The Greatest Rags to Riches Story Ever Told

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 5:3

      I have been a Christian most of my life. I have been saved by grace through faith. The natural response to this is a desire to use the rest of my life to glorify God. We talk about this a lot. Whatever we do, we are to do to the glory of God. But what does it mean to glorify God? How can we best do this with our lives? A list of things immediately comes to mind. We are to abstain from many things, seeking not to gratify the desires of the flesh, but to walk by the Spirit. We are to love God and to love others. We are to serve. We are to reach out, share our faith, give of our time, our finances, and our selves. The Bible is filled with things that we, as Christians, are to do. We would call these good works. These are, without doubt, important for we know that “faith without works is dead” -James 2:26 and when others see our good works “they will glorify our father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16  

Yet, I have found, at least in my own life, that this desire to glorify God with my life can be twisted into something that I do not think God intended. It can makes us develop a “debtor’s mentality.” Now that God has been so gracious as to save us, we must “pay Him back” by leading these kinds of lives. If we do that, we will glorify God.

     However, I think this is a tragically mistaken way of thinking, to which I have been very susceptible in my own life. It really nullifies our need for the grace of God in every  area of our lives and for the rest of our lives. Underlying this mentality, is a notion that God has saved us because He wanted something that we had. It suggests that God is most glorified by what we have to offer Him. In my mind, this misses the mark of the heart of the Gospel, for in reality, God is most glorified, not by what we can offer Him, but what He can offer us. .

     The Gospel is a tale of rags to riches, the Prince and the paupers. Only it is a far more wonderful and beautiful a story than any fairy tale. We often think what we can give God will bring Him glory, and though this is true in some sense, it is truer that it is what we can not give God that brings Him glory. God has not saved us because we had things that He wanted or needed. Indeed, when we were yet powerless sinners, we had absolutely nothing to recommend us to a holy and righteous God. Rather, God has saved us because we needed to be saved and He was able and mighty to do so. He, who is rich in grace, holiness, and power, is most glorified in filling those who are most destitute of these. It magnifies the fullness and riches of His grace.

     But how do we receive these riches? By what avenue can poor, wretched sinners hope to gain the glorious riches of God? It is through faith in Christ alone, “for we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, so that we through His poverty might become rich.” -2 Corinthians 8:9 We can be assured that we will receive the riches of God because “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” -Colossians 1:27 God did not leave us in the misery of our poverty and sin, but in His great love and mercy, became poor so that we might, through faith, receive His riches, an inheritance we do not deserve and which we have not earned.

     But alas, before we can be the recipients of these riches which are in Christ, we must become aware that we are poor, poor in spirit, poor in power, poor in wisdom and righteousness. If we do not, we are prideful and have not fully understood our need for a Savior.  A man who thinks himself rich and able would not abase himself to beg and receive from another.  What a tragedy it would be to, in our pride, go through our Christian lives and not truly recognize our spiritual poverty. What blessing we miss if we deny it!It is a wondrous thing to understand the reality of our poverty, for only then can we really understand and experience the reality of His riches. 

     Though I do not deny that the knowledge of the poverty of our souls in an incredibly sobering truth, I do maintain that it is necessary for the Christian and an avenue to the “abundant life” which Christ wants to give us. Indeed, it is a stark reality to understand, but how blessed are we who have come to this knowledge! How we should rejoice in our poverty, for there is One who is rich in grace and mercy. We should rejoice because the Gospel is not only a story of our poverty. Were we to be left in our helpless state, that would be a somber tale indeed. But no, the Gospel is the meeting of our poverty with God’s riches. The good news of Jesus Christ is that we are desperately empty and God is immeasurably full. Thus, it is good for us to know that we lack because then we know that God can supply. It is good for us to hunger and thirst for righteousness because then we will learn that God can sate our hunger and quench our thirst. Our need magnifies His fullness. He is glorified through the union of our poverty and His riches.

     What then is the mark of the citizen of heaven? What is the sign that he is living for the glory of God? It is poverty. He does not boast of all the he can do for God because he knows He has nothing of worth to offer Him. He does not speak of his own righteousness because he knows that it is a threadbare, decaying cloak that cannot conceal his wretched state. He does not boast of his wisdom because he knows that his coffers are empty of that most precious of jewels. The citizen of heaven is a poor soul on whom God has wondrously bestowed all the riches of His grace. In response to this gift, He lives by faith and as John Piper put it, “faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Faith focuses on the freedom of God to dispense grace to the unworthy. It banks on the bounty of God.”

     And so the citizen of heaven, by faith, stakes all upon the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ and the riches of His grace.  He acknowledges that “it is because of [God] that [he] is in Christ Jesus, who has become for [him] wisdom from God–that is [his] righteousness, holiness and redemption.” -1 Corinthians 1:30 Thus, understanding his spiritual poverty, he boasts in Christ alone.  Having seen into his own heart and stared bleakly at the utter destitution of his soul, he knows, without a doubt, that the grace of God, found in Jesus Christ, is the only hope he has. 

     Therefore, we who have found we are poor in spirit should take heart and have faith. Are you without righteousness? Rejoice, for through His sacrifice, we have the righteousness “which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” -Philippians 3:9 Have you discovered that you are in desperate, daily need of grace? Do not despair for “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” -Romans 5:1-2 Are you weak and powerless? Are you lacking in love, love for God and others?  Do not despair, for God, who Himself is love, has loved us first. Laying claim to our souls through the purchase of His blood, He has vowed to transform our hearts by His own power. Thus, “be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that you may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that you may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” -Colossians 2:2-3 

     So we do strive daily to live for the glory of God. It is a fitting response to the truth that we have been saved by grace, that “because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” -Ephesians 2:4-5  But we must also remember that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” -Ephesians 2:6 not just so we could do good works or perform for Him, but “in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” -Ephesians 2:7 First and foremost, God has raised us up and saved our souls so that He can lavish us with the riches of His grace and love!  What an incredible truth. We serve a God whose primary delight is in not in demanding things from us, but in meeting our every need. 

     So, if we are going to live for the glory of God, we must first, come to daily terms with our own poverty. Christ didn’t just die to save us, but also to give us the daily grace and faith we need for our sanctification and also to lavish the riches of His love and grace upon us.   We must resist the temptation to accept God’s grace for our salvation, but then deny our need of it in living holy lives to the glory of God.. After receiving our salvation, we must not “set aside the grace of God,” but desire to see more and more of it in our lives. God’s grace does not end with our salvation. It is an ever-flowing spring from which God desires that we drink daily.   

     Therefore, my hope for myself and for you as well, is that before I look for how I can give to God, I look for how He can give to me. Before I search within myself for what I can offer Him, I hope to search within myself for where I most need Him, for I know that He has much to offer me. I hope to be reminded daily of my own spiritual poverty, to know at all times that I am bankrupt before Him. In this, I will rejoice, for though I am poor, God is rich and able and He, in His immeasurable love and grace, has made me an heir of these riches which are in Christ. I am indeed a “debtor” to God’s grace. The way in which I hope to repay my debt is by asking for more and more of His grace, for then the cross of Christ, its all-sufficiency and boundlessness, shall be exalted in my life. Being the pauper that I am, I want to marvel at the lavish and incomparable riches which are mine in Christ, and drink deeply from the fountain of His grace which flows without end. My suspicion is that if I do this, I, despite my emptiness, will be filled to overflowing and God, in all His fullness, will be glorified.

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