Here is a sobering thought: Only the humble will go to heaven. Yes, heaven will be filled with humble people!
All the proud of heart will be excluded. What a great place heaven will be! But this is sobering because the thing about humility is that the moment you think you’ve obtained it, you’ve lost it. It’s possible to be so humble that you’re proud of it. Yet, it is an unchangeable standard that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.
In his opening to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Heaven is open to the poor in spirit and closed to the proud in spirit. The fact is that, “unless people sense their guilt and helplessness to save themselves…, the wonder and availability of God’s grace will not move them” (D. A. Carson).
When Martin Luther dedicated his life to be lived as a monk and offered his first communion he was overwhelmed with a sense of his own sinfulness in view of the greatness of God and the sacrifice of Christ.
When he came to the words, “We offer unto Thee, the living, the true, the eternal God,” he was suddenly filled with terror. “Who am I that I should lift my eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty?” he thought. “The angels surround Him. At His nod the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say ‘I want this, I ask for that’? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal, and true God.”
This is poverty of spirit! It is a person’s attitude toward himself before God when he sees that he is spiritually bankrupt with no claim to place on God beyond a cry for mercy. It is reflected in the apostle Paul’s exclamation: “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” It is observed in Isaiah when he encountered the Holy God, high and lifted up—and responded in personal devastation, “Woe is me for I am undone…” We see the same thing in the righteous servant of the Lord named Job. Upon receiving a fuller understanding of the holy character of God, he cowered back and said, “I have heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
Do you understand why prior to his conversion Augustine wrote, “I grew more wretched as Thou didst grow nearer”?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”
I am convinced that one of the reasons the evangelical church is not making a great impact on unregenerate society is because of the absence of poverty of spirit among those who profess to be the people of God. There are too many people in the churches who have tried to tame and domesticate God, who have trivialized God and marginalized His holiness, who have tried to recast God into a more manageable deity who fits their schedules, who doesn’t ask them to step out of their comfort zone, but is always available to comfort and bless them.
I believe that we have been hurt by our loss of a sense of awe at the terror of the holiness of our great and awesome God. And because of this loss, we have felt at liberty to cut moral corners and to trivialize our sins, and demand our rights—to question God’s Word and authority—to live out lives of convenient dishonesty and deception—and to write off guilt as a feeling God would not inflict on us. As the apostle wrote, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
C. S. Lewis insisted that, “God is good but God is not safe.” He wrote, “God is good and terrifying at the same time.”
Along these lines, Cornelius Plantiga Jr. wrote, “God-fearing people have a dreadful love for God, and awe-filled love that knows God is not mocked, that we reap whatever we sow, that God is not to be fooled with, scorned, or ignored but trusted, loved and obeyed. Everything wise and righteous is built on this unshakable foundation. Fear and love must go together. God-fearing people know that God’s first project in the world is not to make us happy and that we will gain happiness only after we have renounced our right to it. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”
On October 18th, 1740, David Brainerd (that godly missionary to the American Indians) wrote the following in his journal: “In my morning devotions my soul was exceedingly melted, and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness.” (Stott, p. 42) In Ezra 9 the godly man Ezra fell on his knees and spread his hands out to the Lord God and prayed, “O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.”
- “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
- “For this is what the high and lofty One says, He who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit’” (Isaiah 57:15).
- “This is what the LORD says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the LORD. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2).
- Psalm 18:27- You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
- Psalm 25:9- He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.
- Psalm 147:6- The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.
- Psalm 149:4- For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.
- Prov. 3:34- He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.
- Isa. 29:19- The humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
What did the Lord Jesus say? “…the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” “This man went home justified before God.” Why? Because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. And we must always remind ourselves that it is “by grace that you are saved—it is not of yourselves, not of works lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
When the prodigal son came home, Luke 15:21 tells us that he said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” That is poverty of spirit! That is the conviction that comes before conversion. And such an attitude of brokenness and unworthiness and humility before God should continue to be evident in his people.
Consider Jesus’ words in Luke 17:10- “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ “
This is the proper attitude of one who serves God. And this will be evident in the way a person approaches the church. It is the attitude of the meek person who, having recognized his poverty of spirit, is amazed that God and men would think of him and treat him as well as they do.
This one of the primary evidences of regeneration. And from this attitude, serving others flows out freely. This person is amazed that God would even use him! Serving God by serving His people is seen as a privilege.
Of course this is not to say that truly regenerate people are not tempted to be proud and self-serving. They are! And they give in to that temptation from time to time. And it is true that God continues to break us so that He can remake us into the image of His Son. But there will be a difference between the regenerate and the Pharisees, as Jesus indicated. And churches cannot afford to cater to the agendas of proud Pharisees among them—they must leave them alone! (See: Matthew 15)
“God, help us all to turn to You with broken and contrite hearts. Help us to serve You and one another in humility. Forgive us for the arrogance and selfishness that too often characterizes our lives. Help us to be more like Jesus, the One Who loved us and gave Himself up for us.
Reflect on Jesus words:
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:24-26).