When Jesus walked the earth, He was in many ways countercultural. Although He obeyed every law of God perfectly, He often taught against the Judaism of that day and angered the Pharisees with His refusal to condone or participate in their man-made traditions. His Sermon on the Mount is filled with statements that refuted the common beliefs and practices of the religious leaders. Jesus began with this startling truth: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). To be poor in spirit is to be utterly dependent, without the means to help oneself.
Jesus’ message is still countercultural today. Since our society encourages us to believe in ourselves and be self-reliant, no one wants to be considered weak and helpless. In fact, we’re often proud of our independence and self-sufficiency, but such autonomy will never work in the spiritual realm. What we really need is poverty of spirit and complete dependence upon almighty God because we can achieve nothing of eternal value by ourselves.
First of all, we are unable to save ourselves. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). The proud in spirit will never come to Christ for salvation because they think they are good enough to earn God’s favor. However, none of us can pull ourselves up to heaven by our own bootstraps.
Knowing we are powerless to save ourselves from God’s righteous judgment and eternal punishment is what drives us to God to receive forgiveness of sins and righteousness through Jesus Christ by faith. He is the only one who can make us acceptable in God’s eyes and give us eternal life.
Second, we are incapable of living the Christian life. “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:30-31). Our spiritual inadequacy doesn’t begin and end at salvation but continues throughout our earthly lives.
One of the most frustrating experiences in the world is trying to live the Christian life in our own strength and by our own wisdom. God doesn’t call us to salvation and then abandon us to do the best we can. Jesus said that apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Therefore, when we abide in Christ and depend on Him, He sets us free from the burden of self-effort.
Believers have been given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Every point at which He works in our lives is an area of our utter helplessness. He enables us to understand God’s Word and empowers our growth in obedience and godliness. That’s why we are commanded to walk by the Spirit, which means to yield to His will (Gal. 5:25).
Third, we are inadequate to serve the Lord. “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:4-6). This is a surprising statement because it was spoken by the apostle Paul who was imminently qualified and highly credentialed according to the standards of his day. Yet when it came to doing God’s work, he knew that all his achievements were worthless (Phil. 3:3-7). Paul never preached the gospel with superiority of speech or persuasive words of wisdom, but only in complete dependence on the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
This is exactly how we should serve the Lord as well. Although it’s possible to rely on our own abilities and impress people outwardly, God looks at the heart. The proud and self-sufficient may say they are serving the Lord, but they are taking credit for something they cannot do.
A sense of inadequacy is actually a blessing from the Lord because it forces us to depend on Him in everything. He will never command us to serve Him in our own strength. Although we may feel ill-equipped for a particular task, God wants us to trust Him and step out in faith because He can do much with a humble, obedient person.
Although poverty of spirit runs contrary to the world’s values, it’s essential for spiritual life. A sense of utter dependence on God humbles us and brings glory to Him. But perhaps the most surprising result is joy and contentment. The striving is over, and we are finally resting in the Lord, trusting Him to save, sanctify, and work through us. But if we are still trying to live the Christian life and serve the Lord in our own strength, we will soon be worn out, frazzled, and frustrated. So let me encourage you to humble yourself and depend fully on the Lord, who loves you more than you can imagine.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. It’s a blessing to serve you as you pursue a deeper walk with Jesus. Our team at In Touch has embarked on a yearlong exploration of the Beatitudes, called Blessed to Be. I hope you’ll join us. It’s my prayer you’ll learn to follow Him more closely each day as you study His words from the Sermon on the Mount.