What Does It Mean To Be Poor In Spirit?

If you grew up going to church, then you can probably speak Christianese: the language of Christianity.  It includes terms like righteousness, redemption, pot luck, and hedge of protection.  But even though you may have known the language to a certain degree and had a vague idea of where to insert these terms in your prayers, you probably didn’t understand all of what was meant when your pastor or teacher used them.  For me, that’s the way it was with the term “spritual bankruptcy”.  The church has been using this terminology for some time now to explain what is meant by the first beattitude in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit“.  “Spiritual Bankruptcy” (a term I didn’t understand) was being used to describe “poor in spirit” (a phrase I didn’t understand), so instead of asking questions, sadly, I mimicked a look of realization on my face so the teacher knew to move on.

Well, eventually, I did the work and discovered that being spiritually bankrupt means to realize you can’t buy God’s favor with your righteousness because you have no righteousness to put on the table.  It is to have your pockets turned out before God, understanding that you have absolutely nothing that can save you from His judgment.  This is a wonderful truth that must be embraced before a person crawls to Jesus to be saved, but it is also an example of the assumptions that the Church makes about the explanations and sometimes obscure words we use in conveying the message of the Bible.  So, I urge you to search out the meanings of words and phrases that have always confused you and on the other side, be careful to teach the words and expressions of Christianese in clear and fresh ways so that people actually understand and don’t just pretend to understand.

Here’s an example of another way to explain “poor in spirit” that gets you to the same place as “spiritual bankruptcy”: being poor in spirit means that you have nothing to defend.  Every time I hear my almost 2 year-old scream from the other room, I hurry down the hall to find my 4 year-old already defending himself as I enter the scene.  He desperately tries bend my perception of what happened in his favor so that he appears justified in what he did.  If we are poor in spirit, then we must come before God with our mouths shut, without a defense because we know that we have no righteousness to defend and we are completely dependent on His mercy to escape His just judgment for our sins.


About Brent Osterberg

Ransomed sinner, husband to Keri, father to the kiddos three, associate pastor at Calvary Bible Church in Fort Worth, TX, and lover of most things epic. View all posts by Brent Osterberg

One response to “What Does It Mean To Be Poor In Spirit?

  • Servant of God

    I love your simple explanation for poor in spirit. It truly blessed me and now this verse speaks volumes to me. I excitedly look forward to sharing this with someone else. God Bless!

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