5 Mistakes People Make in Understanding the Beatitudes

The beatitudes are essential to the Christian life, but many people have not taken the time to understand them. Due to this lack of understanding, there are many Christians who have misconceptions about what they are and what they mean. With this in mind, here are five mistakes people make in understanding the Beatitudes.

1. They assume the beatitudes are something only special Christians possess.

The beatitudes are not something set aside for some unique category of Christians. They are something every Christian should possess. We do not do these things to be saved; we are this way because we are saved. They are the products of the grace of God in our lives. It is true that none of us possess them perfectly, and we should all desire to grow in them, but not to have them at all should be a grave warning to us.

2. They assume Christians will only have one or two of the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are not like spiritual gifts. One Christian does not get poverty of spirit while another has hungering for righteousness. All Christians are meant to manifest all of these. One of the main reasons is that as you begin to study through the beatitudes, you will find that they are all linked together. Poverty of spirit is linked to mourning, and mourning is linked to meekness, and meekness is linked to hungering for righteousness and so forth. To have one is logically connected to having all of them.

3. They assume the beatitudes are natural tendencies or dispositions.

None of the beatitudes are natural tendencies. They do not exist in the heart of the natural man, nor are they even possible in people who have not been born again. Part of this misunderstanding stems from not understanding the Beatitudes themselves. They may assume that poverty of spirit means to sympathize with the poor, or to mourn means simply to be sorrowful when someone dies, but even people who reject God do those things, and they do not possess the blessings attached to these beatitudes. The beatitudes go much deeper than natural behaviour.

4. They fail to see them as the essential difference between Christians and non-Christian.

Since they often misunderstand the Beatitudes themselves and see them something that can exist in the natural man, they do not see how entirely upside-down they are compared to the desires and goals of the world. Instead of poverty of spirit, the natural man pursues pride of spirit, and instead of mourning, they pursue their own self-satisfaction. Rather than being meek, they believe the only way to inherit the earth is through a will to power, and we could go on, but the reality is, rightly understood, only Christians can possess these. The Beatitudes reveal that the non-Christian and the Christian operate from contrary principles.

5. They assume that the Beatitudes can help them gain worldly success.

The reality is that the Beatitudes show us that we belong to an entirely different kingdom. The non-believer is pursuing the kingdom of this world while the Christian is pursuing the kingdom of heaven. The beatitudes are contrary to seeking the riches and treasures of this world, and those who try to use them in pursuit of worldly glory, show us that they do not understand them. The Beatitudes belong to those who desire God’s rule, righteousness, and glory. Which kingdom do you desire?

This list of mistakes was derived from Martin Lloyd-Jones’ outstanding book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. In the book, he lays out five things we need to know about the beatitudes. Each of his points corresponds to one of the mistakes I have written above. These common misunderstandings are why we are writing a series of posts on each of the Beatitudes on this blog. Below you will find the list of beatitudes. As each new post is written, I will update this page with the links to each article.

Man’s Relationship to God

Man’s Relationship to Man

  • Merciful
  • Pure in heart
  • Peacemaker
  • Persecuted for Righteousness

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D. Eaton

 

What Does it Mean to Mourn? [Beatitudes]

“Blessed are they that mourn.” This beatitude is clearly one of the great paradoxes of scripture. “Blessed” and “mourning” almost seem to be contradictory. When we think of mourning, we rarely think about blessing, Typically our minds think of death because mourning is something we do when someone dies, but here again, Jesus is showing us that there is a depth to the Christian life we need to take the time to understand.

What it does not mean

What does Jesus mean when He says, “Blessed are they that mourn? To understand this, the first thing we should do is clear away the debris by eliminating a few possible types of mourning that Jesus does not have in mind. First, there is some mourning that is sinful. Some people desire to fulfill their lusts, but they are unable to do so. These unfulfilled sinful desires could lead them to depression and mourning. Others have satisfied their lusts and have been caught and mourn the fact that they have been exposed and have to face the consequences, but they do not regret the sin itself. Scripture calls this worldly sorrow which leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Second, it does not simply mean being sad that someone has died. Even haters of God do this, but they mourn like those who have no hope. There is no blessing in these kinds of mourning.

What it means

So what does Jesus mean? It is important to keep in mind that the beatitudes build upon each other. They are not things we do to be saved; they are changes in our nature worked in us by the Holy Spirit. The first beatitude was poverty of spirit, and when we looked at it, we understood that because we are sinful, we have no merit before a holy and just God. The mourning of the second beatitude flows directly from our poverty of spirit. If you have never known your poverty of spirit, you will never mourn spiritually over your destitute condition. With this in mind, we are aware that this mourning is a mourning over our sinfulness. 

We first experience this at our conversion, but it continues throughout the Christian life. Do you hate your sin? Do you hate to see sin hurting those you love? Then you are experiencing this blessed mourning. Romans 8:23 says, “And not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” This groaning seems closely related to mourning over sin. This mourning is an attribute of a blessed person because this mourning is a gift of God. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Conviction must of necessity precede conversion,” and conviction of sin is a gift of God. We should not be afraid of it. 

The end of glibness

Glibness in the Christian life is done away with by this beatitude. Do you see life as a joke or merely one big party? Then maybe some self-examination is needed. There is a seriousness about the Christian life that needs to be part of our character. We are not to be morose or miserable. We can laugh, and we should have joy, but not regarding sin. It is important to remember, that one of Jesus’ titles was “Man of Sorrows.” If we have no spiritual hunger, and our lives are characterized by glibness, Jesus speaks directly to us in Luke 6:25. He warns, “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” If there is no mourning over sin in this life, there will be plenty of it in the life to come.

Those, however, who mourn over their sin now, will be comforted. Jesus is revealing Himself to them, and He will continue to do so. We will be comforted because our sins are forgiven. We are declared righteous in Him (justification) and He has also begun to kill the sin in us (sanctification). We are both mournful and happy because of Christ and the hope He gives us as the victor over sin and all its wages.

In the next post on the beatitudes, we will see how the poverty of spirit and mourning over our sinfulness produces in us a meekness that inherits the earth. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. How does this blessed mourning manifest itself in your life, and how is it a blessing?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:4

D. Eaton

 

What Does it Mean to Be Poor in Spirit? [Beatitudes]

Poverty is painful. Anyone who has experienced it will tell you that it comes with great distress. We fight against it, and rightfully so. Scripture speaks of the poor with great concern. The poor do not want to be poor. They struggle from day to day to have what they need. If they could get out of the situation, they would, but they do not have the means.

At the same time, we are told, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall see God.” There are many ideas about what this means. Some have said it means to take care of the poor. Others have said it is to take vows of poverty. Finally, many have simply interpreted this to mean that if you are poor, you will see God.

The main problem with these explanations is that they miss a key word in the text, “spirit.” We are to be “poor in spirit.” In fact, all of the beatitudes are spiritual qualities. They are characteristics of people who have been born from above. The rich, though they have their own challenges in knowing God, are not excluded from seeing God. Likewise, the poor are not guaranteed salvation simply because they are poor. The idea that the poor are good, and the rich are bad is shallow reasoning. There are evil rich people and evil poor people. There are godly rich people and godly poor people. To be poor in spirit must go much deeper than this. Being poor in spirit is more than taking vows of poverty as well because even that can be an act of pretense. It can be done before men in order to receive their praise.

So what does it mean to be poor in spirit? The beatitudes are not things we do to be saved; they are something we become as a result of God’s work in our hearts. They are a change in our nature. Spiritual poverty is realizing we have no merit before God because we have all sinned and fallen short of his glory. According to scripture, our righteousness is as filthy rags. They are unacceptable to a holy God and deserve his wrath. We are also dead in our sins, and nothing we can do can get us out of this situation.

The reality is, due to our sin, every person alive is already poor in spirit. When the text says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” it is not talking about our actual poverty of spirit. Instead, it is talking about the acknowledgment of our poverty.

To be awakened to our poverty of spirit is not something we can do in our power, it must be a work of God. We are naturally proud, and once we acknowledge our poverty of spirit, it is unpleasant and leads to the second beatitude, which is mourning. It is something the old nature does everything in its power to resist, but it is the first step to being filled. Matthew Henry put it this way, “This poverty of spirit is a disposition of soul, by which we are emptied of self, in order to our being filled with Christ.”

We see it exhibited in the life of David when he wrote, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalm 34:6). David was king. He was not poor in the things of this world, but he knew, before God, he was nothing. There was no merit in David that caused God to save him. It was God’s grace alone.

When you realize you are poor in spirit and see the glory of Christ, it changes you. All of a sudden, we become willing to part with all that we have in order to know him because all we have is worthless without him. To use a parable of Jesus, we become willing to part with all we have to possess the Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:45-46). Moses choose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt (Heb. 11:25, 26).

The author of Hebrews continues, “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated-of whom the world was not worthy-wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” – Hebrews 11:36-38″.

Why would these people be willing to give up so much? It was because, by faith, they had become poor in spirit and knew where their true riches were to be found. They had died to themselves. They may be poor in spirit, but they have a part in the kingdom of heaven. This poverty of spirit will often translate into a concern for the poor, which is why the two are often associated, but being concerned for the poor does not necessarily mean one is poor in spirit.

Christ is King over his kingdom, and we have nothing in ourselves that can claim any merit to it, but when we see our poverty of spirit, mourn over our sinfulness, approach Christ in meekness, and hunger for the righteousness we do not possess, we will be filled. We will have Jesus, who has filled us with his righteousness. Being in Christ, you’re part of his kingdom, which is under his governance, guidance, and guard. Like Christ himself, his kingdom will never fail, and we shall see God. Only by seeing our poverty can we truly be filled.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

D. Eaton