What Does Poor In Spirit Mean?

There is no entry into the Kingdom of God without this trait. No one is in the Kingdom unless they are poor in spirit. It is the foundation of all the other characteristics to follow and they are a result of this poverty of spirit. This is how we are when we compare ourselves to God. We are poor when we realize we can do nothing to make ourselves acceptable in God’s presence. We must totally rely on Him regardless of our natural gifts, temperments, or the way others view us. Even all our attempts at doing good are as nothing. Nothing within us merits acceptance by the King, the Creator of the universe. We can bring nothing to the cross that will earn us forgiveness and mercy. There is nothing we can do to cancel out the debt we owe for all our shortcomings. Seeing this makes one poor in spirit.

We can understand true poverty of spirit by contrasting it with what the world admires: Self-reliance, self-confidence, self-expression, believing in yourself. It is a tragic confidence because it leads to the belief that education or social programs will transform society. Gun control will end violence; universal education will clean up our inner cities; jobs will make everyone content and happy. Blessed are the educated, the rich, the safe. Instead, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom.” They are happy because they are in God’s kingdom whether rich or poor or educated or not.

“…on this one will I look:
On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,
And who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).
This is a biblical definition of poor in spirit. It is not a forsaking of all worldly wealth and drawing away to a voluntary poverty in order to merit God’s eye. It is not a denial of one’s own abilities or personality. It is a trembling and sorrowful heart when in the presence of a holy God, knowing that you can do nothing to merit His approval. Calvin defined it as being brought to a sense of one’s sins and seeing nothing in oneself, but flying to mercy. Poor in Spirit is not humility or self-denial or even a respect for authority (often misused this way with children). It is not a suppression of your personality or position. It is a feeling of being undone; a realization that one is nothing in comparison with God. (See Sermon On the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones and The Beatitudes by Thomas Watson.)

Children can experience this long before they can verbalize or abstractly understand it. Anyone learns it by looking at God. Keep them in the scriptures. Encourage them to think about how Jesus lived and what He said (John 6:54-55). Point out to them those passages that teach the character of God: Exodus 3:14. Ask pointed questions about the Bible story, such as, “Do you think Pharaoh was poor in spirit? What about when his oldest son died? He felt badly, didn’t he? Isn’t that being poor in spirit?”

“…you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).

About Carol Brandt

I earned a B.A. in History from Florida State University and M.Ed in.Higher Education from Florida Atlantic University. I taught high school social studies before “retiring” to full-time homemaking and raising two daughters. Now I love being a grandmother to four boys and a girl. I have also raised five collies.

My husband, John, was an optometrist, who worked tirelessly for his profession through private practice and as a consultant, and served on the Board of Trustees of Illinois College of Optometry for twenty years.

Ernest Reisinger was my chief mentor in this warm-hearted application of Calvinism. He gave me many books! The Founders Journal and Founders Conferences, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Charles Spurgeon have been other sources of Reformed thinking as well as the other warm-hearted ones listed in my book, “Warm-hearted Calvinists.”

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