“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
— Matthew 5:3
Ask any Christian what the most important verse in the Bible is, and more often than not they’ll answer, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That verse beautifully summarizes the fact that we can never EARN our salvation. Salvation is a gift from God. And the key to receiving that gift is faith. We must believe—truly believe—in Jesus.
But somewhere along the way, many Christians have bought into the crazy idea that Christianity is ONLY about holding the right beliefs. As long as I believe right, I will be right with God. As long as I believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, as long as I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, I can call myself a “good Christian.”
But there’s just one problem with this notion: It’s not true. Jesus never taught us that Christianity is only a matter of BELIEVING right. Christianity is also a matter of DOING right. We are not just believers in Jesus Christ. We are believers and followers of Jesus Christ. And nowhere is that made more clear than in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
The first type of teaching Jesus uses in this great sermon are known as the Beatitudes, which we find in Matthew 5:3-12. The word “beatitude” is taken from the Latin word “beatitudo”, which means “blessed are.” Many pastors and Bible teachers translate this word simply as “happy.” But “happy” is far too narrow a translation. “Blessed” means so much more than happy. Years ago, one of my Bible college professors, Knofel Staton, did an in-depth study of this word “blessed,” and he learned that it means two things beyond “happy”:
1: Congratulations. In his Beatitudes, Jesus isn’t just saying that those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn and those who are merciful will be happy. He is also saying “Congratulations are in order for my followers who are poor in spirit and those who mourn.”
2: Buoyed up. Jesus is also saying, “In this sinful world we live in—no matter what hardships or insults come your way—the world will never be able to sink your faith or drown your relationship with Christ. God will see to it that you will always bounce back to surface. You are buoyed up in Christ. Neither this world nor the armies of hell can sink a faithful follower of Christ.”
Let’s focus on the first Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3). Someone once asked the evangelist Billy Graham: Why doesn’t Jesus tell us to be rich in spirit instead of telling us to be poor in spirit? Reverend Graham answered: “If you put the word ‘humble’ in place of the word ‘poor,’ you will understand what [Jesus] meant. We must be humble in our spirits. In other words, when we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God. If we are, God cannot bless us. The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).” So, “poor in spirit” means humble in spirit and empty in spirit.
If I am serious about being in Christ’s heavenly kingdom, I must begin by confessing that by myself, I can’t ever get there. By myself I will never get to heaven. By myself I can never be right with God. By myself I can never ever be saved. If you don’t fall in line with this truth, you CAN’T be blessed by God. So, if you can’t live out this first beatitude, there’s no point moving on to the other seven.
Some of us come to Christ with notions of our own righteousness. This first beatitude knocks us off our high horse. Some of us come to Christ thinking we’ll impress Him with our religious heritage: “I grew up in a good Catholic home.” “I was baptized as a baby and confirmed as a teenager.” “My wife and I were married in the church.” But this beatitude makes it clear, not only that our religious upbringing doesn’t impress God, but that it actually turns Him off when we hold it up like some sort of trophy. If you puff out your chest and brag to God about making it onto the religious honor roll, Jesus Christ will flunk you out of class. Religious pride is repulsive to Him. But He is drawn to spiritual poverty.
At the heart of this first beatitude is a humble recognition of my weakness and God’s strength, an understanding that I offer God nothing yet God offers me everything. Spiritual poverty is attractive to Jesus because it’s honest, it’s real, and—most importantly—it gives Him plenty of room to come in and fill us with more of God. The biggest problem with being a religious snob is that we’re so full of ourselves, there’s no room left for Christ. But when we are spiritually humble, spiritually empty, there is plenty of room for Jesus to come in and fill us with Himself. So, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Follow me humbly, or you won’t follow me at all.”
Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His latest book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.).