Jesus did not say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit because they are poor in spirit.” He did not think, “What a fine thing it is to be destitute of every spiritual attainment or quality. It makes people worthy of the kingdom.” And we steal away the much more profound meaning of his teaching about the availability of the kingdom by replacing the state of spiritual impoverishment—in no way good in itself—with some supposedly praiseworthy state of mind or attitude that “qualifies” us for the kingdom.
In so doing we merely substitute another banal legalism for the ecstatic pronouncement of the gospel. Those poor in spirit are called “blessed” by Jesus, not because they are in a meritorious condition, but because, precisely in spite of and in the midst of their ever so deplorable condition, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Christ.
Alfred Edersheim is therefore exactly right in saying that
in the Sermon on the Mount…the promises attaching, for example, to the so-called “Beatitudes” must not be regarded as the reward of the spiritual states with which they are respectively connected, nor yet as their result. It is not because a man is poor in spirit that his is the Kingdom of Heaven, in the sense that the one state will grow into the other, or be its result; still less is the one the reward of the other. The connecting link is in each case Christ Himself: because He…“has opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.” — The Divine Conspiracy (Dallas Willard)