The first pattern we noticed in the Bible’s statements of blessing (Greek makarios) is that God’s people, as described in any number of ways, are blessed. This is a matter of identity; whether or not you’re blessed depends on who you are. (And of course, that identity is in God, not in ourselves as deserving.)
The rest of the biblical beatitudes have to do with activity—what the person in question does.
Those who do righteousness are blessed: How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times! (Ps 106.3; cf Ps 112.1; 119.1-2; 128.1-2; Is 56.2; Jn 13.17; Rv 22.14). As in the previous section, this idea of good behavior is described in a variety of ways—
- Those who hear and keep God’s Word (Lk 11.28; Jm 1.25; Rv 1.3; 22.7)
- Those who delight in his commandments (Ps 112.1)
- Those who have righteous parents—and presumably follow their upbringing (Pr 20.7)
- Those who consider the poor (Ps 41.1-2; Lk 14.14)
- Those who give (Ac 20.35)
A specific type of commended behavior is perseverance or persistence. It’s not enough to be good just every so often; the key is having a pattern of good behavior.
- Those who persevere in stewardship (Mt 24.46 // Lk 12.37-38, 43; Rv 16.15)
- Those who are not offended in Jesus—that is, they don’t fall away from him (Mt 11.6 // Lk 7.23)
- Those who endure trials / temptation / suffering (Jm 1.12; 1P 3.14; 4.14)
And finally, good behavior of course involves rejecting sin: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! (Ps 1.1; cf Ps 32.2; 40.4; Is 56.2)—and that in turn involves keeping a good conscience (Ro 14.22), stopping when and where your conscience tells you to stop.
Obviously we need to deal with the elephant in the room—do we keep our noses clean so that God will bless us? A few observations—
- Scripture is very clear that we can’t be good enough to please God or to earn salvation (Is 64.6; Ti 3.5).
- Similarly, God can’t be bribed, since he is no respecter of persons (Ro 2.11; Ep 6.9; Co 3.25).
So what’s going on in these verses? I’d suggest that there are two principles being asserted and illustrated here—
- Many of these passages are from wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, and James in particular). A common theme in such literature is that the world is designed so that things turn out better if you don’t do stupid things (as pretty much every teenaged boy, including yours truly back in the day, has demonstrated at one time or another). As John Wayne is reputed to have said, “Life is tough; it’s tougher if you’re stupid.” This isn’t about salvation; it’s about living in such a way that you minimize your risks in the here and now.
- But there’s another principle here as well. Many of these passages are addressed to believers, those who have repented of their sin and placed their faith in Christ. Because such people are enlivened spiritually (Jn 3.5) and empowered by the indwelling Spirit of God (Ga 5.16; Ti 3.5), they are now capable of doing good, and in a persistent way; in fact, “good works” are a certain and unavoidable consequence of the change that God has worked in them (Ep 2.10; Ti 2.7, 3.8). So yes, people who do good works are blessed—not because God is unusually impressed with or bribed by them, but because they are living as they were designed to live, and such harmony with the will and plan of God brings blessing, the state that the Hebrew Scriptures call shalom, “peace,” when things are as they should be.
I said at the beginning of the series that there was a surprise in the biblical data. I don’t think we’ve seen anything surprising yet. That’s coming next time.