On being “poor in spirit” to inherit the kingdom of Heaven

If one were asked, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” What will the answer be? Each one of us may offer a different response. This may range from, “It means to follow Christ” to “Having acknowledged and received Christ as one’s personal savior.” Yet, how many of us actually considered the question in our own lives? What does it really mean to be a Christian? How are we able to address this question?

There are two faucets of being a Christian. First, it is based on a genuine and sincere confession of one’s own sinfulness that has separated themselves from God. This awareness of our own human depravity brings us to the realization that we stand in need of a redeemer – someone who is able to stand in our place of judgment and take upon themselves the depth of our sinful nature. Upon doing this, we become right before a Sovereign God. Jesus Christ provided this sacrifice for each one of us. Through His atoning sacrifice, we are justified with His righteousness, because of it being imputed into our own lives. The second faucet of being a Christian moves beyond the efficacy of the cross. This means, we take up our cross (see Matthew 16:24-26, ESV) and follow Christ as he leads us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

~Matthew 5:3, ESV ~

Initial step into the Christian lifestyle begins with humility. It is the conscious realization of one’s need and dependence on Christ for redemption and salvation. Paul emphasizes this in his letter to the Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is … to us who are being saved the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV) This message Paul is referring to is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Romans chapter 5, Paul stipulates this when he compares Adam as being the one sin and death were introduced into the world through the fall (as recorded in Genesis 3). Through Christ, as the apostle argues, salvation is granted to all men whereby they can receive a “new life” through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Humility does not end at the point of conversion. It is a constant aspect that marks authentic Christian living whereby an individual continually approaches a Sovereign God, and their fellow man, with a sense of humility. The cost is summed up in what Christ taught his disciples in Matthew 16:24-26: “…whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it.”

What, then, is the best way one loses their life for the sake of Christ? Emmet Fox, writes in his book “The Sermon on the mount”:

To be poor in spirit means to have emptied yourself of all desire to exercise personal self-will, and, what is just as important, to have renounced all preconceived opinions in the wholehearted search for God. It means to be willing to set aside your present habits of thought, your present views and prejudices, your present way of life if necessary; to jettison, in fact, anything and everything that can stand in the way of your finding God.

In his article at Blue Letter Bible, Chuck Smith writes the following commentary:

This first characteristic of the child of God is a foundation that God can build upon. God cannot build upon the foundations of pride, self will, or our own ambitions. God’s process is usually that of emptying before filling (Luke 2:34; Jeremiah 1:10). A man who is truly poor in spirit will not be admired by the world (Luke 16:15). “Poor in spirit” indicates a willingness to surrender to the authority and control of God, so that He might govern our lives. We will not be making demands, because we’re unworthy and undeserving (Genesis 32:10). Poverty of spirit is a consciousness of our own sinfulness and spiritual poverty (Isaiah 6:5; Daniel 10:8; Luke 5:8; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Psalms 8:3-4). The way to happiness is poverty of spirit (Luke 18:10-14; Matthew 7:13).

In a sermon preached in 1873 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and published in 1909, Charles H. Spurgeon shares this insight:

The cause for placing this Beatitude first is found in the fact that it is first as a matter of experience; it is essential to the succeeding characters, underlies each one of them, and is the soil in which alone they can be produced. No man ever mourns before God until he is poor in spirit, neither does he become meek towards others till he has humble views of himself; hungering and thirsting after righteousness are not possible to those who have high views of their own excellence, and mercy to those who offend is a grace too! difficult for those who are unconscious of their own spiritual need. Poverty in spirit is the porch of the temple of blessedness. As a wise man never thinks of building up the walls of his house till he has first digged out the foundation, so no person skillful in divine things will hope to see any of the higher virtues where poverty of spirit is absent. Till we are emptied of self we cannot be filled with God; stripping must be wrought upon us before we can be clothed with the righteousness which is from heaven. Christ is never precious till we are poor in spirit, we must see our own wants before we can perceive his wealth; pride blinds the eyes, and sincere humility must open them, or the beauties of Jesus will be for ever hidden from us. The strait gate is not wide enough to allow that man to enter who is great in his own esteem; it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man conceited of his own spiritual riches to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Hence it is clear that the character described in connection with the first Beatitude is essential to the production of those which follow after; and unless a man possesses it, he may look in vain for favor at the hands of the Lord. The proud are cursed, their pride alone secures them the curse, and shuts them out from divine regard: “The proud he knoweth afar off.” The lowly in heart, are blessed for to them and to their prayers Jehovah ever has a tender regard.

All three lend interesting credibility to the understanding of what it means to be poor in spirit. In fact, poverty essentially means lacking. This means, for one to come to the Cross, they realize there is a deep “lacking” that is only accomplished by the atonement of Christ. To us, the cross is power of our salvation through God (see 1 Corinthians 1:18). It is the power by which we are redeemed and justified. It is the power in which we move toward true spiritual maturation and growth.

As stated, humility is the single most important step in the life of a Christian believer. Most important step because it moves us toward the next seven steps of the Beatitudes that Christ gave to his disciples (see Matthew 5). Humility brings us to the cross and humility carries us beyond the cross.

The second component of this first step is that we become inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul, the Apostle, refers to us as being “Heirs and Joint-Heirs” with Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:17, ESV). From the moment we receive salvation through the Grace of God, we are no longer strangers. We become members of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Going back to the question, what does it mean to be a Christian? the answer is a genuine and sincere response where one responds from their own humble experience. For me, being a Christian means to become humble in realizing one’s definite need of redemption and salvation that is only through Jesus Christ and Him alone. It means emptying oneself of previous perceptions and defined realities in order to surrender one’s will in order to strive in living according to the will of a Sovereign God who is just and merciful.