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Poverty of spirit, Humility, Contrition and the Grace of God

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

“God’s delight is received upon surrender, not awarded upon conquest. The first step to joy is a plea for help, an acknowledgment of moral destitution, an admission of inward paucity. Those who taste God’s presence have declared spiritual bankruptcy and are aware of their spiritual crisis. Their pockets are empty. Their options are gone. They have long since stopped demanding justice; they are pleading for mercy.” Max Lucado

God’s purposes and plans are far from over for planet earth. His light shines the brightest when the darkness is the darkest. His amazing transforming grace is far greater than all our sin.

But His grace is not poured out on everyone. God only gives grace (in an ongoing, ever increasing, life transforming way) to the humble. The apostle James put it this way, “But He gives a greater grace, Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” James 4:6 (See also Proverbs 3:34, I Peter 5:5).

One would think since we all have sin in common (and lots of it) per passages like, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we would all have humility in common, but alas that is not the case (my emphasis of the word “all”). Pride is far more common and few if any of us see it as pervasive and deep rooted as it is. As C.S. Lewis wisely stated, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud…If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

It was not random when Jesus released His foundational sermon on the mount that He decided to begin with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 This characteristic of being poor in spirit has nothing to do with one’s income or assets. It has everything to do with how we see ourselves before God and man.

After Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father, and His church was being established, He the Head of the Church decided to write and send letters to seven churches. To the church in Laodicea He spoke to their lack of this poverty of spirit when He said, “Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,” (Revelation 3:17). This is not a condition we want to be found by Him in for unless we repent of it He promises He will “…..spit you out of My mouth” (vs. 16). Spiritual pride leads to lukewarmness, which leads to severe discipline unless we repent.

So because the grace poured out on the humble and contrite is so great, and the discipline and punishment poured out on the proud is so great, I want to share with you some Biblical concepts that will at least help us all have more clarity and conviction Biblically and theologically. Only the Holy Spirit can bring it into our reality.

I want to start with a few more passages and thoughts on the concept of contrition in the Old Testament. (There are no occurrences of the English word “contrite” or “contrition” in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit must have felt the occurrences in the Old Testament were sufficient).

King David, after committing a horrible set of sins with his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, and then having her husband murdered, then living for up to a year as if nothing ever happened until the prophet Nathan nailed him, wrote out a prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 that has been highly instructive for God’s people ever since. He learned through that experience that,

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

God Himself through the prophet Isaiah affirmed this truth by saying, “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite.” “Isa 57:15

Later on in Isaiah’s prophecy, God reiterates again how important this quality or attribute is in the people He chooses to relate to and pour out favor on, "For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being," declares the LORD. "But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Isaiah 66:2

As Thomas a Kempis says, ““In contrition and humility of heart God and the repentant soul meet in a most holy embrace.” Thomas a Kempis – The Imitation of Christ – p. 159

While Jesus chose to not use the word “contrite” in His earthly ministry, the Holy Spirit made sure we had multiple examples of contrition or humility or brokenness over our sins in the gospels. Here’s a few of them:

Peter – Luke 5:8,9 “But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’s feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man! For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken;”

When Peter saw the goodness and mercy of God poured out on him and his fellow fishermen, and knowing the state of his heart at that time, he knew He was not worthy to be in the presence of such a great God. Of course in one sense we never are worthy to be in the presence of such a Holy and Awesome God.

Interesting to me that the Jewish elders in the following story who came to get Jesus thought the Centurion of all people was worthy of His attention. The Centurion himself did not agree with this assessment. Jesus did not correct him either of this self assessment. Note he twice spoke of his unworthiness.

The Centurion – Luke 7:4-7 “When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, ….”

David Wilkerson’s comments on brokenness are reflective of what we see with this Centurion, who though he knew he was unworthy, that did not stop him from asking for Jesus’s assistance with his servant: “Brokenness is the total shattering of all human strength and ability. It is the recognition of the full reality of sin and the reproach it brings on Christ. Yet brokenness is also recognizing and heeding the next steop…It is the absolute assurance that things are going to change, that healing and rebuilding will come – that our ruins are going to be reclaimed for God.” David Wilkerson, “Hungry for More of Jesus”, p. 51.

In the following parable spoken by Jesus, one so called “worshipper” feels he is worthy; the other knows he is not and thus cries out for mercy in a contrite heart.

Jesus - Luke 18:9-14 “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ’God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

As the transformed Slave Trader John Newton testified, “I am persuaded that love and humility are the highest attainments in the school of Christ and the brightest evidences that He is indeed our Master.”

There are many reasons why in general in the church in the West we do not see the call to contrition, brokenness, humility and poverty of spirit like we should. One of those reasons is because sin is so deceitful. The writer of Hebrews says we can be “ hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13). We are in a constant battle with our flesh or sin nature to see truth and to feel about truth as we should. Sin within us can easily convince us that in the New Covenant there is no longer a need for contrition, etc.

Another reason is because the enemy of our souls is so cunning. He knows true intimacy and favor with God will only come to those who take this call seriously. So he uses scripture to blind us from other scripture. For instance, he might point out to you that of the 21 characteristics in I Timothy 3 and Titus for elders, none of these four things are listed. He might point out to you that none of them are listed in the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter 5. Only a solid grasp of the entirety of scripture would help us rightly sort through this.

Another reason why we believers struggle to walk in contrition of heart, humility, brokenness and/or poverty of spirit is because some teachers in the church are so concerned that believers do not walk in undue condemnation and shame that they over compensate with an emphasis on our identity in Christ at the exclusion of the call to contrition and brokenness, humility or poverty of spirit. God has made it clear in Romans 8:1 (among other scriptures) that He has freed we believers of condemnation, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” We know Jesus came to free us from shame. But He did not come to free us from poverty of spirit or it wouldn’t have been the very first kingdom characteristic He mentioned and commended in the sermon on the Mount.

A final reason for our lack in the body of Christ of contrition, etc., is many influential leaders in the body of Christ do not walk in these characteristics like we should. And whatever is at the top tends to trickle down. We tend to not talk about things we do not see clearly.

So because of this general weakness in the body of Christ in the West, I would like to continue our discussion with a few thoughts about the call to mourn over our sin in the New Testament. Did you know that the second kingdom characteristic that Jesus speaks of in His sermon on the Mount is mourning over our sin? “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Now He doesn’t specifically speak to what we are to mourn for, but it stands to reason if this comes right after being “poor in spirit” it is our sins and perhaps the sins of others does it not? And the promise to comfort those who mourn shows He does not want us to walk around in shame by the way.

An example of mourning over the sins of others is the apostle Paul with the church in Corinth. Let’s listen in on his great concern for their lack of contrition over their sin, “I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.” II Corinthians 12:21 Where there is no contrition, there will be no true repentance. When in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he had to address sexual immorality in their midst, he spoke not to just that offense, but to the general response to it in the church there, which was certainly not one of contrition or mourning over sin in their midst, “You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.” I Corinthians 5:2 Pride, “I know best”, is a horrible mindset to have in the church, because it will cause us to minimize the seriousness and the consequences of sin.

The apostle James minces no words when he exhorts the believers under his care, “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” James 4:9 (see also Luke 6:25 in this light). The context in vs. 8 and vs. 10 makes it clear that sin is what is to be mourned for.

One thing I pray a lot for our church and the wider church is godly sorrow for our sins. Paul speaks of this again in his second letter to the church in Corinth, where he actually commends them this time, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” II Corinthians 7:10,11

So how can we grow in these most important qualities of humility, poverty of spirit, brokenness and/or contrition and mourning over our sins?

Might I suggest that in obedience to Paul’s command to pursue cleansing from our sins (“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” II Corinthians 7:1) that we make this a matter of daily prayer? Once I saw how deeply rooted pride was in myself, I began to make this a matter of focused prayer every morning in my quiet time, and I try to be as specific as I can, and I intend to do this until I exit this earthly life.

Another thing that has helped Anne and I is reading devotionals from authors who walk in these attributes such as: “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. Now this book is not perfect, but if you can overlook its blemishes, its overall impact is significant. While it might be extreme in places, it is a very good and needed balance to Christian books and devotionals who do not see this call to contrition, humility, poverty of spirit, godly sorrow and mourning over our sins, etc. Besides reading a page of that that book daily (probably until I exit planet earth), I also daily read and pray over a page of “The Valley of Vision – A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions”. The Banner of Truth Trust = Publisher. I can’t commend this devotional enough! The Puritans love Jesus much because they are forgiven much; they are forgiven much because they know God as holy and thus see their sin as it is much.

If you come to a place where you are convinced this is the will of God then could I encourage you to pray for those you are connected to? Every morning I pray for our leadership couples from Isaiah 66:2 to be ever more “…humble, contrite of spirit and tremble at His word.” Every morning I pray for this for Anne and I. Every morning I pray this for whatever section of our church directory I am praying for.

I’ll end with this practical suggestion from Philippians 2:3,4 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others.” In other words, when in group settings or even with one other person, get the focus off of yourself. Show active interest in those you are with. Draw them out. Listen to their burdens and concerns and viewpoints even if you disagree with them. This may require praying for humility and deep rooted security in Him and finding all your needs met in Him on the way to whatever gathering you might be driving or walking to. I’ve tried to get in the habit of not listening to music or news on the way to any kind of gathering of peeps until I have prayed for my heart to be prepared. Even then the tendency to want to draw attention to myself is always present.

Father please help every person who reads this post (including its author) to be ever more humble, contrite of spirit and to tremble at Your every word, in Jesus’s name. Amen! God bless you for hanging with this long post!

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