Poor in Spirit #2: It’s Not a Matter of Degree

Today is part 2 of a Monday-Friday series on the first Beatitude from Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Today’s post highlights that seeing our spiritual condition as a matter of degree or magnitude, rather than as absolute poverty, keeps us from seeing, accepting, and experiencing Jesus as He is.

“And as He was setting out on His journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”  – Mark 10:17-22

Did Jesus tell this man that he only needed to do more, to work harder, to earn eternal life?  Was this man rich in spirit, nearly blessed, and just shy of the kingdom of God?  The first Beatitude and yesterday’s post would suggest not, but how then does this story make sense?

A key to this is Jesus’ first response to the man, which questioned the man’s own premises, and revealed he was not “negotiating in good faith.”  After Jesus’ response, instead of saying “if only God is good, why am I chasing eternal life in my own work?” this man persisted in seeking to earn his way.  Jesus knew the man’s heart was set, and in a way was saying “you know the law, what do you need Me for?”  The man did not see Jesus for who He is – the One who offers Himself.

The man was looking for help on the way he had predetermined for himself; he was not looking for the Way that Jesus offered.  He wanted a God who helps those who help themselves, but that’s not who God is.  In the same way that Jesus does not want us to literally cut off a hand or foot, or gouge out an eye, to avoid sin (Mark 9:43-47), neither does He mean that selling all his goods will save this man.  He “went away sorrowful.”

To quote Warren Wiersbe: “Of all the people who ever came to the feet of Jesus, this man is the only one who went away worse than he came. And yet he had so much in his favor!”  Because he did not know he was poor in spirit, he left without either the kingdom of God or the blessing of Christ.

Entering eternal life requires infinite righteousness, but this is exactly what Christ achieved and offers.  Only one person ever earned the title of Christian; everyone else gets it by His merit, given to us by His grace, through faith.  99.9% righteous does not count if infinity is the target and insisting on working for it only keeps us from accepting the gift.  Also, it follows that if we think our 67% righteousness is better than someone else’s 66% righteousness, we misunderstand what righteous is. Conversely, if our 67% righteousness makes us miserable compared with someone else’s 75%, we misunderstand grace.   It’s not a matter of degree so much as a matter of type, “so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:9)

Any time we ask, “what must I do to inherit eternal life”, we are thinking that what we have, plus some more, is the answer.  Sometimes we are not immediately rebuked but allowed to pursue our own way and eventually realize we’ve become lost.  Sometimes, like this man, we are gently rebuked but refuse to listen.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3

All this man needed to do was accept the work of Christ on his behalf, but he could not admit his poverty.  And it’s all you need to do.

This post continues a series on the Beatitudes. To start at the beginning, click here, and for the next post click here

2 thoughts on “Poor in Spirit #2: It’s Not a Matter of Degree

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