appetite. I am using food here as an analogy, because Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” The point I am making is that appetite can be cultivated. Change your diet and you will change your appetite.
If you’re new to this church, you may have noticed that this congregation has a great appetite for the Word of God. Where did that come from? The appetite came from the diet. Here is a congregation that has been feeding on the Word of God for nearly 60 years.
Regular diet shapes appetite over time
This is true whatever the diet happens to be: Feed a congregation entertainment, and you will create an appetite for entertainment. Feed a congregation pop psychology, and the church will have a great hunger and thirst for pop psychology. Feed a congregation the Word of God, and over time there will be a church with a great hunger and thirst for God.
Diet shapes appetite over time. This is a fundamental principle. You will want more of whatever you feed yourself on. So, that means we want to choose our diet very carefully.
Think about a young person who is really into computer games. Let’s call him Jake. Jake loves these games. He buys them, he plays them, he talks about them, he thinks about them. In the course of a week, he will spend 20 or more hours on the games, and still he has an appetite for more.
One day a friend at college asks him, “Jake, what are you doing with your life?” Jake doesn’t really know: He goes to class, does his job, hangs out with his friends, and does his thing with the games. His days are in large measure defined by his appetite, and his appetite is fed by his diet.
Most people have moments when we ask, “Is this really the best that I can do with my life? Could I not make better use of it?” But then these moments of insight fade away, and we settle back into the routine and the diet that we knew before.
What appetites are shaping your life? What is the diet that shaped them?
You like to work out? You like to sleep? You like to watch sports? Read? Watch lots of movies? There’s nothing wrong with any of these.
But here’s the question: Are the legitimate pleasures of my life holding me back from becoming all that Christ calls me to be? Is my appetite for God being diminished by my hunger and thirst for other things?
The best way to subdue any appetite is to cultivate a stronger appetite that will take its place. So how can I cultivate a desire for holiness? How can I have a greater appetite for God and for righteousness?
Five Strategies for Cultivating a Godly Appetite
- Gain momentum from the first three beatitudes
By this stage in the series, you might have guessed that this would be the first point, so I will deal with it briefly. But it is too important to miss!
The Beatitudes are progressive. Each beatitude assumes the ones that have gone before. You can’t just hunger and thirst for righteousness, you have to start from the beginning. We’ve pictured them like rings that are reached by the momentum you gain from swinging on the previous ones.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend a week being poor in spirit and a month mourning over sins before you can move on. The momentum of realizing your poverty before God, seeing your own sins, and submitting yourself unconditionally to the will of God may happen all at once.
God may birth all of this in your heart with great power today. The point is simply that if progress is to be made, none of these elements, which we have pictured as rings, can be missing.
So, you can’t start at the fourth beatitude and decide that you want to have a great hunger for holiness. But here’s the encouragement: If you become poor in spirit, mourn your sins, and submit your life to the will of God, you will find that a true hunger for righteousness springs from these roots.
- Practice fasting from legitimate pleasures
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34
One sure way to spoil your appetite is to snack between meals. If you snack on chips throughout the afternoon, you won’t have much appetite for dinner in the evening. The principle here is a very simple one: Restrict what spoils your appetite. Don’t snack between meals.
The point here is not that there is something wicked or sinful about a bag of chips. Doritos are a good gift from God. We’re talking about legitimate things here. But eating them at the wrong time and in the wrong amount will spoil your appetite.
Let’s apply that obvious principle from the world of the body to the world of the soul: Legitimate pleasures at the wrong time and in the wrong amount will spoil your appetite for holiness.
Legitimate pleasures can make you dull and sluggish in following after Christ. They can spoil your hunger and thirst to be all that you can be for God. Some of you can look back to a time in your life when you had a great passion to live all out for Jesus Christ. What happened? The appetite was spoiled by legitimate comforts and pleasures.
How do we keep the legitimate pleasures of life—like sports and travel and hobbies—in their proper place? One answer is: By periodically fasting from legitimate pleasures. Fasting is a means of heightening self-control. It is a special gift that can be used to help you master something that otherwise might master you.
Suppose your diet has created an appetite for t.v. or video games, and now you see that it’s your default pattern, holding you back from a more useful life. Take a month without t.v. or computer games, or without golf, or six months without buying new clothes, or without leisure travel. Drop a sport for a semester. You’ll be surprised at the freedom it brings to you.
Fasting has the effect of cleansing out the body, and the same thing can happen in your soul by choosing to deny yourself a legitimate pleasure for a season. This is a great way to bring appetites that have become inordinate back under control.
Some Christians do this in the period leading up to Easter by “giving something up for Lent.” But why wait for Lent? Wean yourself off of the unhealthy appetites that are shaping your life.
- Make yourself vulnerable to the needs of others
Train yourself for godliness. 1 Timothy 4:7
How do you work up a good appetite? By getting some good exercise.
Go for a brisk walk or a run, and when you come back, you find yourself ready for a good meal.
This is true when it comes to nourishing your soul. Extend yourself in serving others, stretch yourself out in meeting the needs of others, especially when you are serving others in great need, you will find that your hunger and thirst for righteousness will increase.
Think about this in relation to our Lord: How did Christ practice this fourth beatitude? He is the Righteous One. He has all righteousness in himself. How could Jesus hunger and thirst for what he already had?
The answer lies in the incarnation. Jesus left the comforts of heaven and came into our world where righteousness had been lost. He humbled himself and became a servant. He saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd and his own heart was moved with compassion.
Make yourself vulnerable to the needs of others and your hunger and thirst for righteousness will increase. Simply seeing yourself as a Christian who needs to receive all the time will make you spiritually dull. But serving others will stimulate your spiritual appetite.
Our Life Groups are taking practical steps in this direction. One group staffed a homeless shelter for the first time this week, and as a result of the experience, they’ve committed to doing this on a regular basis.
A number from our congregation are regularly visiting folks in prison. Others give themselves to visiting the sick or to advocating for those who are persecuted for their faith. I had the joy of visiting with a team that’s leading a bible study for folks who came to the church through our community care ministry and now want to know Christ
Let’s put these things together: Fast from some legitimate pleasure, at least for a time, and use the time, the energy, and the resources you gain from that to make yourself vulnerable to the needs of others.
- Use your blessings and troubles as incentives to feed on Christ
“I am the bread of life… If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
John 6:48, 51
Again I have been helped here by our friend Thomas Watson, the pithy puritan, from whom I have read so much. Watson asks the question: How can we stimulate a spiritual appetite? Then, he says, think about what makes you eager to eat a meal. He offers two answers: 1. Exercise (that’s obvious). But his second answer caught me by surprise…
“There are two things that provoke appetite. 1. Exercise 2. Sauce!”
I suppose in 17th century England, the food may have been rather bland (some folks might say the food in 20th century England is quite bland!). But Watson is right. What makes food more attractive? Sauce! This is a Sweet Baby Ray moment, folks: The sauce is the boss!
God increases our hunger and thirst for righteousness by: The sweet sauce of our blessings, the sharp sauce of our troubles, and the hot sauce of our persecutions.
When blessing come learn to say, “God is so good, I want to know more of him.” When troubles, difficulty or persecution come, learn to say,
“My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
- Trust Christ especially for your sanctification
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely…
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Some Christians feel they can trust Christ to forgive their sins, and they can trust him to get them into heaven, but when it comes to becoming a better Christian, a more effective Christian, a more loving Christian, a Christian who is more like Jesus Christ, they feel completely hopeless.
They trust Christ for their justification and their glorification, but they do not trust Christ for their sanctification. Here’s my challenge to you: Think about Christ. He came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
Christ didn’t come just for the guilt of your sins or the consequence of your sins. He came to save you from your sins, and to deliver you from all that holds you back from a better life. What has He done?
He has triumphed over death and hell. He is seated at the right hand of the Father with all authority and power, and his Spirit lives in you. Christ is your righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).
If you can trust Jesus Christ for forgiveness and if you can trust him for entrance into heaven, why is it so difficult for you to trust him to help you change by cultivating a new hunger and thirst for righteousness?
Hope is the key to all change
As long as you believe that change is beyond you, you will never change, because you won’t attempt to change. You won’t try to change, because you believe in the depth of your soul that any attempt will end in failure.
Somewhere deep inside, you believe that you will always be the same, that you can never be different, and without hope change never happens.
Let’s take a moment to shine the light of hope into the hearts of discouraged believers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Why? Because they will be satisfied…
When you see Christ, you will be like Him (1 John 3:2). You’ve trusted Christ for this. Think what it will mean for you to be like Christ. Think of his wisdom, his compassion, his patience, his kindness, his righteousness, and his strength.
If you can trust Christ to complete his redeeming work in you then, why should you not trust him to advance his redeeming work in you now? If you can trust Him to make you completely like Christ on the last day, why should you not trust him to make you more like Christ on earth?
I’m inviting you today to trust Christ for your sanctification. This is where change begins, when you say, “There is hope for me to be a better person, to live a better life in Jesus Christ.” The person who knows that one day he will be fully like Jesus Christ purifies himself, even as Christ is pure.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God and for righteousness. They will not be disappointed.
© Colin S. Smith
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