The other day as I was studying the end of the Beatitudes, I wanted to start over at the beginning as each Beatitude builds upon the one before. Jesus sat down to teach His disciples and began with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3).

Being poor in spirit has nothing to do with earthly wealth or lack thereof. The Lord’s concern for His followers is our holiness — being set apart from the world — for His use and glory, not ours. To be poor in spirit is to recognize our utter spiritual bankruptcy before God; understanding that we have absolutely nothing of worth to offer God.

Being poor in spirit is admitting that, because of our sin, we are completely destitute spiritually and can do nothing to deliver ourselves from our dire situation. Jesus is saying that, no matter our status in life, we must recognize our spiritual poverty before we can come to God in faith that His Son is our only hope to receive the salvation He offers.

Why and how does being poor in spirit result in the kingdom of heaven? While the phrase can be broad in meaning, “kingdom of heaven” essentially refers to salvation. The kingdom of heaven is both eternity in heaven with God after death (Rom 6:23) and the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10).

God offers us salvation as a gift, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the full payment for sin’s penalty. Before we can receive this gift, we must understand that we cannot make ourselves worthy of it. Salvation is by grace through faith, not of works (Eph 2:8-9). We must recognize our sinfulness before we can understand our need for a Savior. We must admit our spiritual poverty before we can receive the spiritual riches God offers (Eph 1:3). We must, in short, be “poor in spirit”.

The Lord declared through the prophet Isaiah what being “poor in spirit” looks like to Him, and what He will do about it: “‘For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist’, Says the Lord. ‘But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My Word.'” (Is 66:2)

When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He is declaring that, before we can enter God’s kingdom, we must recognize the utter worthlessness of our own spiritual currency and the inability of our own works to save us. His Word says, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Ps 34:18)

If you haven’t made that admission before the Lord, do it now. Make certain that you have admitted that you are not worthy to be in His presence, and that He is willing to have mercy on us and gift us by grace to be in His presence for eternity. And His invitation isn’t a one-time thing; we are to give up our lives for Him to live through us. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Make sure you come into His presence with a humbleness that only one who recognizes they are “poor in spirit” can have. He then will be glorified when He is able to use you for His kingdom.