Not only are there enemies against you out there (Satan and the world), there’s an enemy within you—your very Self or “flesh.”
Self is made up of your passions and desires that are opposed to God and His ways. At one time, all of us were slaves to Self, willingly bowing to its every whim and demand:
We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:3).
You can hear the defeat in this message I received from someone recently who’s experiencing slavery to Self:
I read some of your recent posts, and it sounds like you’re able to do the one thing I struggle with most—filling my time with heavenly thoughts instead of thinking of my sexual needs! The worst part about it is that I sometimes feed those needs! We’re all sinners! AAAAAGGGHHH!
What this person doesn’t realize is that they’re not sexual needs; they’re sexual desires. And Self’s desires can be beat. How? Not by self-effort! As Andrew Murray says, “Self can never cast out self.”
You can’t rescue yourself from Self, but there’s a Savior who can! God wants to save you—not only from His wrath against your sin—but from slavery to your sinful desires. If and when you put all your faith and trust and hope in Jesus’ sacrifice for your sin, your old self was put to death with Jesus:
We know that our old self was crucified with him [Jesus] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:6).
Galatians 5:24 tells us,
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Do you belong to Jesus Christ? If so, consider yourself dead to sin and dead to Self. Then rely on the powerful Spirit of Jesus Christ who lives in you in order to defeat Self on a moment-by-moment basis.
You used to have just one way of living—it was always and only life in the flesh. Life controlled by your natural, sinful desires and drives. Now, though, if Jesus has made you a brand-new person with brand-new desires and power to do right, you can “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Each day, each moment, you have two choices. You can either:
1. Operate in the flesh.
2. Operate in the Spirit
At any given point, only the flesh or the Spirit will be in charge. Just as you can’t run backward and forward at the same time, you can’t live in the flesh and the Spirit. Galatians 5:17 says:
The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.
Until God gives you an eternal, sinless body, you are going to experience an ongoing fight between the flesh and the Spirit. You will decide whom you allow to gain the upper hand by the choices you make. Which is more evident in your life, the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit?
We’re profiling our enemies in this blog series (click here for your first enemy). Your next enemy might come as a surprise to you. It’s . . . the world.
When you think of the world, you might think of exploring Paris and New Zealand and the Ivory Coast (how exciting does that sound?!). The world seems like a neutral space full of endless possibilities for adventure. It is . . . right?
It all depends on what you mean by “world.”
The World as It First Was I love the poem in Proverbs 8:22–31 where Wisdom is personified as a woman remembering the time long ago when she had a front-row seat as God handcrafted the physical world. I can just hear her excitement as she leans forward, a sparkle in her eye, and recounts,
“I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man” (v. 31).
After Wisdom watched God create the first dust of the world and the earth with its fields and the first man and the first woman, she saw Him put them in a beautiful garden. Then she watched as He talked and walked with the man and his wife (Gen. 3:8).
Unfortunately, she was also there when our first parents turned their backs on Wisdom and chose instead to rebel against God. The whole world was placed under a curse (Rom. 8:20–22).
The World as It Now Is
The sad fact is, you’re not living in an environment that’s for you, like a tomato plant in a sunny greenhouse. Your life in this world is more like a tomato plant that’s been thrown into a pitch-black furnace room in the bowels of a factory.
Satan is the major influence on the ideals, opinions, goals, hopes, and views of the majority of people. His influence also encompasses the world’s philosophies, education, and commerce. The thoughts, ideas, speculations, and false religions of the world are under his control and have sprung from his lies and deceptions.
So while God’s created world is still good, the whole world system is not. First John 2:16 warns us,
All that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.
If you want to learn more about what this means, check out John Piper’s sermon on this verse. Here’s a little taste:
Love for the world pushes out love for God, and love for God pushes out love for the world. . . . If your love for God is cool this morning it’s because love for the world has begun to take over your heart and choke your love for God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot coexist.
The World as It Soon Will Be The next verse in 1 John gives us another reason not to love the world:
The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (2:17).
Did you catch that? This world that feels so solid is really just temporary. It’s going out of fashion. God is going to judge the world (Acts 17:31), and then He’s going to make it brand-sparkling new!
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4).
How can you be sure that you won’t be judged with this present world but will live in the new world with God? John 1:9–13 explains:
The true light, which gives light to everyone [Jesus], was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Have you “received” Jesus? Or is your love for this present world keeping you from loving Him? Will you repent and ask God to help you love Him more than this world system?
Over the next few weeks, I’d like to give you the scoop on your greatest enemies, beginning with Satan. I realize most people laugh at the idea that he even exists. Maybe they sport a pair of red horns and a tail for Halloween, but they certainly don’t take him seriously.
I hope you do.
To understand why Satan is such a threat to you today, you need to understand his backstory.
When God created Satan, he was one of God’s most beautiful angels. Outwardly, that is. Inwardly, he was far from content to worship and serve and enjoy God; he wanted to be God.
“You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you” (Ezek. 28:15).
“‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high . . . I will make myself like the Most High'” (Isa. 14:13–14).
His rebellion against God’s authority didn’t go exactly as planned. Instead of kicking God off His throne, Satan was kicked out of heaven (Luke 10:18). And when he fell to earth, he brought his rebellion against God with him.
Satan’s First Appearance on the Scene Satan sure didn’t waste any time. Open any Bible, turn just a few pages, and there he is, inviting the first woman who ever lived to join his rebellion against God. Oh, he didn’t put it in those words! He’s too crafty for that. He went about the whole ugly ordeal by doing what he does best: deceiving and tempting. Just as he’d experienced a great fall from heaven, he coaxed and pulled off the great “fall” of mankind.
While Satan played a crucial role in man’s fall, God played an even more crucial role in man’s rescue. In Genesis 3, as God is cursing Satan for his role in this rebellion, He offers this cryptic, hope-filled hint of what’s to come:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (v. 15).
Satan’s Sure Defeat
And that’s just how it happened. Satan bruised Jesus’ heel when Jesus suffered and died on the cross. It looked like a victory for Satan, but not for long. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus crushed Satan’s head. Colossians 2:13–15 puts it this way:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (emphasis added).
Satan knows he’s beat; he knows his time is short. In fact, God’s Word spells out his final demise in Revelation 20 for anyone to read:
The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (v. 10).
Satan’s Short-Lived But All-Out War
For now, Satan is busy making the most of his short-lived freedom. As “the god of this world,” he’s busy blinding the minds of unbelievers “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
He’s also relentless in targeting believers in Jesus. First Peter 5:8–9 warns us,
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to be in a war. But when does anyone ever want war? They just do their best when they face it to conquer rather than to be conquered.
How to Stand Against Satan
So how can we stand against Satan?
Acknowledge his very real presence. (It’s hard to beat an enemy you don’t believe in or fear, don’t you think?)
It’s impossible to conquer Satan if you still belong to his dark kingdom. (All of us did at one time, you know.) Pray that if Satan has blinded your eyes and deceived you, God would give you sight and transfer you from Satan’s kingdom of darkness to Jesus’ kingdom of light (Col. 1:13).
Realize that Satan has already been defeated by Jesus on the cross. Don’t try to conquer Satan in your own strength; be strong in Jesus’ strength (Eph. 6:10).
Check back next week to learn more about your second enemy. And in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Have you considered Satan a serious threat in your life? Any new thoughts after reading this post?
Every August our staff gets together for one week (“Seek Week”) to refocus on Jesus before we launch into a new year of ministry. With just three weeks ’til my book releases, this Seek Week found me cranking out “book” work (book marketing, book website, book interviews, book, book, book) . . . and cold-hearted. I was working for Jesus, but I sure wasn’t enjoying Him.
When Pastor Walter Price told us he’d be preaching on Judas Iscariot, my ears perked up. I’d never heard a sermon preached about the disciple who betrayed Jesus. (Have you?)
Walter didn’t disappoint. And boy, did he sober me up when he said,
Judas knew the blessings of proximity to the things of God, he did a lot of great things for God, but he didn’t know God.
I’ve never thought about all the great things Judas got to do. Here’s just a peek from Matthew 10:
He [Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction (v. 1).
Just to be sure we don’t miss it, Matthew lists all twelve names of the men Jesus sent out, ending with
. . . and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (v. 4).
Judas was there! Check out the mind-blowing miracles Judas performed:
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them . . . “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (vv. 5, 8).
Not only did Judas do miracles, he saw miracles right and left. In Mark 6:43, Judas ate ’til he was stuffed—and then he brought home a whole basket of bread and fish—after Jesus fed 5,000 people with a skimpy five loaves and two fish.
And yet . . . Jesus hadn’t captured Judas’ heart; money had. Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver—enough silver, at least, to buy a field (Matt. 27:3–10).
Judas’ story puts skin to Matthew 7:21–23, the most sobering words of Jesus in the Bible—at least in my opinion:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
So I need to ask, are you busy doing things for Jesus without really loving Him? Are you telling others about Jesus but not truly delighting in His beauty?
If so, let me help you out by giving you a glimpse of Jesus’ beauty. Just before His death, Jesus tells the same twelve men that one of them is going to betray Him. He then leans over to Judas and says, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” The passage continues,
“Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him” (John 13:27-28).
Did you catch that? None of the other eleven disciples suspected Judas. Jesus had never treated Judas any differently than the rest of His disciples. All along Jesus knew what was in Judas’ heart, how Judas would betray Him, but Jesus loved Judas all the same. I don’t know about you, but I find that just beautiful.
Girls, my prayer for you—and me—is that we would never be too busy working “for” Jesus that we miss “drinking from the river of His delights” (Ps. 36:8).
Earlier this month a high school valedictorian ripped up his approved speech and then proceeded to recite the Lord’s Prayer in spite of the school district’s ban on prayer. The response was . . . overwhelming. You can watch it here:
Whether you think Roy Costner IV’s actions were right or wrong, you’ve gotta admit it was gutsy. He didn’t know if people would cheer or physically remove him from the stage or worse.
Which brings us to Jesus’ final—and possibly most mind-blowing—beatitude yet:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:10–12).
Let’s break this beatitude down . . .
What It Means to Be Persecuted
"Blessed are those who are persecuted."
To be persecuted means to be pursued, but not the kind of pursuit you want from that cute guy in geometry class. This kind of pursuit is a relentless pestering, abusing, attacking. There seem to be two kinds: verbal persecution and physical persecution (Heb. 11:36).
Right—and Wrong—Reasons for Persecution
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake."
Sorry, but you won’t be blessed if you’re being persecuted for "talking smack" or acting foolishly. In Dorothy Patterson’s words, "To offend the world, you do not have to be unwise in your choices or obnoxious in living your Christian faith. Just to be like Christ will bring persecution."
Why We Can Actually Look Forward to Persecution
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven."
No one I know wants to be mocked or hated or tortured or killed. But Jesus—who was mocked and hated and tortured and killed so you and I might be saved from God’s wrath against our sin—promises us incredible rewardto come when we suffer for Him. Not here and now, but for forever. And He would know, because He led the way:
"For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2, emphasis added).
The crowds won’t always respond like they did this month to Roy Costner IV’s graduation speech. In fact, Jesus tells us to expect just the opposite. Philippians 1:29 tells us salvation and suffering go together—they’re a package deal:
"It has been granted [gifted] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake."
So let’s get ready to suffer together for Him. Stay tuned to the blog as we talk more about persecution. And let us know . . . is all this persecution talk new to you? Have you ever been persecuted for righteousness’ sake—verbally or physically?
Two more beatitudes to go, girls! Today’s beatitude is found in Matthew 5:9 where Jesus says:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
As I was praying about how to write this post, I stumbled on the story of Abram doing some serious peacemaking. You’ll find the account tucked in Genesis 13, but here’s the quick version:
Abram and his nephew, Lot, are filthy rich. They have tents, lots of silver and gold, livestock galore, and a bunch of herdsmen to take care of all their animals. In fact, they have so much stuff that verse six says the land couldn’t support both of them living together.
And here we find the perfect set-up for a great big conflict. Two rich men with too much stuff living too close together on too little land. Sure enough. Verse seven reports "there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock."
What does Abram do when he realizes this? He doesn’t ignore the problem, and he doesn’t give Lot the boot, even though he’s the older uncle. Nope, Abram acts like a true peacemaker. He goes directly to Lot and acknowledges the conflict:
"Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen" (v. 8).
In other words, "We’re family, Lot. Let’s not fight." But Abram doesn’t stop there; he offers a solution. An incredibly unselfish solution:
"Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left" (v. 9).
What was Abram thinking?!
If I replay the tape of my life, I see how I’m always choosing the best for myself—claiming the soft bed over the hard floor; choosing the corner piece of cake with gobs and gobs of frosting; keeping the best hand-me-down clothes for myself and passing the "rejects" on to someone else.
But here . . . the stakes are much higher than a good night’s sleep, a sugar high, or stylish clothes. Abram is choosing where he and his descendants would live. That’s a major decision. How could he give Lot first dibs?
Scripture gives us a few clues:
Genesis 15:1 tells us God was Abram’s reward. God was his portion (Ps. 73:25–26). When that’s true, you don’t need other things.
Abram trusted God’s promises. God had told him his descendants would receive all this land, and Abram believed God even when he couldn’t see how God would do it (Gen. 12:7).
We’re told in Hebrews 11:10 that Abram was looking forward to his forever home instead of living for the "here and now."
That’s why Abram could make the tough choice to be a peacemaker instead of fighting with Lot. And the only thing that will keep us from fighting with others is if God is the One we desire more than anything or anyone else. After all, James 4:1–2 tells us our desires are what start all our arguments:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.
As you think back to what has riled you up recently, dig a little deeper. Is the ultimate issue that you want stuff or relationships or others’ good opinion of you more than you desire God? How can you become more of a peacemaker, more like your Father God who sent His Son to make peace with you (Rom. 5:1, Col. 1:19–20)?
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8).
Pure. Clean. Clear. We want to breathe pure air, drink clean water, have a clear complexion. We go to school in clean cars with clean hair and clean clothes (unless we sleep in too late—then, if you’re like me, you just throw a hat over your dirty hair).
Most people don’t want to look and smell filthy on the outside. But inside . . . that’s another story altogether!
How Bad Is It, Really?
Our culture laughs at purity and celebrates filth. We’re not much different. Deep down, we hate purity. We think God is holding out on us when He tells us to be holy like He is holy.
Ironic, isn’t it? In every other area of life (except our hearts), we want to be clean. Why is that?
It’s because we were all born with a filthy heart (check out Genesis 3 for the sad story of how this came to be). And when I say filthy, I mean really filthy. It’s worse than you think. In Genesis 6:5, God sees that every intention of the thoughts of our hearts are only evil continually. Yikes!
So when Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart," how do you get a clean, pure heart?
How to Get a New Heart
You know how it is. One more washing won’t touch the stains on that white shirt; you just need to get a brand-new white shirt.
That’s how it is with our hearts. We need completely new hearts. Thankfully, God is in the business of doing heart transplants . . . and Jesus paid your bill! Check out His promise in Ezekiel 36:26–27:
"I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."
To get this new heart, though, you have to want it. You first have to agree with God that you have a filthy, dirty heart, and then you sign yourself up for the transplant.
How to Keep a New Heart Clean
Getting a new heart is just the beginning.
I bought a pair of turquoise Adidas tennis shoes recently. They came with bright white soles, and I’ve already had to clean them several times. New shoes just don’t stay clean walking through life. New hearts don’t either.
So how can you clean your heart? You need to regularly let the light of God’s Word show you where you’re dirty (John 17:17). Then, when you confess it, God promises to wash it away (1 John 1:9).
How It’s All Possible
But why should you obsess over inner purity when you’ve got school projects and that choir trip and a summer job to think about? The end of Matthew 5:8 tells you why:
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
That’s crazy amazing. Do you remember how in the Old Testament this holy, pure, clean, unapproachable God dwelled in the special section of the tabernacle called the "Holy of Holies"? Only the high priest could slip through the thick curtain into the Holy of Holies. And only once a year. And only if he brought a blood sacrifice with him. If he didn’t, God would kill him. He had to offer a blood sacrifice to cleanse his filthy heart.
Now, though, this holy, pure, clean, unapproachable God can be seen and known by you! How? The thick, heavy curtain separating you from Him has been torn. We’re told in Scripture that when the temple curtain was torn just after Jesus’ death, it represented Jesus’ body being torn for you (Heb. 10:19–22). His blood was then put on the mercy seat so that God might welcome you into His Holy of Holies.
If you can’t "see" God, is it because you’ve never had a heart transplant? Are you ready to ask Him to give you a new heart? If you have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood, are you daily rinsing in the water of His Word?
Pure. Clean. Clear.
It’s possible, through Christ. It’s what you were made for.
I used to think I was merciful simply because I felt others’ pain. If I’d lived long ago, I could easily have been hired to be a professional mourner, wailing through a perfect stranger’s funeral. But it turns out, that’s not mercy after all.
While mercy is often accompanied by tears, it’s much more than feelings and emotions. It’s an act of the will. It involves not only seeing a need and empathizing with it, but doing something about it. In Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ words, mercy is both "inward sympathy and outward acts in relation to the sorrows and sufferings of others."
Mercy was on full display the day the Samaritan man met the needs of a complete stranger (while the religious folk passed by on the opposite side of the street!). If you’re like me, you’re no "Good Samaritan." You could be, mind you, if only thinking of others’ needs was as easy as thinking of your own! But it’s not. So you’re not.
The problem is, Jesus doesn’t seem to think being merciful is optional for the true Christian. After describing a Christian’s character in the first four beatitudes (poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness), Jesus moves to how Christians relate to others in the last four beatitudes. Because what you do flows out of who you are. As Dorothy Patterson puts it, "A passion for God means compassion for others."
So how do you and I get there?
1. Reflect on the mercy you’ve been shown.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones doesn’t mince words when he says, "If I am not merciful there is only one explanation; I have never understood the grace and the mercy of God."
I just read this by Sally Lloyd-Jones (not Martyn’s wife!), and it meant a lot to me:
Did God abandon us? Did he just look down from heaven at the mess we made? No. He didn’t just look down. He came down. God himself came down. Not as a judge to punish us, but as a Rescuer to save us.
If you’re still not "feeling" God’s grace and mercy, slowly read and think about Ephesians 2:1–10:
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (emphasis added).
2. Ask God to open your eyes to the needs around you. Make a list. It didn’t take me more than a few seconds to write down a boatload of needs I’m aware of, including financial needs, relational needs, spiritual needs, and emotional needs. If you’re having troubles coming up with a list of others’ needs, here’s a good place to start:
How can an ordinary woman extend mercy to others? She begins by stepping into the shoes of another woman, feeling her pain, sensing her uncertainties, seeing her world crumble. Then and only then can she begin to live her life and think her thoughts and fight her battles. You don’t put yourself into the life of another in a brief moment but rather by living your life in her shadow and trying over a period of time to walk where she walks and feel what she feels. —Dorothy Patterson
Whose shoes does God want you to walk in for a while?
3. Show mercy to the hurting.
Mercy doesn’t run past prayer, but it also doesn’t stop at prayer. Mercy rolls up its sleeves and gets down to business. And the merciful receive more mercy from God:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matt. 5:7).
Dorothy Patterson explains it this way,
This beatitude carries a double blessing because both the giver and the receiver reap a reward. . . . God’s mercy is so sweet that He always notes and rewards the kindness and mercy we extend to others. You never lose with God. The reward is not only in this life but also in the life to come.
Have you ever shown someone mercy? Tell us about it. If not, are you sure you’ve received God’s mercy? Will you humble yourself and ask Him for it now? He is eager to give it to you.
Visions of cheesy pizza, crunchy Sour Cream ‘n Onion chips, and gooey chocolate brownies dance through your mind. All else fades except that repetitive thought: FOOD. RIGHT. NOW. FOOD. RIGHT. NOW. Rumblings crescendo from the lower regions of your belly and before you know it, you’re just desperate to satisfy that craving. You are officially hungry!
Jesus points to our hunger pangs to reveal the secret to our search for true satisfaction:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6).
Cheesy pizza, gooey brownies . . . yum. But . . . righteousness? That’s one rare food that’s not typically found in my fridge! What is righteousness?
Pastor John Piper describes it this way based on the context of Matthew 5:6:
The first four beatitudes describe the broken, grieving, quiet person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. And the next four beatitudes describe the merciful, pure peacemaker who gets persecuted for his righteousness. Doesn’t this structure, then, give us the definition of righteousness? If we were hungering for righteousness in verse 6 because we were empty, and then we get persecuted for righteousness in verse 10 because we’ve been filled, isn’t it proper to define righteousness as that with which we have been filled—namely, mercy, purity, and peacemaking?
Righteousness is showing mercy to other people; and righteousness is being pure in heart before God who alone can see the heart; and righteousness is the effort to make peace. Now there may be much more to it than that. But that seems to be the focus of these verses and this chapter.
So how do you know when you’re hungry and thirsty—really hungry and thirsty—for righteousness? Well, as we’ve talked about in the last few blog posts on being poor in heart, mourning over sin, and being meek, you can’t hunger and thirst after righteousness until:
1. You’re not impressed—not at all—with your "righteousness." A lady I met this weekend matter-of-factly described herself as "spiritual." From the context of our conversation, my guess is that she meant she attended church, prayed, and was hospitable and friendly.
Never mind that Isaiah 64:6 says, "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" in God’s eyes.
What are you secretly (or not so secretly) most proud of spiritually? What makes you feel better than other people? Are these areas where you’re trusting in your own righteousness?
2. You trust solidly and solely in Jesus’ righteousness on your behalf. You’re not impressed with your own spiritual résumé, so you turn to Jesus to receive the free gift of His righteousness. When you do, He instantly gives it to you:
To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).
At that moment, God justifies you. He sees you just as if you’d never sinned, just as if you’d always obeyed. The barrier of sin and guilt between you and God is bulldozed to nothing. You are given Jesus’ full and complete righteousness!
So does that mean you never hunger after righteousness again? No! God’s Holy Spirit keeps stirring up hunger pangs in you so you desire to keep growing into who you already are.
3. You want to run from everything that is not righteous. This week I watched a coworker jerk away when they realized they were sitting next to someone who was sick. Do you run from or revel in things that aren’t righteous? Do you even avoid things that might spoil your spiritual appetite? As you do, you realize that you need spiritual food. So . . .
4. You soak up time with those who are righteous. I just talked to a woman who doesn’t go to church because "I don’t have to go in order to believe in Jesus." While that’s true, it seems a bit like saying, "I love hockey, but that doesn’t mean I have to go to hockey games." If you’re hungry for righteousness, you want to be with other hungry people. You want to spend time reading your Bible and talking to God. But you don’t stop there.
5. You move out into the world as a representative of God’s righteousness. (More on this in the next four weeks!) For now, I’ll leave you with a quote from Pastor John Piper: "Deep and lasting satisfaction for our souls comes not from the delights of the world nor from a merely religious or vertical relationship with God. Satisfaction comes from God to those whose passion in life is to know him in the struggle to be like him in the world."
So what if you’re just not hungry for righteousness? Find where you are in this list and honestly confess your lack of desperation for God’s righteousness to Him. Then put your faith and trust in Jesus’ righteousness alone. Ask Him to give you starvation for His righteousness.
When you do, you will find not only true happiness ("Blessed are those who . . .") but satisfaction ("for they shall be satisfied"). You’ll be completely full and content like you feel after stuffing your face with pizza, chips, and brownies—without the bloating, of course!
So how about it? Are you officially, desperately hungry for His righteousness?
Before I hit I-94 that morning, I read about how on the cross Jesus didn’t think of Himself in order to free me from myself. I asked Him to help me live free of self that day, and then—in the smallest of tests in the Art Institute of Chicago—I failed.
It happened under Mark Chagall’s America Windows—after a lunch of hummus and tabouli in the Garden Café. With leftovers in hand, I asked a security guard the way to the Picasso and Chicago exhibit.
He ignored my question and fiercely told me I was not allowed to have food in the Art Institute. "Oh, I didn’t know," I said and repeated my question about the location of the Picasso Exhibit.
"I won’t tell you until you throw your food away," he growled.
Muttering to myself, I dumped my food in the nearest trashcan and got the directions I needed.
I knew I shouldn’t mention it to my mom and sisters—after all, I’d asked Jesus to help me live free of self—but I couldn’t resist. The security guard had treated me with less respect than I felt I deserved, and my self wanted to flare up and kick back.
In that moment, I lost sight of the fact that Jesus was willing to be treated in a way Hetotally didn’t deserve . . . in order to take God’s wrath that I did deserve because of my sin . . . so I might receive what Jesus deserved—God’s love, favor, and righteousness.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Isn’t it perfectly natural for someone to resist being treated disrespectfully? Sure, but Jesus didn’t give me His Spirit so I could continue acting "naturally." One of the marks of Jesus’ Spirit is meekness. It’s also the third beatitude:
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5).
What does it mean to be meek? Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it this way:
The man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself.
We think those who exert their power and defend their rights will rule the world. Jesus says just the opposite. Those who are meek (gentle) like He is will rule the world with Him in the end.
It’s what we see the night Jesus was arrested. He knew what was coming, pleaded for a way out, but surrendered to His Father’s will: "nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39). It’s how we see Jesus responding to the insults flying at Him from all sides while He hung on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
But we’re not Jesus. And meekness isn’t just tough . . . it’s impossible! Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains why we fight meekness:
I am aware, when I am honest with myself, of the sin and the evil that are within me, and that drag me down. And I am ready to face both of these things. But how much more difficult it is to allow other people to say things like that about me! I instinctively resent it. We all of us prefer to condemn ourselves than to allow somebody else to condemn us.
Meekness only becomes possible when we have Jesus’ Spirit living inside of us. I will try to remember that the next time I find myself being talked to in a tone I find offensive.
How about you? Do you know this meek Jesus? Are you allowing Him to exhibit His gentleness through your life when you feel wronged, belittled, or underappreciated?