I was talking with my son the other day about some terrible deed done by some person or some character in a movie. I don’t remember which. My son told me, “Only someone completely evil or possessed by a demon would do something like that.”
He then tried to find reasons that a human being might want to be possessed by a demon. Perhaps someone might be so evil that he would want to be empowered by a demon to do evil. Perhaps an insane person might want to be possessed. Clearly, there were few reasons to want to be possessed by a demon.
But what about an angel? I was surprised to hear him tell me that being possessed by an angel isn’t desirable either. “Why not?” I asked.
“Because,” he responded, “any good that you do would not be you doing it. It would be the angel’s doing.”
I had never considered that, which is not surprising, since I had never considered being possessed by an angel before, either. In fact, there have been a number of things in my life I had never considered until Manuha brought them up.
“Okay, then,” I began as I pondered this new idea, “how does your reasoning apply to, say, the Hulk or Captain America? Do they do good?”
“Well, Bruce Banner is a doctor, and he does a lot of good without being the Hulk. Steve Rogers does good, too, because even though he has gamma ray power as Captain America, he chooses to do good. Red Skull, Captain America’s enemy, had the same treatment done to him, but he used it for evil.”
What a picture!
In the movie Captain America, Steve Rogers wants to do good. He wants to fight for his country and defeat the bad guys. He can’t do it, however, because he’s too puny.
In comes some guy with the last name of Stark, thus connecting Captain America to the Avenger movies and ensuring box office nirvana, and infuses Rogers with power and speed. Now, he is able.
What’s ironic is that he still has to defeat the system in order to make it into combat. I’m sure there’s some great illustration there, too, but let’s stick to the first illustration right now.
I remember struggling as a young Christian with the idea of salvation apart from works. If we’re saved completely apart from works, then why did Paul say that we would be judged for our works? (Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor. 5:10). Why did Paul say that God would give eternal life to those that pursue immortality by patiently continuing to do good? (Rom. 2:7). Why did he say that eternal life would be reaped only by those who sow to the Spirit, then define sowing to the Spirit as not growing weary in doing good? (Gal. 6:8-9). Why did he say that those who do the works of the flesh would not inherit the kingdom of God? (Gal. 5:19-21). Why did Peter say God would grant entrance into Jesus’ eternal kingdom to those who diligently add to their faith? (2 Pet. 1:5-11).
It’s not that I wanted to deny the idea of faith alone. Paul said “faith apart from works,” or similar words, a lot (e.g., Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:9). I wanted to know why Paul sounded schizophrenic, saying salvation was apart from works in the same letter in which he said unclean and greedy people would not have any inheritance in the kingdom of the King and of God (Eph. 2:9; 5:5).
Then one day I read something remarkably similar to what Manuha had said to me about Captain America:
Once it became obvious that in ourselves we were unable to enter the kingdom of God, the power of God could then make us able. (Letter to Diognetus. 9. c. AD 100)
The power of God made us able to enter the kingdom of God, whereas before we were quite unable!
That explained everything! Steve Rogers was unable to do good for his country until he was enabled by gamma radiation (I think). Once he was enabled, then he chose to fight his way through the last things standing in his way and give himself for “king and country.”
We, however, have a King. The King has been announced to us in the Gospel: “Jesus is Lord!”
Knowing that he is Lord and King, however, is not enough to put us into his service. We’re too puny. Throwing us into battle against the domain of darkness while we are yet slaves of sin would surely destroy us. For the Kingdom of God, we are all 4-F.
But Jesus has more than just the announcement that he is King. The King has a reward for those who bow the knee to him. He shines the gamma ray radiation of the Holy Spirit on our puny selves. Steve Rogers walked into a metal cocoon for his transformation into Captain America. That’s fine for a science fiction movie, but Jesus calls us to be buried in baptism. Those waters become our cocoon, where we die to our old life and rise as empowered children of God.
So does anyone besides Kevin Feige (producer of the Captain America movie) and some anonymous Christian dude from almost two millennia ago tell us that “saved by faith” means being empowered for service of “King and Kingdom”?
Well, let’s see …
There’s the apostle Paul! He tells us that the Law of Moses cannot help me obey the Law of God. Even if I want to, I can’t. It’s not the Law’s fault. It’s mine. I am too puny. I am sick with sin. But immediately afterward he tells us, “What the Law could could not do, God did!” (Rom. 8:3a).
The Law could not empower me. It could not overthrow the sin in my flesh. But what the Law could not do, God did!
By the sacrifice of his Son: “… by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3b-4, emphasis added).
Whoa! Everything in Romans 7 is conquered. The only problem with the Law of God is “sin in the flesh.” God, by offering his Son in the flesh, condemned sin in the flesh.
“Once it became obvious that in ourselves we were unable to enter the kingdom of God, the power of God could then make us able.”
Click, click, click. Everything begins to fall into place.
Of course this salvation is apart from works! We were unable to do works until God sent his Son and we believed in him.
Believing is all it takes to be enabled. Believing is all it takes to be delivered from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14).
It’s the reason Jesus died!
- To this end the King both died and rose and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the living and the dead (Rom. 14:9).
- He died for all so that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again (2 Cor. 5:15).
- [Jesus] gave himself for us so that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14).
Too many of us are still like Tommy Lee Jones, the head of the batallion in the Captain America movie. We don’t believe. We think that receiving the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean much. We tell our empowered selves, “Just sit on the sideline and let the professionals handle it. They know what they’re doing.”
God is looking for us to rise up like Captain America did. We’re not here for show. We’re not here so we can pump up the numbers for the professionals. We are here to march into the enemy’s camp and set the prisoners free. It’s what our King did when he was in one body on earth. Now, he is in a body made up of many human bodies, the church. We are his arms and legs, and we are empowered to fight like no one before us.
Among men born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist, but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than him.–Jesus