Monthly Archives: January 2013

Idolatry and Total Depravity

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. [Exodus 20:3-6 ESV; Deuteronomy 5:7-10]

Jesus began His ministry, like John, calling for repentance. Unlike John, Jesus did not dwell on the call for repentance but spoke to those who are repentant in a way only they could understand. For those who reject Him He says God will reject them. This is difficult for those who view God as all loving. God rejects those who replace Him with the lie of an idol, worshipping the lie and rejecting truth. We all, because we worship idols in some way, are idolaters. Even those who do not physically or emotionally worship a physical idol are still idolaters. Any who have, through trying to control God, changed their understanding of Him from what He has revealed, the truth, to what they think of him or feel about him, have changed him into something He is not. They have created an idol.

We do not understand the word “idol” because it is archaic and generally not accepted in our culture. In ancient literature it referred to a physical image or representation of a deity other than God. These deities are non-existent, so those worshipping idols worshipped something which did to exist, which is foolishness and insanity.

God says we are to have no other “gods” before, or in front of, Him. “Gods” (small “g”) could mean anything from an absolute ruler to an angel or one of the non-existent “idols.” A “god” is a deity rivaling the Only God. Any suggestion another god exists is a declaration of allegiance to something other than the One who created all things. “Worship” means to bow down to, or prostrate oneself before, that which is perceived as superior or worthy of adulation. One does not have to worship a physical representation of an idol to worship. Idolatry is worship of anything before which one prostrates oneself in adoration and obeisance.

Worship suggests the thing worshipped can provide something not otherwise had through natural, or controlled, means. Such an idol, whether a physical thing, a superstition or a mental irrational belief, could embody a false sense of safety and security from enemies to the enjoyment of natural pleasures. Whatever the outcome, the object of worship is perceived as able to provide what is needed, even temporarily. Idolatry happens when the false object is seen as able to provide the perceived need when God either cannot or will not. Idolatry is the figment of one’s imagination having a greater place than the God of reality.

Here is a phrase which no one likes and most misunderstand. It is the phrase “total depravity.” This phrase describe better than any other the complete inability of those bent by sin to change by their own will and effort, and become pleasing and acceptable to God. Because we carry the image of God we know the difference between right and wrong and may want to choose what is right. People do good things. Some may even choose to seek God. But we do these things in our own power and strength, through our own motivations, for ourselves. We know how to please others and know how to hurt them. Though knowing what is right and good we choose to do what is not right in some ways and what is not right in other ways. We know what God is like to a small, yet certain, degree choosing to remake Him and redefine Him to fit our personal ideal of god.

“Total depravity” in its essence, is selfishness, self-centeredness and self-absorption, placing God on the peripheral of life,or ignoring Him completely. It places self above God. Sin is, in its essence, selfishness, the desire to control and coveting what uniquely belongs only to God. Although there are many phrases which may describe sin and its corruption of humanity “total depravity” captures the absolute extent of people’s rebellion against God. What are some of the observable characteristics of totally depravity?

First and foremost there is no love for God. God showed His supreme love for humanity by sending His Son as a sacrifice of atonement for sin. He did this because we could not. Yet, no one is able and all are unwilling to show any love toward Him. He is rejected because in our selfishness and self-centeredness we prefer self to Him, pleasing self above and before Him.

Secondly, when confronted by God through His Spirit and called by Him, commanded by Him, to receive His Son, we show displeasure with Him. As long as He stays within the restrictions and boundaries of our imposed perception, as long as we think we can control Him we may tolerate Him, and even show slight devotion to Him. Here is religion at its most worldly and basic level: to proclaim an illusion of god without embracing the real God.

Thirdly, since everything we do, think and feel, since our attitudes and motivations, are essentially selfish and self-centered, even self-righteous, we do nothing which pleases Him or meets His eternal standard.

Finally, we are constantly moving away from God into self unable and unwilling to draw near to Him.

Make this personal. Writing and thinking in the abstract gives an impression of being absolved from any guilt coming from rebellion to God. Thinking abstractly, in the “we”, and not the concrete “I”, allows us to control how we think and what we feel by losing ourselves in the larger community. Change your thinking from “we” to “I” and begin taking responsibility.

Those who are poor in spirit recognize their thinking and attachments are not upon God but on self. They understand a righteous God judges according to a righteous standard and all those in rebellion are facing His righteous judgment. They recognize the lie of self-righteousness and take responsibility for the thinking of their hearts toward God. They also learn quickly they can do nothing and must rely totally upon God’s grace and none of their works for all of their actions are done in rebellion.

Image and Truth

What is the Image of God?

 Before we can begin to understand the truth of sin we must know what God originally intended for Man. We cannot know how history would have been had Adam not fallen. No one knows and God is not going to tell. He does give us a good description of Adam and Eve before sin corrupted their nature. We have a brief description of creation and a revealed description of God. God created Adam and Eve, the first humans, in His image.

 God never gives theology in a clean, complete, systematic way. He does make absolute statements then shows through His actions, His work and the words He uses from the mouths of His prophets support for specific theological teaching. Theology is the study of the person of God and His stamp of ownership on what He has created. I call the study of theology friendship with God, for it is the intimacy of friendship which drives the desires to know Him in more than a cursory, shallow way. God reveals Himself, and having created Man in His image, gave Man, all people, the tools needed to have a friendship and intimate relationship with Him. His image is not Him. Man is not God but like God in ways which allow for closeness and intimacy. We grow to know God as we grow to know ourselves. Not our corrupted selves but self as God originally intended and self recreated and given the likeness of Christ for those who truly follow His Son.

What then is the image of God?

Though Adam was created a physical being God is not physical. He is Spiritual and He created Man a physical being with a spiritual nature. Like Adam our spiritual nature is the means through which we have a relationship with God, our Creator.  As such, God’s Spirit is indefinable and certainly unexplainable, knowable only to Himself. But, it is true. When God created Adam He took stuff He previously created and made a man. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” [Genesis 2:7 ESV] “Breath” suggests either soul or spirit. After Jesus’ resurrection He gave the Holy Spirit to His disciples when He breathed on them. “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” [John 20:22 ESV] When God breaths on something He gives it life. Not physical life but spiritual life guaranteeing existence for eternity. Though we face physical death we will exist for eternity.

Before the fall God “walked” in the garden and spoke to Man. They also walked in the garden and spoke to the only Creator. Each had an intimate and free relationship with the other and with God. We know this because God states Adam and Eve hid from Him when they heard Him walking in the Garden. “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” [Genesis 3:8 ESV] This was not the first time God walked in the garden. He creates for His enjoyment. So, the garden and all in it was created and enjoyed by Him. This includes Adam and Eve. He enjoyed them and they enjoyed Him. Yet, when they rebelled against Him they ceased enjoying Him and became afraid and “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.” They knew God. Why would they think they could hide themselves from Him? God walking with them, and their hiding from Him, is pertinent evidence for their intimacy with Him and the breaking of intimacy with Him because of their rebellion. Walking with God is having intimacy with Him.

God created man with the ability to think, feel and act. These are three more elements of the Image of God. These elements are not the only characteristics of God’s image in people but they are the, in my opinion, most predominate elements. Since God created people perfect, whole and complete, He meant for everyone to think, feel and act as He thinks, feels and acts. However, even Angels have a relationship with God and think, feel and act. So what is it about Man that is unique, which sets Man apart from Angels? There is one characteristic Man has, which God has shared with Man, which Angels do not have. 

God gave Man “dominion” which means to “rule” and “subjugate” or to “cause to dominate” as in, God giving Man the rights of domination over physical creation. Man controlled the planet. God created the planet and gave it to Man to care for.

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. [Genesis 1:26-28 ESV]

When Man rebelled against God, he was separated from his Creator and no longer had an intimate relationship with Him.  God warned Man to not rebel and explicitly stated the consequences of doing so.  When Man sinned he caused all men to sin.  This does not mean all lost the image of God.  That image was corrupted, no longer working perfectly or completely the way God originally intended.  We will discuss what God originally intended in a future post.

Dominion, while not lost, was compromised. Instead of living in a garden, in peace and tranquility, caring for the world, Man was shoved into a harsh, unforgiving, uncontrollable environment. Instead of Man ruling over the beasts, the birds and the creatures of the deep, these became afraid of Man and in some instances Man became afraid of them. Work changed from pleasurable to a curse, from easy and natural to hard and tedious. What Man retained was the desire to control while losing all control.  Man continues to try to exercise dominion, control, over everything, including God. 

Man’s desire to control, also known as covetousness, is a characteristic of the essence of Man’s rebellion.

There is one more element of the image of God given people. It is a characteristic describing Christ’s deepest essence. Jesus is characterized as have the morphe of God and the morphe of a Servant yet being in the shape or physical of a man. Adam was not created to rebel against God but to server Him by caring for and having dominion over the garden and the earth.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form (morphe) of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form (morphe) of a servant (doulos), being born in the likeness (homoioma) of men. And being found in human form (schema), he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5-8 ESV]

Paul uses a word from Greek philosophy to describe who Jesus is in His deepest, unchangeable nature. “Form” means that which make something what it is. This may be hard to grasp but everything created by God has an essential characteristic which defines its nature. This characteristic may be indefinable but is none the less true and real. In biology we could say the DNA we carry no only defines us as human but also makes us unique from every other human. Though Paul did not know what DNA was he did understand each person is unique but still a person made in the image of God. Yet, Jesus was not created. He is the Creator. He has the “DNA” of God. He also has the “DNA” or “form” of a servant. Adam was given, not the “DNA” of God but the “DNA” of a servant as part of the image of God.

Paul uses two more words, “likeness” and “fashion” to describe Jesus. His “likeness” means to resemble while “fashion” tells us the mode or circumstance of His life was exactly that of every other human. He is a man having moved through all the physical stages required of people from conception and birth, through growth to death. He didn’t just look like a man. He is a man. However, Jesus did not carry as part of His being the sinful nature of corrupted man. He was fully God and fully a servant resembling a man with all of the physical characteristics which define a human from beginning to end. Jesus is human the way God originally intended for Adam and Eve and for all humanity.

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. [1 John 5:10 ESV]

Each citizen of the kingdom of heaven lives on the firmly built foundation of the Person of Jesus Christ. Not only created by God in His image but recreated by God in the likeness of Christ, the citizen lives the truth of eternity. All of the evidence for truth is found in the physical universe and the revealed Word of God, in the truth of the life of Jesus Christ and the direction of the indwelling Spirit. Perhaps the most critical aspect of being poor in spirit is the devotion to truth and the hatred of any lie. You will see the evidence of a person’s life by how they handle the evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anyone who says or acts like they do not need God are as far away from being poor in spirit as possible. They are self-righteous in spirit and are not being honest with themselves or the world.

One of the characteristics of someone who is poor in spirit is the brutal, intellectual honesty they have toward themselves and those around. This honesty begins with the intellectual knowledge of the reality of sin and the discovery of God’s place in creation. Ultimately, God will not allow any to ignore Him. He will allow those rebelling against Him to continue in their rebellion. He will confront them with their need of Him throughout their life. But, when a person begins to lie to themselves and refuses to recognize the lie, their minds become set and impenetrable. God can do anything but will not do everything. He will not reach into a person’s mind and change it for them. Man, made in the image of God and, even with a corrupted image, has the ability to think reasonably through his experiences and know the God who is tugging at him.

Poverty of spirit is a combination of recognizing sin, recognizing God, and recognizing the truth of rebellion against God.  All are intellectual activities.

Look for a moment at how the corrupted intelligence works. Everything touched by sin will turn the truth around, on its head, backward, reversed, in-side-out. Those who do not want to say there is a God, or sin, will not believe in God even if someone is raised from the dead. Others, who want to believe, change the truth to fit their own imaginations bringing peace with God where there is no peace. There peace is a manufactured security easily shaken, stolen and destroyed. Their trust is in what they built and not the Object who created everything. “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” [Jeremiah 6:13 ESV; see also 8:11] Jeremiah spoke to an obstinate people who were being told they were not sinning, the invaders were not coming as a judgment from God because of their idolatry, that they need not worry or show concern for their place, things and future.

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord GOD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord GOD. Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace.'” [Ezekiel 13:8-10 ESV]

Still others want to believe but are tugged and pulled away, finding reasoned excuses to change their thinking, because there thinking is more immediately attractive than the alternative. All want to control through imagination, all want to believe the lie because it is easier to control than the truth.  Even the lie has a kernel of truth, just as mythology has a kernel of true history. You will begin to understand Jesus’ parable of the soils in Matthew 13 when you see how those around you, even yourself, falsely think of the truth.  If someone thinks they know the truth, but do not, then it is impossible to show them the truth without first the destruction of their imagined reality.

Jesus’ main point at this stage is to not dwell upon the consequences of sin but its reality. It is not to beat one’s self up over sin but to just admit it exists. Addicts (and I have a problem with this word “addict”) cannot be “cured” until they first honestly recognizes the problem triggering their addiction. This problem is not that something controls them but that they control it to the point of being unwilling to give up the substance. They want to use the substance and have lied to themselves about the substance controlling them. Few are forced to abuse substances or habits. They decide to smoke, drink, abuse drugs and people and things until the habit is so ingrained they have to want to stop more than they wanted to start.

We are bent by sin and judged for sins. When Adam fell, rebelling against God, he corrupted the nature given by God for all who would follow. We have a sin nature, a bent away from God toward self. Yet, we also sin and are held responsible for sin by God. Both the sin nature and the actual sins of the thinking of our hearts make intimacy with God impossible. He acts to reconnect intimately with everyone through the sacrifice of His Son. Those who are poor in spirit recognize the sin nature in themselves and the fact they sin and are responsible for the thinking of their hearts which inspire their sin. Recognizing sin and the absolute inability to change is the first step to being recreated by God and fit for eternity. We must believe God is true and speaks the truth always and in all circumstances and experiences.

Poor in Spirit Briefly Described

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:3 ESV]

We are not just physical beings. We are also spiritual beings. God is spiritual and we were created by Him, in His image, for relationship. “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” [Genesis 1:26 ESV] Both words, “image” and “likeness“, mean resemblance though the former suggests the outline while the latter refers to quality. God does not need Man for companionship. He wants Man for relationship. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” [Genesis 1:27]

He did not create Man to live for only a short period and then cease to exist. In the middle of the Garden of Eden He placed the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil [see Genesis 2:29, 16-17, 3:22]. All of the trees He created were beautiful and good for food [See genesis 2:9]. Though He forbade the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil then separated Man from the Garden so they would not eat from the Tree of Life after they rebelled the fact He placed the trees in the Garden suggests He wanted man to eat from both at some time. His time not their time.

Though we have a beginning of life we will continue to exist for eternity. However, because of the rebellion and the corruption of sin we are faced with a dilemma. Do we exist in His presence or outside of His presence? Christ’s sacrifice extends to us the grace to exist in His presence. Those who do not receive His grace are separated from Him. It is this first “beatitude” which builds on the foundation of Christ’s sacrifice and gives the direction of our eternal existence.

Even though we do not see the spiritual world, or realm, it is just as real as the physical world about us. It is the eternal environment of God and other spiritual beings, all created by God.  Heaven is not a safe place for those corrupted by sin. Because God is sinless and demands sinless perfection He expels those corrupted by sin from His presence. Paul calls those who inhabit the spiritual realm “angels” and “rulers” and “powers.” “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 ESV] Many of these spiritual beings have rebelled against God, actively seeking to undermine His authority. Many more have not rebelled against Him, actively supporting His purposes. Theologically, none of these beings were created in the image of God. Just because a being is spiritual does not mean it shares the image of God. They may have many of the characteristics of the image of God because He created them, stamping them with His eternal signature. They do not have the ability for intimacy with God given Man because of how we were created.

Yet, Man was created in the image of God. Part of this image, not shared with the rest of physical creation, is likeness of spirit.  Man, everyone who has ever lived, has a spirit which reflects God’s, with which we were originally intended to have a complete, intimate relationship with our Creator. This was the original intention. Any relationship we could have had with God was severed and the image of God in us was corrupted but not dissolved with the introduction of sin. Sin began in the spiritual realm and reached out corrupting all it touched in the physical. Adam, in his will, another element of the image of God in man, could have fought against the temptation to sin, but did not.

Read the first three chapters of Genesis and you will see God giving His ultimate creation the tools needed to have an intimate relationship with the eternal, spiritual God. You will also see Adam listening to a talking snake. Perhaps other animals spoke, also. It is not that a snake spoke but the words uttered which should have alerted Adam to the evil he faced.

What, then, does it mean to be “poor in spirit?”  “Spirit” may have many different meanings including the rational self and the ability to think, feel and decide (all elements of the image of God). “Spirit” may also mean that which eternally lives or dies, beings who inhabit the spiritual realm whether good or evil, or the essence of man when separated from the physical. Some equate the soul with the spirit of man. Others will say the “spirit” referred to speaks only to the motivation or intent of the person and has nothing to do with the continuing existence of the person after physical death. Jesus uses the word “spirit” to define the person in their entirety, past, present and future, rational, emotional, willful, physical and eternal.

Where I work I am surrounded by physically, mentally, emotionally and financially poor people. They are the financially unfortunate, the lazy and the mentally unstable. Many live on the street, curled around cement pillars, huddled into doorways and camped along the river. Others find temporary respite in overflowing homeless shelters. Some want to live on the street deluded into thinking and feeling comfortable in low existence, while others are completely unaware, lost in their delusions. By the end of the month many have sold or used up their medications, making them dangerous to themselves and all around. These people beg for hand-outs while receiving government hand-outs, existing without producing. They are the poor of the poor. Not everyone I encounter fits this description. Many do.

When Jesus says “poor in Spirit” what does he mean by “poor?” He uses a word which means utterly “helpless”, completely “destitute” of everything even remotely acknowledged as valuable, unable or “powerless to accomplish” anything. Someone who is “poor” in this sense is someone completely dependent upon another for anything and everything necessary to sustain life. Everything. Food and cloths, shelter and bedding, medicines. They have nothing they can call their own. They have no purpose, no direction, no responsibility. They simply exist. In effect, they are a burden upon society.

Being poor is not a sin. Most of the people in the world are poor. They do not have the same level of wealth as found in the “Western” world. Nor does the attitude toward wealth define poverty of spirit, though attitude and associated actions will show evidence of the thinking of the heart. Most of the world’s population live, and for all history, have lived surviving hand to mouth. In this country few starve to death, though many go hungry. Most of the transients I see are well-fed. They have everything they need and are content in their condition. I have more than I need and am not content. They don’t know how poor they are while I don’t know how rich I am. I use the word “know” as an activity of the mind. Discontentment with physical wealth is distracting, producing a desire to have more and control what one has. Contentment in poverty is debilitating, robbing the individual of the desire to move forward and not stagnate. Both attitudes evidence the depths of sin. Being poor, or rich, or comfortable, is not sinful. Forgetting God, whether through contentment with the status quo or discontentment with the level of wealth, is sin. Both wealth and poverty are an excuse to hide from the truth of sin.

When Jesus was anointed by a sinful woman His disciples complained of the waste. She saw herself as poor and willingly wasted her riches on Him. Her immediate contentment was not in losing wealth, not in providing for the poor but in worshipping God.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” [Matthew 26:6-13 ESV]

We are commanded by Jesus to never forget this woman’s act of worship.

There is a difference between physical poverty and spiritual poverty. Yet, we cannot understand spiritual poverty without comprehending physical poverty. God uses the physical world as an image or reflection of a spiritual reality. For instance, physical marriage between a husband and wife reflects the spiritual reality of marriage between Christ and his Church. This is an intellectual pursuit, using part of the image of God in man, the intellect, to understand or grasp the incomprehensible of the spiritual. So, physical poverty is a type of spiritual poverty. Many think since they have adequate wealth and goods they need not contemplate their spiritual condition. Physical poverty has nothing to do with spiritual poverty.

Someone who is “poor in spirit” recognizes the image of God they possess is corrupted, while God is not, and they are completely sinful, while God is not. They may have a realization of the consequences of sin but it is the truth of sin which convinces them of their spiritual poverty. It is the reality of sin, especially with regard to self, emanating outward to those around and finally to the world in which they live which convicts them. This recognition includes Gods perfect, justified hatred for sin yet eternal love for those who sin.

Introduction: Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:3 ESV]

Jesus begins His description of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven by defining the absolute difference between those who do not know they are under the control of sin and those who do. God is more interested in who the person is within the thinking of their hearts than in what they do. However, what a person does shows the evidence of who they are. Those who recognize the truth of sin, in the world about them but especially in themselves, and the truth of God are becoming “poor in spirit.”

True Christians are, unlike what the world thinks, defined and characterized by the One who created, then re-created, them. Christian’s have both the image of God and the likeness of Christ. God’s image, which He gave to Man when He created Adam and Eve, is included in the likeness of Christ. However, the likeness of Christ is not necessarily included in the image of God. You see, though we carry the image of God, it is corrupted, bent away from its true nature. We are separated from the One who created us in His image. Instead of seeing ourselves in His image we see Him in ours. Those with like images are uniquely suited for an intimate relationship. We no longer have intimacy with God because the image given us was corrupted not because God was corrupted. To remedy this lack of relationship God recreates those who are His into the likeness of Christ. This spiritual re-creation does not fix the broken relationship we have with God but changes us in His eyes completely. Christ’s likeness, like the image of God, is a freely given and indistinguishable part of every person redeemed by God.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. [Romans 8:29-30 ESV]

Having a deep, whole, awareness of sin is the first piece of evidence of being “poor in spirit.” I am not speaking about understanding the consequences of sin. Coming to grips with the consequences of sin is another discussion. Too often Christians jump over the fact of sin and settle smugly on the consequences which are easy to comprehend and thus easy to control. These consequences are important. But the consequences of sin are not the sin and what justly happens to me because of sin is fixed by a righteous God. 

I focus on the consequences because I am fundamentally self-centered and self-absorbed and think I can control those consequences. In the created order all things revolve around the Creator not the creation. Sin destroys that focus. Those who are poor in spirit refocus upon the intended Object, the One and Only One worthy of all focus, while seeing their inability to maintain or even want to focus upon Him. Anything which causes me to refocus my attention away from the One who created me provides sufficient and condemning evidence of the reality of sin.

Jesus, following John and all the Prophets, began His ministry preaching repentance from sin. Whether the listener is still in the world, separated from God or included in the eternal kingdom of God everyone must either come to grips with or completely ignore sin. Repentance first demands acknowledging the reality of sin and the condition of all those bent by it away from God.

God hates sin, not because it caused a separation of those He created in His image from Him but because sin is diametrically opposed to Him. Sin is a rebellion against Him. Sin turns truth into a lie and a lie into truth. Those bent away from God cannot abide hearing or knowing truth because it forces them to admit they have a sin nature. With their mouths they will say the love truth but there is no love for truth in the thinking of their hearts. Read this exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders He confronted.

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.”

They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” [John 8:31-47 ESV]

Anyone who characterizes themselves as “Christian” will know God’s hatred toward sin and have a desire to know truth. Even their own sin. Even when knowing truth shows their own sin. Christians are instructed to be aware of sin, in self and in other Christians, and to confront sin in self and in other Christians. We are not given the luxury of being soft on sin, or ignoring sin, or being desensitized to sin. Yet, every Christian struggles with sin and its affects. Here is the essence of the dichotomy of the Christian life. We sin but are to hate sin as deeply as God hates sin. Does this mean we are to hate ourselves?

There is a dichotomy in the relationship of the Christian with the Creator. Jesus perfectly describes this dichotomy in the Sermon on the Mount when He says “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I struggle with wanting to sin. Temptation is not sin but I still see sin in my struggles. As I write this I feel the tug of my flesh and the pull of the world to sin. I will never in this world be free from the desire, the bent toward sin. I must be changed completely, recreated in the likeness of Christ and will be, in the twinkling of an eye. For now, I am not. Yet, even so, my Lord loves me, a thought lying just barely within my limited comprehension. 

That reality, the reality of sin, should make everyone cringe. It is the confronting of the reality of sin in self which Jesus describes as poverty of spirit. While this may sound negative, and while we are not yet confronting the consequences of sin both immediate and eternal, poverty of spirit is the necessary condition for entry into the kingdom of heaven.