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“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).*

*You will need your Bible for this study. If I copied all the texts this post would be a small book.

Isaiah 40 contains a passage that many Christians hold dear. We often cling to verses 29-31 when we are exhausted in our journey to follow Jesus amidst life’s challenges and trials. The principle of an indescribably awesome (in its truest and fullest sense) God supplying us soaring, sustaining, and steadfast power brings great comfort (see Isaiah 40:1-2) to those in dire need of such strength. Yet often this energy seems inaccessible and merely words – words that we believe but rarely experience. And why is this? Because these magnificent promises are only understood and realized as we digest and apply what precedes them. In other words, one must interpret Isaiah 40 backwards to get the full picture.

The 2 previous verses to our focal text tell us that this power is connected to faith: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:27-28). Clearly the prophet says we must believe in order to experience the strength of an all-knowing and all-powerful God. But faith in what?

Faith in Him and Him alone. We see this from the previous verses where Isaiah’s oracle makes fun of the silliness of idols in light of the nature of the one and only true God (vs. 18-26). He mocks those who erect false gods that can’t even stand on their own (verse 20 reminds me of “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” as it describes the wish to craft an idol that won’t topple over). Ridiculous, eh? But for our purposes, an idol is not a graven image but anything that we treasure, love, and desire more than God. An idol can even be seemingly good things (like religion, humanitarian efforts, ministry, or family) that supersede God in importance in our lives. This includes the most insidious of idols – our own energy, effort, and ingenuity (let’s just call this self-sufficiency or pride). The prophet says that to experience the unfathomable power of God we must believe in Him in all of His greatness and nothing can be more important than Him.

But moving further back in the text, we see that it’s not just believing in God but having a right vision of His awesomeness and boundless might. This is what we see in verses 12-17. Here He is described as an immeasurably powerful Creator and the sustainer of all things. What we have described in these verses is mind-boggling. It, as best limited human language can, portrays God as incomprehensibly mighty. As compared to our pathetic, limited, and vastly inferior ability, we see that, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God…” (Deuteronomy 10:17). As James MacDonald says, “It’s not that your problems are too big. It’s that your God is too small.”

But how are we connected to this awesome God? In and through the Son of God who became Jesus the Christ (vs. 1-11). Scripture shows Him to have this same power and character as Yahweh, Jehovah God (John 1, Hebrews 1, and Colossians 1). We see the mighty ruling arm of God (v. 9) become the lovingly tender arm of God (v. 11) by way of Jesus (vs. 1-5). This is called the good news (v. 9 – better understood as “great news”) of the Messiah, whose coming was heralded by John the Baptist with Isaiah’s words, “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (v. 3). And this is the “Word of our God that will stand forever” (v. 8).

So, in summary, to access the unfathomable strength of God (29-31) we must have genuine faith (27-28) in God and not ourselves or our God-substitutes (18-26). And our trust must be in an awesomely large and limitless God (12-17) that has connected us to His immeasurable power through our surrender to the person and power of Jesus (1-11) and experienced through His Holy Spirit.

So, if we want the soaring, sustaining, steadfast strength of our supremely awesome God, it will only come from Jesus when we:

• love Him above all else and lean only on Him

• yearn for Him and yield to Him

• are devoted to Him and dependant on Him alone

• are surrendered to Him and sustained only by Him

• faithfully fix our gaze on Him and feast on His Word

The New Testament equivalent of the powerful principle of Isaiah 40 is found in Hebrews 12:1-3. The writer connects the dots and gives us a passage to call our own as we seek the strength of God found only in Christ:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

This powerful phrase represents the message of hope we find in the Gospel. You can put an infinite number of thoughts ahead of this phrase and then say, “But God,” and you get to the heart of His good news. So let’s do an exercise. I’m going to make some statements, comments that might be common thoughts to many of us, and let some Scriptures that use this encouraging phrase respond (all emphasis mine).

My sin is so great and I’m burdened with the guilt of my poor choices, mistakes, and unholy bent. How can God love and forgive me? – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I have so little to offer my Lord. Really, I’m a “nobody” and don’t see how He can use me. – “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

There is so much I don’t understand about Him, His ways, His will, or His Word. How can I know God and how I can best be His servant?  – “…but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

I’m not sure how I can serve Christ’s church, how I fit in, and if I’m really needed?  Am I important to the body of Christ? – “…while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it” (1 Corinthians 12:24).

I feel endangered and unprotected in a cruel world. Sometimes I feel that everyone is against me and I have no real shelter from their attacks. – “…Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, But God did not allow him to hurt me” (Genesis 31:7).

I feel defeated and powerless. Where do I get the wisdom and strength to live for Jesus and be the kind of Christ-follower that advances His kingdom and gives Him glory? – “…for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9).

I’m so discouraged, maybe even depressed. I can’t get out of this rut and I feel distant from Jesus. Where should I turn for hope and help? – “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:6).

I feel as if I try so hard, but even with all of my effort I feel like a spiritual failure, as if my all resources and “works” don’t add up to much in the sight of God – “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4).

Looking at my circumstances, I feel as if I’m being punished by God. I know most of this is if of my own doing, but how is God involved? – “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

Who can I trust? What can I trust in? It seems like there is no one or no thing that I can really count on in this life – “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son: (1 John 5:9).

Is there hope? There have been so many defeats, broken promises, and my past is littered with a myriad of things that haunt me today? Can I trust that my future is bright and, if so, in whose promises do I need to trust? – “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise” (Galatians 3:18). Or, But it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’. But God has revealed them to us…” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

“But God…”  I don’t know what your thought or question might be today but I encourage you to make the statement and then search the Scriptures to find His answer. For in Christ we have received the promises of God and God can not lie (Titus 1:2: Hebrews 6:18). His promises are real and by believing in Christ you can find the great meaning and hope found in this simple phrase that changes everything – “But God!”

So how does this happen? By faith in Jesus through the grace given by God. Let’s add a couple more passages:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by His grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4 ).

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

All of this reminds me of a cliché that we often hear, an anecdote that actually has rich significance. I think it sums this up well. And that phrase? “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Thirteen – Guarding Our Thoughts

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell ou that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus continues to explain that our thoughts and motives—not just our physical actions—reveal the purity of our hearts. Christ spoke against lust in a time when the accepted religious stance on the subject was something like this: “if you don’t commit the act, you commit no sin.” This
idea, however, found no support in the Lord’s sermon. Jesus taught that a person who considers having sexual contact with another stands equally as
guilty as one who engages in the act. Morality, then, is weighed not in whether a person sleeps with his or her neighbor’s spouse, but in whether or not he or
she considers it!

Throughout the course of my ministry I’ve been shocked by how many professing Christians fall into the pitfalls that accompany lust. Through the media, fueled by the moral decline of our so-called progressive culture and the advance of technology, we are bombarded with sexually explicit images and messages. No one is immune to this danger. I have counseled many folks, male and female, including a disproportionate number of ordained ministers, who have fallen victim to this world’s sexual lure. Given what these experiences taught me about the serious and lingering consequences of succumbing to sexual temptation, we dare not consider these things harmless. The opportunity to fall is ever present. Once we surrender to the “lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16), the potential damage is immeasurable.

Some argue that allowing an inappropriate gaze to linger on a person of the opposite sex proves innocent, but Christ warns that we must control our physical urges and give up fleshly desires to follow Him. This is not a declaration against the natural process of attraction between men and women. Passion within a marriage relationship is God’s gift—part of the beautiful way He wired us; furthermore, the Bible offers no prohibition against attractiveness or appreciating beauty. We should, however, stand in constant vigil against misdirected desires and intentional seduction outside covenant relationship. Why? Because just as we can murder with our words and attitudes, we can commit adultery with our thoughts. Indeed, roving eyes lead us astray.

Righteousness requires more than external obedience. Kingdom living requires a purity of life that transcends perfunctory duty. Believers must constantly weigh themselves against God’s Word, seeking the conviction and guidance of His Spirit. God wants us to protect our purity by guarding our hearts: Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” We need the Lord’s power to control our sinful human nature, to guard ourselves as He desires.

Some scoff at Jesus’ advice to overcome lust: the suggestion of self-injury sounds unappealing and perhaps even life-threatening. But we must understand that this radical saying reflects hyperbole, a scholarly tool that exaggerates in order to make a point. In Matthew 5 Jesus calls not for literal maiming or physical mutilation but for decisive action that will lead to the cleansing of our hearts. He asks us to practice spiritual modification, a process often referred to as spiritual mortification.

The doctrine of the mortification of sin is found in numerous New Testament writings (see Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). It refers to the intentional practice of refusing to do things that displease God or put us in jeopardy of impurity. It amplifies Jesus’ teaching, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34) and promotes a lifestyle of purposeful self-denial. Galatians 5:24 restates the idea this way: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” As both Christ and Paul taught, we must do whatever it takes to avoid sin and to embrace God’s ways.

Jesus explained that if we know that the things we view will tempt us to sin, we shouldn’t look! Similarly, if doing something puts us at risk of a spiritual fall, we should stop! All of this may sound rather rudimentary, but this type of godly discipline is rarely promoted. Both hearing and practicing these principles may at first feel uncomfortable, but they will help guard our hearts against Satan’s devices and protect us from sins that cause broken fellowship with our righteous Savior. We cannot enjoy rich, intimate fellowship with Jesus when our minds are in the gutter! This is why we are commanded to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Kingdom living requires us to look beyond the external and focus on the attitudes of our hearts and minds. This proves important not only in avoiding sexual immorality but in sidestepping any worldly craving or desire that fails to honor God (see 1 John 2:16).We must diligently and practically distance ourselves from those things that would dishonor our King! Those who desire to live under the dominion and lordship of Jesus are called to deny fleshly urges. As Oswald Chambers said, “The only right Christians have is the right to give up our rights!”[i] Amazingly, when we give up our “rights” and submit to Christ’s rule over us we experience the fullness and richness of life that only He can bring. This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “How much more should we submit to the Father  of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9).

Apply It.

Read Matthew 18:8-9. Here Jesus explains that if our feet cause us to sin, we should go without: we must avoid going anywhere that might lead us to sin. Consider temptations you face. What should you stop viewing, what might you cease doing, or where should you stop going to protect your relationship with

[i] Chambers, Oswald. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Discovery House Publishers, 1995), 32.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twelve – The Dangerous Consequences of Anger

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something
against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Settle matters quickly with
your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you
over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny”
(Matthew 5:21-26).

In Matthew 5:21 Jesus begins to systematically contradict secular wisdom with godly wisdom. Six times throughout the chapter He uses the preface, “you have heard that it was said … but…,” to introduce the new laws of His kingdom, laws revised to show the transforming power of the work He accomplished. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, believers receive not just the promise of Heaven but the ability to live abundantly and to love fully. In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ raises the bar on good behavior, showing us that we are responsible not for just our actions and words but for the thoughts
and motivations behind them.

I find it interesting that Christ chooses to first focus on the subject of anger. While Ephesians 4:26 suggests that anger alone is not a sin and the fact that Christ was sometimes angry supports the idea, wrath and its fallout encompass an all too common problem in our world. Even professing believers struggle with anger towards others. A friend, Tina, was eaten up by anger. She had endured numerous disappointing relationships with close friends, her ex-husband, co-workers, and even her parents. “My anger is killing me,” she admitted with tears in her eyes. Over the years her animosity festered until it affected every aspect of her life. She grew depressed, detached, and physically ill. After years of suppressed rage, she ended her own life. Each time Tina’s face comes to mind, I remember the importance of dealing with anger quickly and completely.

Jesus blessed those who promote peace, but He knew that conflict and persecution would come to those who follow Him. While Christ calls us to pursue
righteousness in a world filled with anger and even murder, the injustices heaped on us and those we love may tempt us to follow suit. But we must understand that while righteous indignation has a place, retaliation does not. The Bible does not prohibit killing of every kind: capital punishment, war, and self-defense are allowable. Murder, however, is never acceptable. From Christ’s perspective, anger nursed into unforgiveness equals murder.

Jesus took exception too with one tendency that often goes hand-in-hand with anger: casting doubt on someone’s value or inherent worth. The word raca, or “fool” often meant “empty.” It conveys the idea that someone is so worthless that they should get off the planet. Perhaps we understand this best through the modern phrase, “go to hell.” Taking this approach suggests that we desire an individual dead. Such an attitude, Christ taught, actually puts us in danger of the very thing we think they should face: the fire of hell. Hateful thoughts, attitudes, and insults put us in grave danger. Not just saying cruel, demeaning things but also thinking them puts us in jeopardy. God sees the attitude behind anger as tantamount to murder!

Out of control anger reflects a spiritual issue and a matter of the heart. Jesus indicates that it can create barriers between us and God as well as between us and others. These barriers pack severe consequences. For this reason, Jesus taught that anger should be resolved proactively and quickly. For example, issues with a brother must be settled before we worship and before they lead to unfortunate fallout. As we “settle matters quickly,” we remove the attitude behind anger and drain it of power. A believer must neither let anger dominate nor allow it room to damage relationships.

So often we allow anger towards others to smolder, shrinking and even killing our spiritual vitality. We often fail to heed Jesus’ cry for immediate action—an order that could restore relationships and put us in a better standing before God and man. Our great enemy in seeking to follow His will on the subject is pride. Kingdom living requires that we demonstrate character traits diametrically opposed to pride. Christ’s model of humility compels us to deal with our anger and to resolve lingering conflicts. We serve a righteous judge. He does not want us overly concerned with who is right or wrong in a matter; instead, He wants us to choose to do the right thing in every situation.

Unresolved animosity carries a steep price tag. The angry heart suffers more than the object of its fury. I have never met an angry person who I would consider “blessed” or content; in truth, living with a wrathful attitude proves its own kind of judgment and prison. We do not experience the fullness of God’s kingdom in us or live out the pure and profound principles of His kingdom with a heart filled with enmity. We must deal with anger quickly and completely through humility, repentance, and forgiveness. Only then will we find ourselves restored to a greater sense of favor with both our fellow man and our King.

Apply It.

Read Hebrews 12:15. Think about a time that your anger turned into bitterness. Journal about how you moved passed it to embrace the freedom Christ offers. If you currently struggle with anger, meditate on First Peter 5:6-11. Ask God to take away negative thoughts and feelings. Pray that He lifts you up and gives you the grace to cope.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Eight- The Peace of God’s Children 

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Matthew 5:9 proceeds logically from the previous beatitude. When purity of heart leads to internal peace, a peace-loving and peacemaking attitude arises. Those who allow the desire for peace to greatly influence their interactions, Christ explained, will be called “sons of God.” Our Creator set the world in motion with the desire that we live in harmony, enjoying relationship with Him and with others. These relationships were untainted by sin; but when humanity chose to disobey the Lord, we lost our peaceful fellowship with God. War and conflict and arguments with one another soon followed. We desperately needed intervention!

Jesus extended spiritual peace by reconciling us to God through His gospel: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him
to reconcile to himself all [people] … making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:19-20). The Apostle Paul further explains: “God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ … was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). Through this plan, Jesus “create[d] in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace” for souls once torn by sin (Ephesians 2:15). He paved the way so that
humanity could catch a glimpse of His original plan: relationships, interactions, and lives should exist under the banner of harmony.

Military power represents an unfortunate need in our day, and Matthew 5:9 is not an antiwar cry. Instead, the passage points to an approach to life: Followers
of Christ—those who’ve accepted God’s gift of peace for their souls—must purvey peace in their families, communities, and among other believers as they serve
as ambassadors of the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Following the Prince of Peace should make us desire to live at peace. We can, in fact, demonstrate this
attribute to the world! Kingdom living requires that we be healers and not hurters. As we try to keep the peace and mend relationships, we foreshadow the
eternal peace of the eventual and ultimate culmination of our reign with Christ. Heaven’s atmosphere is one of ongoing and complete accord!

One day my friend Rick felt a stifling conviction that God wanted him to reconcile a broken relationship with a fellow church member. The two had not
spoken in over three years, and Rick could not even recall the real source of their conflict. In spite of this, he responded to the Spirit’s leading and sent a simple e-mail to his former friend. In it he asked for forgiveness for whatever he had done that did not reflect the love of Christ. To Rick’s amazement, the response was immediate: complete forgiveness and a return apology. As the two rekindled their friendship, word spread. Soon others throughout the church began mending their broken fences! Peace broke out! For Rick, the experience proved so liberating and empowering that he prayed that God would reveal others to whom he should reach out with humility and grace.

Unfortunately, the believer’s journey is not entirely without conflict. Sometimes following Jesus and adhering to His radical calling actually disturbs folks around us, even those closest to us (see Matthew 10:34-36). But living as one of Christ’s requires that we put Him first, follow His teachings, and often
make culturally difficult, radical, and sometimes misunderstood choices that may upset and confuse some people. Ironically, the contrarian nature of kingdom
living will inevitably result in conflict and perhaps even estrangement from those we love (see Matthew 10:37). That’s why, while we should never promote
unity at the expense of truth or sound doctrine, we must make sure that our words and actions are fueled by love and a genuine desire to please the Lord
and to help others come to know and grow in Him.

Peacemakers never intentionally seek conflict. They pursue peace unless it means contradicting God’s Word or will. The New Testament writers urge Christ-followers to question, Am I, as a disciple of this King of Peace, a nurturer of conciliation in my sphere of influence? Am I perceived by both believers and non-believers as peaceable? (see Hebrews 12:14). If the answer to either question is “no,” he or she may not live in full surrender to our peace-giving Lord. The internal peace from Him “passes all understanding.” That sense of inner harmony generally impacts relationships for the better.

In one of His most encouraging messages, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). Peacemaking and experiencing the blessing of living in peace demand complete reliance upon Him. He is our source. Let us demonstrate Jesus and His kingdom by being ministers of His gifts. By reflecting the Prince of Peace and His kingdom of eternal peace, we can point a troubled world to the God of reconciliation. Paul speaks to all kingdom believers when he says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15). As we do, we’ll shine as sons and daughters of God.

Apply It.

Read Hosea 3:1. Notice how God instructs Hosea to show conciliatory love to his  adulteress wife in the same manner the Father shows love to His rebellious
children. Consider a family, work, or church situation that generates ongoing  conflict in your life. What steps might you take to bring peace to the situation and demonstrate God’s love? Ask the Lord to reveal opportunities for  reconciliation. He will supply the wisdom and strength to initiate a  God-exalting solution.

 *This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Five- Desiring Righteousness Brings Satisfaction

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

The first four beatitudes follow a logical progression: Conviction leads to confession which leads to repentance. These postures, when progressively combined, compel us to seek after what we cannot attain, the righteousness that comes only through the Lord! In Matthew 5:3, “the poor in spirit”—those who acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy before holy God—are positioned to receive entry into “the kingdom of heaven.” As they are confronted with the holy demands of God, they characteristically mourn over their sinfulness. Doing so allows them to enter into the type of humble state, or meekness, that’s required of those who will inherit God’s kingdom. When a person experiences this reality, he or she gains the key to happiness: the ability and incentive to pursue a godly life.

When His people get hungry and thirsty for His righteousness, God promises to satisfy their cravings and to bless them! Often that blessing comes in the form of joy. But humanity seeks carnal happiness instead. Sadly, we routinely grasp for contentment through pleasure, possessions, accumulation, relationships, climbing the ladder at work, and carving out a pain-free and comfortable life—none of which offer the joy and long-term satisfaction we crave. Real satisfaction and contentment remain elusive. Why? Because we won’t find happiness in the temporal and the tangible: we need a relationship with God that’s both spiritual and eternal. The idea that we can have happiness without holiness proves a fatal flaw. Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, clearly taught that true contentment comes from the pursuit of righteousness.

“Righteousness” in this passage speaks of a personal and practical standard of holy living that projects both the King (Jesus) and the type of ideals and principles on which His kingdom is founded. Humanity finds “blessing”—true joy and fulfillment—when they relentlessly pursue a life that reflects Christ. Living in moral uprightness and demonstrating faith through it leads to Christ-imitating growth, to contentment, to a blessed and purposeful existence. Poverty of spirit, brokenness, humility, and the pursuit of righteousness prove essential steps in attaining joy and in living in a manner worthy of the God who invited us to share in His kingdom.

At one time I got caught up in the world’s definition of success. I wanted the so-called American Dream: grow up, get an education, get a good job, marry your sweetheart, buy a house, have some children, climb the corporate ladder, buy a bigger house, have some grandkids, and then retire to the beach or golf course. But in spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t find deep-rooted satisfaction on that path. Once I began to pursue God and His righteousness, however, I realized that true contentment derives more from His description of holiness than our culture’s definition of success. In other words, when I hunger and thirst after Him I find a better way to live.

Though the notion completely clashes with popular secular belief, holiness—moral integrity— is a fundamental prescription for true happiness. Without Christ, a life of holiness can’t happen. When, however, we pursue righteousness-giving Jesus, He empowers us to live the holy lives that reflect the joy we find in Him. Through Jesus we can live rightly. As we do, we find the consummation of holiness and happiness in Christ. Through Jesus we are blessed with every spiritual blessing (see Ephesians 1:3).

A hunger and thirst for righteousness, a desperate desire to know right and to live uprightly, defines a fundamental ambition of God’s kingdom dwellers. While those without relationship with Jesus understandably pursue the things of this world as a means to fulfillment, believers find satisfaction in the righteousness that only comes through Christ. Those who follow Jesus should seek the spiritual and not the material, knowing that living the type of godly life Christ requires provides the only means to satisfying our thirsty souls. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). He has promised to fill those famished for Him, those who pursue His timeless righteousness over the latest thrill.

The desire for holy living and the joy it brings rise out of a passionate pursuit of the Lord. It flows instinctively out of our love for God and our gratitude for what He does for us. When Christ died for our sins, He justified those who would come to faith in God through Him. That means that He made us just as if we never sinned. This justification of sins and resulting positional righteousness before God through faith in the atoning work of Christ should create in us the desire to live free from sin. The desire to do right.

“Be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord,” the writer of Hebrews said (Hebrews 12:14). As we routinely ponder what Christ has done for us, we’ll desire no part of anything which would hinder our relationship with Christ or injure our ability to demonstrate His love. Let’s make it our passion to honor the Lord through every thought, word, and action.

Apply It.

Consider your life goals and daily priorities. Analyze your prayer life. How well do you integrate the pursuit of righteousness? Memorize Ephesians 4:22-24 and ask God to empower you to seek His holiness and to experience His joy in that pursuit.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –     

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit, backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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