Anyone with even a passing interest in American culture would undoubtedly agree that our society is driven in large measure by competition. Although there are always forces in power that want to eliminate competition and merit-based economic achievement, academic success, and so forth, the fact remains that competition has been a net positive for our country. The greater the competition, the harder companies work to produce well-crafted goods and services. The stronger the opponent on the playing field, the greater the achievement when one’s favorite team wins the game.
But competition is evident not only in America, it is present in every society and culture. The setting of goals and striving for quality seem to be inherently human endeavors. We might even say the pursuit of excellence is evidence we are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Being made to reflect what is excellent, we develop a passion for noble ends. In fact, this passion — this hunger — is so vital that we see those who lack passion as not living up to their human potential.
Today’s passage is one of many places where Scripture speaks positively of hungering after something. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is specifically commended (Matt. 5:6). Jesus chooses His words carefully. Hunger and thirst are powerful physical impulses. They drive us to attain that which is necessary for our survival, namely, food and drink. Christ wants us to understand that righteousness is likewise necessary for our ultimate survival. Without the passionate pursuit of righteousness before God, we cannot hope to inherit eternal life. But when we pursue it rightly, Jesus tells us that we will be satisfied.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness result in two things. First, in striving after righteousness, we see how far short of the mark we fall and despair of our ability to be pleasing in God’s sight. As the elect, we then rest in Christ’s perfect righteousness alone for salvation (Gal. 2:15–16; 2 Cor. 5:21). Yet having been justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, we are also given the desire to follow God’s law. With our new love for Jesus, we begin to follow His commandments and seek to put our sin to death (John 14:15; Rom. 8:13).
Jesus’ life illustrates the kind of passion for righteousness that all the people of God are to emulate. He said that His food was “to do the will of [God]” (John 4:34). For Christ, His very survival depended on obeying His Father. The same is true for us. Our eternal survival is dependent on obeying Jesus’ command to repent and believe the gospel. And we live out this command by repenting and believing the gospel all the days of our lives.