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.