Who Are the Poor in Spirit?

by Mike Ratliff

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 ESV)

One the most disturbing aspects of the churches who practice Christianity “lite” is the near total abandonment of a call to personal holiness. Even more discouraging is the fact that they preach a version of the gospel that has had any mention of repentance severed from it. The reasoning behind this, of course, is that they are building bridges to the unchurched. If they preach the whole gospel they will drive away those they are attempting to draw to join their churches. The problem with that sort of reasoning is that it is based in pragmatism. It is based on fleshly reasoning and the ways of the world. It is actually unbelief in the form of ministry. The architects of Christianity “lite” do not believe that God is still building His Church, therefore, they will do it themselves using marketing techniques constructed around “cultural-relevancy.” They reason that if they build “cool churches” that it will draw people who hate “traditional church.” They may not go to the old Baptist Church on main street, but they might go to a gathering that is more of an entertainment venue than a church.

They claim that they are bringing thousands into the Kingdom by doing church this way. However, we must remember that the gospel they preach goes something like this: “God’s got a great plan for your life. Jesus wants you to be happy and fulfilled. So, why not let Jesus come into our life so He can redecorate it in such a way that you will find true happiness.” Of course, this is just one example, but the gist of this sort of gospel call is all man-based. It presents God as the servant and man as the determiner. There is no mention of sin and the fact that all sinners are condemned in their sin because our Holy God cannot even look upon it. Since this is never mentioned then the call to repent and believe on Jesus is never mentioned either. Instead, it is a call to ask Jesus into their life. Of course, since these folks are not regenerate, they continue in their sins. They may feel guilt about not living like a Christian consistently, but they are not Poor in Spirit. They are not broken and grieving over their sin. Their Christian leaders tell them that their faith has saved them and there is really no need to worry about obedience and repentance. They counsel them to try to live holy lives, but they have no way to help them do so because they don’t believe that Christians are actually changed at the new birth.

What does the Bible say about this? Look at the passage I placed at the top of this post. Read it carefully. What does it tell us? Who has the Kingdom of Heaven? Is Jesus telling us that the Kingdom of Heaven will contain the poor in spirit plus everyone who professed Him as Saviour? No, this is telling us that those who are genuine Christians are those who are not self-sufficient. They humbly recognize their own spiritual bankruptcy apart from God. Their lostness and hopelessness apart from the grace of God causes them to be broken and grieving. They are not grieving because they might go to Hell, but are broken because their sin and rebellion has offended our Holy, Just, and Righteous God.

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Who is Jesus calling to Himself in this passage? They are those who labor and are heavy laden. The Greek word translated “labor” simply means to work hard, however the word translated here as “heavy laden” is very different. It describes one who is “overburdened with ceremony.” This is describing those who have realized that they cannot do anything to please God with their religiosity or good works. However, as Jesus calls them they realize their spiritual bankruptcy and see the great chasm between them and God. They realize they can do nothing to bridge that gap, but Jesus is calling and telling them that if they come to Him that He will give them rest. What is involved with “coming to Jesus?” We find that in v29. They must first take up Christ’s yoke. What is this? This is His Lordship. We must get this down and never forget it. All calls to repent are calls to submit to His Lordship. All calls to submit to His Lordship are calls to repent. Both are calls to humble oneself before Him in submission and surrender. What happens when these Poor in Spirit folks take up His yoke? Christ teaches them and they will find rest for their souls. This is a permanent rest from having to work for salvation in the grace of God.

Now, how do people become Poor in Spirit? Is it their natural tendency or is it caused by something God does. As we saw in the passage above, Jesus calls and they realize their spiritual bankruptcy, they became Poor in Spirit. But what caused it and when did it happen?

27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27 ESV)

Who is Sovereign in salvation? Is it man or is it God? This is a pretty emphatic statement by our Lord. What we must never forget is divine election as we see in v27 is not incompatible with the free offer to all we see in vv28-30. How could this be true? All unregenerate humans stubbornly cling to their sinful rebellion. In fact all are spiritually dead outside of God’s grace. Unless God “quickens” people unto the New Birth they will never see their spiritual bankruptcy. However, once He does that, once the incredible gulf between God’s Holiness and Righteousness and their utter spiritual bankruptcy is revealed to them, they respond in brokenness. They are now Poor in Spirit. They see their utter lostness for the first time. We see this clearly in Ephesians 2:1-10.

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)


Jesus is calling them to come to Him for rest. They then respond by repenting and believing according to the gift of faith given to them by God. (Ephesians 2:8) Now they have rest for their souls because they are now saved by grace through faith. They are the Poor in Spirit and theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “Who Are the Poor in Spirit?

  1. Actually, Mike, I think it is the arrogance of the Christian ‘lite’ folks that keeps them from it because they move with the idea that they know ‘better’ than the Father, the idea pointed out in the Wheat and Tares posting. They don’t testify the Full Gospel, not because it would scare off the unchurched, but rather it will Convect THEM of their error and would be uncomfortable for them. Also, since they don’t accept (believe?) the Full Gospel, they can’t SELL IT!


  2. The beginning of this post is what caused me to repost it. We’ve lived through this and the results are very sad. I fear many in these churches will hear, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” and we could not be a part of that so had to leave. The church is there for those who are saved, not to bring in hoards of people wanting a self-help session. WE are then to go in to the world and preach the gospel of salvation. —The doctrine of free will is taught in scripture as well as election, and I am OK with the fact that this causes a tension that cannot be defined in black and white. God is in control.


  3. Reblogged this on A Common Life and commented:
    My other comments on this post can be read on Mike’s site. Excellent post. These ‘lite’ churches are preaching a different gospel, one that is falsely giving people the view they are secure in Christ. Jesus isn’t a self-help clinic worker, He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and we must know how lost we are in our sin before we can come to Him in saving faith. Great post by Mike Ratliff.


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