Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3 ESV)
If you were asked to describe the first characteristic of belonging in God’s kingdom, what characteristic would you think about? Perhaps we would think of holiness or sinlessness. Perhaps we would think of the need for perfect righteousness or obedience. Jesus begins by declaring that it is the poor in spirit who belong to the kingdom of heaven. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Consider a parable of Jesus.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14 ESV)
Why was the sinner justified? He is justified because he is poor in spirit. He will not lift his eyes to heaven and all he can say is, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He understands his spiritual destitution. He is stripped of all self-security, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness. This is the attitude that is required to belong to the kingdom of heaven. Depending on self is at odds with this kingdom. God wants people who know they are spiritual needy. God wants people to see that their personal goodness is not enough to measure up to God’s standards. This is the first step in order to become a true believer and follower of Jesus. You have to know that you are deep in sin and cannot do anything to save yourself but beg for the mercy of God.
Only the poor in spirit want to live in God’s kingdom because they know that they have nothing and are nothing apart from Jesus. Without poverty of spirit, we can endure only one ruler: ME! We will fight to the death to preserve our sovereign rule over our kingdom of one. We will continue to believe that what we want matters. We will continue to do what we think is best and live how we want to live and not allow Jesus to rule over us. Being poor in spirit is the only way we will allow Jesus to rule over our lives.
The beautiful song in our songbooks, “Rock of Ages” utters these very words. Listen to the second and third verses:
“Not the labor of my hands, Can fulfill the law’s demands; Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone.”
“Nothing in my hand I bring: Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Vile, I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Savior, or I die.”
We must grasp our deadness and blindness due to sin to see the life that is available in Christ (John 9:39-41). We must stand without pretense before God, stripped of all self-sufficiency, self-security, and self-righteousness begging for the mercy of God. God uses times of uncertainty and difficulty to strip us of these things so we will have a greater awareness of how much we need Jesus. God be merciful to me, the sinner!