Continually Sharpening

A theological blog by Janelle Zeeb

Christians Are Superheros

It seems like there is a never-ending stream of super-hero movies being released lately. Clearly, there is some demand for this genre of story.

In many of these stories, an average person is suddenly given some sort of super-powers, and they then go on to use these powers to fight evil, defend the innocent, and improve the world.

These stories might be so appealing because they satisfy some inner psychological desire many people have, perhaps to have some sort of personal power to avoid being victimized by others, or to go out and take on those people that hurt them, or to oppose people who they judge are destroying the world or acting unjustly.

But what I see is interesting is how similar the typical superhero movie storyline is to the truth of what happens to people who become Christians. In this post I will show how when you become a Christian, you become the closest thing to a superhero that there is in this world.

Gaining the New Power of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is shown in the Bible as giving people new power to do what God had called them to do in this world.

Before Pentecost, this empowering was only for certain people who were the leaders of the Israelites, prophets, or who had special missions to do for God.

This exclusive list includes:

  • Joseph (Genesis 41:37-39)
  • Bezalel (Exodus 31:2-4, 35:30-32)
  • Moses (Num. 11:17)
  • 70 elders (Num. 11:25)
  • Balaam (Num. 24:1-3)
  • Joshua (Num. 27:18, Deut. 34:9)
  • Othniel (Judges 3:9-11)
  • Gideon (Judges 6:34)
  • Jephthah (Judges 11:29)
  • Samson (Judges 13:25, 14:6, 14:19, 15:14)
  • Saul (1 Sam 10:10, 1 Sam. 11:6, 1 Sam 19:23)
  • some of Saul's messengers (1 Sam 19:20-21)
  • David (1 Sam. 16:13)
  • Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:9, 2:15)
  • Amasai (1 Chron. 12:18)
  • Azariah (2 Chron. 15:1)
  • Jahaziel (2 Chron 20:14)
  • Zechariah (2 Chron 24:20)
  • Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:2, 3:24, 11:5)
  • Daniel (Dan. 4:9, 4:18, 5:11-14)
  • Micah (Micah 3:8)
  • John the Baptist (Luke 1:15)
  • Jesus (Matt. 3:16, Isa. 11:2, Isa. 42:1)

Even then, it seems that the Holy Spirit could 'leave' people (Psalm 51:11, Judges 16:17, 20, 1 Sam. 16:14) or even be taken from one and given to others (Num. 11:17, 2 Kings 2:15).

I don't think this means that when the Spirit left these people lost their salvation (for then there would be a discrepancy between these Old Testament saints and the Church with regards to the guarantee of eternal salvation based on faith alone in the Messiah/Jesus - Eph. 1:13-14). But it seems that the Holy Spirit could choose to no longer give them help in the same ways or to the same extent as previously (e.g. Samson lost his strength).

But this changed at Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus' resurrection, and 10 days after Jesus ascended to heaven, when many early Christians were gathered together praying in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit appeared as a rushing wind and flames of fire which rested on each person there (Acts 2:1-4), enabling them to proclaim the gospel to people in other languages (Acts 2:6-8).

Peter links this to the fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-29 (Acts 2:17-18) which proclaims God will pour out his Spirit on all believers.

This is what Jesus had promised earlier, when he told the disciples "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

So as seen, the power given by the Holy Spirit was able to change a random bunch of everyday, average people into evangelists, who took the good news of the Gospel out into the Roman Empire, despite death threats, persecution, torture, imprisonment, and many other obstacles.

Of course, we usually think of people like Peter, Paul, and the other apostles as being the main evangelists who did this.

But Justo L. Gonzalez argues that "The missionary task itself was undertaken, not only by Paul and others whose names are known — Barnabas, Mark, et al. — but also by countless and nameless Christians who went from place to place taking with them their faith and their witness. Some of these, like Paul, traveled as missionaries, impelled by their faith. But mostly these nameless Christians were merchants, slaves, and others who traveled for various reasons, but whose travel provided the opportunity for the expansion of the Christian message".1

We see evidence of this in the Bible, where there were already Christians in Rome before Paul travelled there, and who were the recipients of his letter to them (Romans 1:9-10).

How To Receive The Holy Spirit

This special power of the Holy Spirit was so desireable that Simon wanted to pay money in order to receive it (Acts 8:18-20). But this is not how God gives the Holy Spirit.

Instead, the Holy Spirit is instantly and permanently given the very first moment anyone believes in Jesus as their savior:

"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:13-14, cf. Acts 2:38).

Thus, after that first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit now indwells all Christians (e.g. Rom. 8:9, 8:14, 8:23, 1 Cor. 6:19), and is a permanent presence in us that will never leave us (John 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit should help us gain the character traits referred to as the 'fruit of the Spirit': love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22).

Receiving the Holy Spirit is called the "baptism" of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), which, by the way, is not necessarily tied to physical water baptism (Acts 10:47), and for most of church history has not necessarily included speaking in other languages.

Thus, it's much easier to gain the power of the Holy Spirit than for superheros to gain their superpowers. No radioactive spiders, scientific accidents, or genetic mutations are necessary!

Gaining A New Family

In many superhero movies, the person who gains superpowers is admitted into an elite group of others with superpowers, who then team up and support one another to take on bad guys that they are not strong enough to fight on their own. Or alternatively, superheros find a new home among people with similar powers who understand them and help them train their powers, even though they are rejected as freaks by their biological families.

This is sort of what the Church is like. All Christians become part of God's family, and thus, can effectively call each other brothers and sisters (Matt. 12:49-50). I've heard reports that even when Christians travel to foreign countries and meet with local Christians, there is an instant bond of community between them. Thus, becoming a Christian means gaining instant family, all around the world, which if necessary can replace our biological family and outweigh it by far (Mark 10:29-30).

Even though individual Christians are eternally safe the moment we believe in Christ, there are still difficulties we will face while in this world which are easier to bear when we are part of a community who shares our beliefs.

Therefore, Christians meet together regularly on Sundays and/or during the week to encourage each other, to remind ourselves of what we believe, to pray for one another, and to build relationships to prevent loneliness and feelings of being isolated or misunderstood. We can help one another not only in spiritual things, but practical things also.

And like superheros, Christians can team up so that they can make a greater impact through larger ministries than if we work alone.

So yes, even though you can be a Christian without attending a local church, you're really missing out. Watching Youtube sermons or listening to worship music on your own is not going to give you the same benefits as regularly attending a church and getting involved with the service opportunities there, and building personal relationships of mutual support and encouragement.

Of course, Christians are still imperfect in this life, and thus, there will be imperfect people in the Church. So it is not unheard of for there to still be conflict, disagreements, and even hostility or rejection among Christians, which may lead to disillusionment with the Church. This is a sad reality.

We should try to avoid these problems or find loving ways to resolve problems in the local church. Not even all superheros get along all the time — such as Batman and Superman, or Captain America and Iron Man. But for the sake of the gospel, Christians should try to cooperate, or at least, not hurt one another intentionally, similar to how superheros can put aside their differences to fight the bad guy.

Gaining New Spiritual Gifts

So as seen, by being indwelled by the Holy Spirit, Christians now each have the ability to share the gospel with others, regardless of if you are called to be an international missionary, or are a stay-at-home mom.

However, there are even more special 'powers' and abilities Christians have access to, called the gifts of the Spirit.

These are listed in a few different places in Scripture, so I've created a list of some of them here:

  • speaking wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8)
  • speaking knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8)
  • faith (1 Cor. 12:9), presumably, exceptional faith above and beyond the basic faith necessary for salvation
  • healing (1 Cor. 12:9)
  • miracles (1 Cor. 12:10)
  • prophecy (1 Cor. 12:10, 14:4-5, Romans 12:6)
  • discerning spirits (1 Cor. 12:10)
  • speaking tongues (1 Cor. 12:10, 14:2)
  • interpreting tongues (1 Cor. 12:10, 14:5)
  • helping/serving (1 Cor. 12:28, Romans 12:7, 1 Pet. 4:11)
  • administration (1 Cor. 12:28)
  • teaching (Romans 12:7, 1 Cor. 12:29)
  • exhorting/speaking (Romans 12:8, 1 Pet. 4:11)
  • generous giving (Romans 12:8)
  • leadership (Romans 12:8)
  • acts of mercy (Romans 12:8)
  • being an apostle (1 Cor. 12:28-29) - Since the term 'apostle' literally means "one who is sent" (to preach the gospel), the closest thing today would be a missionary or full-time evangelist.

The neat thing about the Church (i.e. all Christians everywhere in the world) is that not everyone is given the same gift. Therefore, there is diversity and uniqueness in our gifting that makes each of us special. This reminds me of superhero movies where there are teams of heroes who all have different gifts, but use these gifts together in order to take down the bad guy.

Paul uses the metaphor of a body to describe how this works. He says that all together, all Christians compose the "body of Christ" (Rom. 12:4-6, Eph. 3:6, 1 Cor 12:12, 27).

But each of us is only like a part of the body, perhaps an ear, an eye, a toe, etc. (1 Cor. 12:14-31). The body cannot do all the things God wants it do if everyone was the exact same body part; we'd just have a lot of 'toes' or 'eyes' lying around unable to do anything, which would be pretty weird.

So not everyone has the same gifts, or has the same gifts at the same level of ability (Rom 12:6, 1 Cor. 12:4). For example, in the X-Men series, there may be many mutants who have the ability to manipulate fire, but not all with the same level of ability. And so Christians too, may share a gift of, say, discernment, but some may be more discerning than others.

You'll probably notice that one or a few specific gifts from the above list come to you more naturally and you use them more consistently and more effectively than the other gifts. These gifts might fit well with your personality and talents. But remember that the Holy Spirit is unpredictable. So try to be open to whatever you feel the Holy Spirit might be leading you to do, even if it's not one of your 'specialties'.

Some gifts need special care and discretion when they are used (1 Cor. 12:23-24), just like how in the X-men movies some mutants need to be careful they don't hurt others with their gift. For example, this may mean some gifts are better used discreetly, rather than making a big scene of them. Or some might be better used in some situations than in others (e.g. the gift of tongues, or prophecy).

You don't usually see superheros being jealous of one another's gifts. And so Christians shouldn't be jealous of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to other Christians. Instead, we need to recognize that each of our gifts is important and special, and we should focus on maximizing our use of our gifts in whatever way God calls us to, so that we make our best contribution to the body of Christ.

Gaining Spiritual Armour and Fighting Evil

A superhero wouldn't really be a superhero without some snazzy new outfit, right? Usually this includes muscle-defining armor, cool gadgets, and sometimes capes (unless their outfit designer is Edna Mode, from the Incredibles).

Christians also have access to new armour - the "Armor of God", which helps us in our spiritual life and protects us from evil.

This is listed in Ephesians 6:10-18, and includes:

  • the 'belt of truth'
  • the 'breastplate of righteousness'
  • shoes of the 'gospel of peace'
  • the 'shield of faith'
  • the 'helmet of salvation'
  • the 'sword of the Spirit'
  • and just for fun, no, there are no pants included

These things are what keep us safe from doubts, temptations, and attacks of the enemy, and let us do the things God has called us to do.

But these don't just work automatically - Paul says we have to actually "take them up" or "put them on". I can't go through all of these right now, but here's a few examples of how I understand these:

The 'shield of faith' is what is described as 'extinguishing the flaming darts of the evil one' (i.e. doubts) (Eph. 6:16). So, build up your 'shield' by engaging in activities that strengthen your faith - prayer, worship, attending church regularly, going to Bible studies, maybe reading some good Christian theology or apologetics, etc.

I think the 'helmet of salvation' means that you need to be absolutely certain that you are saved, and hang on to this assurance, so that you don't get taken out by doubts or fears. Personally, when I was insecure about whether I was really saved or not, I was spending a lot of time just dealing with my own doubts and issues, and I was not really as effective for God as I could have been.

It's really easy to put on your 'helmet of salvation'. Just look at John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life". If you believe that Christ died for your sins so you can have eternal life, then voila, you're saved.

Then, based on Eph. 1:13-14, you are now guaranteed that you have eternal life which is permanent and can never be lost or taken away. If you have doubts about this claim, I'd really recommend that you read the very short, very easy to read book by Charles C. Bing titled Simply By Grace (Grand Rapids: Kregel Pubs, 2009).

How Do Christians Fight Evil?

Of course, Christians don't literally fight with real people. Instead, our battle is in the spiritual realm, against evil spiritual powers and influences (Eph. 6:12).

We don't use real weapons, but instead, use things like prayer for enemies (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:28), prayer for those in our governments (1 Tim 2:1-2), prayer for fellow Christians (Phil 1:19, Eph. 6:18), and prayer for the success of the gospel (Col. 4:3-4, Eph. 6:19-20). The prayer of a righteous Christian is powerful and effective (James 5:16, NRSV).

We also 'fight' by resisting sin and the devil (James 4:7), and doing good to our enemies (Luke 6:27).

We also make a difference for God and combat Satan through activities such as volunteering, going on missions trips, supporting good Christian ministries who preach the gospel, and even just supporting and encouraging each other as we see the end-times approaching (Heb. 10:24-25, 1 Thess. 5:11, 1 Thess. 5:15, 1 Thess. 4:18).

By maintaining our faith Christians can be 'conquerors' who defeat the devil (e.g. Rev. 12:11, 2:11, 2:26, 3:21) and the world (1 John 5:4-5).

We know that ultimately it will be Jesus who at his second coming will finally defeat Satan, the false prophet, the Antichrist, and all the evil world powers (Rev. 19:11-21), and will put everything right. So that's not really our job - our job right now is to 'engage in business' by serving Christ until he comes again (Luke 19:13), continuing the great commission of preaching (Rom. 10:14), and making disciples through baptism and instruction in holiness (Matt 28:19-20).

Gaining Immortality and New Bodies

Now, there's not really any superheros who are truly immortal. Some live a very long time, and some are able to regenerate and so are hard to kill, or age more slowly. Even bad guys are never truly invincible, or else, every superhero story would end as a failure, or at best, a tie.

And therefore, Christians gain an even more amazing ability than superheros have, since God has promised those who believe in Jesus as their savior will have eternal life! (John 3:16).

It's not quite the same as never dying, although some Christians will be lucky enough to not die (1 Thess. 4:17). But the Christian hope of resurrection gives us confidence that even if we die, God will bring us back to life and give us perfected imperishable bodies which will never suffer from disease or age ever again (1 Cor 15:42-49).

Even with photoshop, makeup, spanx, corsets, plastic surgery, personal trainers, dieticians, and armor shaped like abs, the actors in superhero films are still just mortal people, who will age, lose their good looks, and die like we all do. But after the resurrection, I think we can be confident that God will give us perfect bodies that will look even better than the superheros on film do.

Randy Alcorn notes that due to the sin of Adam and Eve, "The most beautiful person you've ever seen is under the Curse, a shadow of the beauty that once characterized humanity. If we saw Adam and Eve as they were in Eden, they would likely take our breath away. If they would have seen us as we are now, they likely would have been filled with shock and pity".2

And we'll eventually have bodies even better than what Adam and Eve had in Eden, for they were not yet glorified (being given a body as glorious as Jesus' body is now). All Christians will eventually have a body with properties like what Jesus' body had after his resurrection (1 John 3:2, Romans 6:5, 1 Cor. 15:48-49). This will happen after we are resurrected or instantly transformed at Christ's next coming (1 Cor. 15:51-53, 1 Thess 4:16-17).

After his resurrection Jesus seemed to have a new ability to teleport himself around (Luke 24:31, 36, John 20:26), and so, I hope we'll have that ability too. This would be very useful, given the size of the New Jerusalem which is described as about 1380 miles or 2221 km in length, width, and height (Rev. 21:16)!

I know the resurrection and new bodies is a theme I frequently discuss, but I think it is important to get it into our heads, to help us have patience and hope in this life now as we deal with aging, disease, disabilities, disfigurement, and just plain old dissatisfaction with our currently imperfect bodies (especially when we see the media full of people who seem fitter and more beautiful/handsome than we are, such as the actors who portray superheros.)

Conclusion

Even though it is a somewhat silly comparison, I think the similarities between Christians and superheros are close enough that Christians can indeed think of ourselves as a sort of 'superhero'; average people who are enabled by the Holy Spirit to serve God by spreading the gospel, serving in the Church with our unique spiritual gifts, and combatting spiritual evil while being protected by our spiritual armor of God.

So don't look down on yourself as just some average nobody: if you're a Christian, you're God's superhero, and are here to make a difference that will have consequences for all eternity. No superhero mission is more important than the mission you're on, which is to be part of Christ's body (the Church) as it continues to do His work in the world, by serving God through your own special calling with the spiritual gifts you've been given.

Plus, we get certain advantages that superheros never have, such as eternal life, and future new great-looking and strong bodies that will never wear out.

Perhaps one way we can make Christianity more appealing to those in our secular culture is by comparing ourselves to the superheros that are so popular today. Like really, who wouldn't want to be a 'superhero' for Jesus, when it includes all of the above?

Footnotes:

  • 1. Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1, Revised and Updated (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010), 35.
  • 2. Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pubs, 2004), 289.

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