“Poverty of spirit” by D.A. Carson

“Poverty of spirit is the personal acknowledgment of spiritual bankruptcy. It is the conscious confession of unworth before God. As such, it is the deepest form of repentance.

It is exemplified by the guilty publican in the corner of the Temple: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” It is not a man’s confession that he is ontologically insignificant, or personally without value, for such would be untrue; it is, rather, a confession that he is sinful and rebellious and utterly without moral virtues adequate to commend him to God.

I suspect that there is no pride more deadly than that which finds its roots in great learning, great external piety, or a showy defense of orthodoxy. My suspicion does not call into question the value of learning, piety, or orthodoxy; rather, it exposes professing believers to the full glare of this beatitude.

Pride based on genuine virtues has the greatest potential for self-deception; but our Lord will allow none of it. Poverty of spirit he insists on—a full, honest, factual, conscious, and conscientious recognition before God of personal moral unworth. It is, as I have said, the deepest form of repentance.

It is not surprising, then, that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. At the very outset of the Sermon on the Mount, we learn that we do not have the spiritual resources to put any of the Sermon’s precepts into practice.

We cannot fulfill God’s standards ourselves. We must come to him and acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy, emptying ourselves of our self-righteousness, moral self-esteem, and personal vainglory. Emptied of these things we are ready for him to fill us.

Much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is designed to remove these self-delusions from us, and foster within us a genuine poverty of spirit. The genuineness and depth of this repentance is a prime requirement for entering into life.”

–D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999/2018), 18–19.

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