Going Broke: How to Become Spiritually Poor
By Pastor Don Strand.
Blessed are the poor is spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven is how Jesus began the most famous of all sermons, the Sermon on the Mount. Last week, we learned that ‘poor in spirit’ is not an economic condition. Instead, it is a recognition of our unworthiness before a holy God, especially in light of the grace displayed in the gospel. When we consider the complete “otherness” of God in light of His holiness, power, complete independence and infinite and eternal nature; and when we recognize our finite, dependent and limited nature, then we become poor in spirit. And for this, Jesus says those who have this poverty are blessed because God favors them. How then, do we ‘go broke’, so to speak? How can we consciously move from the natural pride we have to the humanly unnatural condition of spiritual poverty? Author Terry Johnson suggests three ways.
First, spiritual poverty comes by understanding the greatness of God. Above I mentioned the ‘otherness’ of God. Many people imagine God as just a bigger and holier form of us. He’s called ‘the man upstairs’ pointed to by the athlete who scores a goal, portrayed and a grandfatherly old man with a long beard, but these things could not be farther from the truth.
God is not a man (Numbers 23:19) nor is He impressed by what man does or can do (Psalm 147:10). Yet, in spite of His complete otherness and His total independence (God needs nothing and no one), God has chosen to reveal Himself to the creatures He has made in His image. Scholars put the attributes God has revealed about Himself into two categories called “communicable” and “incommunicable” attributes. His communicable attributes are those He shares with us like mercy, justice, love, and grace. What we don’t have that God does, and what makes Him “other” from us are His attributes of eternality, infiniteness, omnipotence (all power), omniscience (all knowledge), and complete holiness.
When we begin to see the magnificence of the vastness of God’s eternal and infinite presence and compare it to the drop of our finite existence we begin to come to spiritual poverty. When we understand our dependence on God; that all we have or are He has given to us, and there is nothing that we have truly earned or acquired, and that, as Job discovered, He can take it all away if and when He chooses, then we become truly poor in spirit. As Job exclaimed; “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”” (Job 1:21b, ESV).
Second, spiritual poverty comes when we understand the holiness of God. There are several examples in Scripture of how men responded when confronted with the presence and holiness of God. Moses, Joshua, Daniel, Isaiah and the Apostle John all fell on their face “as if dead” Isaiah’s experience is especially illustrative for us. In Isaiah 6 we read this: “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:4–5, ESV). Isaiah was of royal blood and Israel recognized itself as being in the “apple of God’s eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10). Despite his standing as an Israelite, despite his lineage of royalty, in the presence of God, Isaiah suddenly understood the depth of his depravity and sin. Not only that, he recognized the depravity of those who claimed to be God’s people. Like Isaiah, when I come to recognize the depravity of my own heart and contrast it with the holiness of God, all spiritual pride, self-righteousness and ‘good deeds’ are dashed against the mountain of God’s holiness and perfect righteousness. Upon seeing that, I join a long line of believers, poor in spirit, who cry out “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Third, spiritual poverty comes when we grasp the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The Bible is clear, no one seeks God, all have turned away, all have sinned. (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Romans 3:11-12). Although God ‘owes’ salvation to no one, by an act of incredible grace, God the Father sent the Son to redeem sinners hopelessly lost, and incapable of redeeming themselves, completely unaware of either God or their sin. The Father sends the Spirit to move in dead hearts and bring them to life and by doing so, they believe, and the Father credits them with the righteousness the Son earned for them. Every person of the Godhead is involved in an act to which each agreed upon fully in eternity past as an example of the infinite, marvelous grace of our Lord. When we dwell on this amazing truth, we come to the end of our self-righteousness, our ‘good deeds’ and any thoughts we may have of our worthiness for such an act of grace. Then we become poor in spirit.
The greatness, the holiness and the grace of God. It is essential to understand and acknowledge these attributes in their totality to achieve the poverty of spirit necessary to receive the blessed favor of God. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.