Holiness is a Superpower

The second XLM Bible Study was a lot of fun. Thank you so much to Avrom at Adventures in Comics and Games for welcoming us!

Our next event will be in early December. Details soon. For now, here are my notes from the lesson.


Last time, we talked about the power of the cross. Some people stop there when they talk about Christianity. Thing is, that’s just the beginning. Jesus was clear about that.

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
-John 14:15-17

Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, and not just that we could pray to Him or know about Him, but that He would live in each of us. Now, make no mistake: the Holy Spirit is God, just as Jesus and the Father are. So what we’re saying is, God Himself lives in us as Christians.

That’s what we’re talking about today. Christianity doesn’t end at the cross. The Holy Spirit lives in us and helps us accomplish what we could never do otherwise. Look at the first part of that passage. Jesus commands us to follow His teachings. That’s what the Holy Spirit allows us to do. To live holy lives.

What do I mean by holiness? In short, living out the words of Jesus under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, for God’s glory.

But couldn’t we just follow Jesus’ teachings without any supernatural help? Paul doesn’t seem to think so.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death….
The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
-Romans 8:1-2, 7-9

Holiness is a superpower. It requires a fundamental change in us. We have to become something more than we were.

I think of it as soul evolution. When the Spirit lives in us, we’re not the same as we were before. Paul says it here: before we accepted Jesus, we were bound to sin. Enslaved. We were incapable of living holy lives.

But if the Spirit is in you, he says, you’re no longer in the realm of the flesh. When he says “flesh,” by the way, it’s a metaphor for the source of our sinful desires. It’s that thing in us, that brokenness in us, that still wants things that are contrary to God’s nature.

When the Spirit is in you, you’re no longer at that level. You’re something more. Something new. Paul famously puts it like this:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
-2 Corinthians 5:17

This manifests in a bunch of different ways. Some are for everyone. Some, the Spirit gives only to certain people. Let’s talk about a few of the most important ones.

First, this soul evolution itself. One of the most profound things God does is change our hearts. Sometimes the change is abrupt, but more often, you notice you’re handling a certain situation differently, and wonder how long you’ve been different. An old temptation ceases to tempt you. An old worry goes away. You start remembering Scriptures and realize you’ve applied them to your life somehow.

Willpower can only do so much. God can change our very desires. The Spirit gives us faith, and works to increase it over time. He changes our character to look a little more like Jesus every day. He makes us love better, more fully. He becomes our instinct.

That’s one way to tell the Holy Spirit has done something in you: when you surprise yourself with your first reaction to a tough situation.

I still remember when I walked out to my car one day and there was no car. Someone had stolen it from my parking space at the apartment where I was living at the time. The funny thing is, it was in a really inconvenient spot for the thief, who walked past a bunch of other cars to get to mine. I found myself wondering if God had them steal my car because He knew I could handle it. Instead of being angry, I was kind of honored.

That’s crazy. That’s God, not me. He’s the gracious one.

Is He changing you, however quickly or slowly? Are you becoming more like Him daily? That’s a challenge for all of us. Some days it’s easier than others. Some days we cooperate more than others. We’ll come back to that thought at the end.

It’s not just our hearts that He changes. When the Holy Spirit lives in us, He speaks with us.

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.
-John 16:12-14

We have direct access to the wisdom of God. That’s another of our greatest powers.
And we need it. As God is in the process of changing our instincts, we can rely on Him to guide our choices when our first reaction isn’t His.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
-James 1:5

This happens in a few ways. For one, the Spirit reminds us of what Jesus has already said. Listening to Him doesn’t take the place of reading the Bible, per se; in fact, that’s one of the best ways to check and see if you’re really hearing the Spirit — see if it lines up with the Bible.

That said, sometimes the Spirit tells us things we didn’t know before. Sometimes, He nudges us in a certain direction. He speaks to us in a variety of ways.

Let me describe what it’s like for me. I hear the Spirit in a certain sensation. It’s a feeling like a pulse in a specific part of my brain, like a chill down my spine, sorta. Mind you, I’ve tested this thoroughly. I’ve tried to force the feeling, and I can’t. And I’ve kept track of all the feelings I get that influence my decisions, and this one is trustworthy.

Furthermore, I have this weird sort of certainty about an idea when it comes from God. It’s like all my thoughts are taking place on one plane, my emotions on another, and underneath, there’s this quiet certainty, this very assured voice of sorts. One story describes God speaking in a still, small voice. I can definitely identify with that.

That’s how it works for me. How does God speak to you? Some people have dreams. Some people get premonitions. Sometimes scriptures occur to people at just the right time. Often, other people say just the right thing at just the right time, and they may not even know it.

We are called to be followers of Jesus. This is one important way to do that: to listen to the Spirit’s subtle leadings and seek His guidance in our decisions. To base our lives around His agenda.

If you’re not sure how He speaks to you, pay attention. Test the spirits. Pay special attention when you get the same message from multiple sources. See which channel is always right. Then listen to it, and test it some more.

The best thing about this is, as we train ourselves to listen to the Spirit, we live by His wisdom, and not our own. That solves so many problems. My friend Brett once put it this way: God knows us better than anyone, and loves us more than anyone. Who better to rely on?

One more power I want to talk about. It may be the most important, because it’s the catalyst for soul evolution, and the channel of divine wisdom: prayer.

Prayer is the Christian’s Omega Beam. It’s the Power Cosmic. It’s the Phoenix Force.

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
-John 14:13-14

Yeah. That’s basically the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. God just told us that we can ask for anything, and He’ll do it. Anything, He says, in His name, so that He is glorified.

About that. We’ve all had prayers that seemed good, but God said no to. As Jesus says, the point is for God to receive glory. Our requests have to be in keeping with His character, but if you think about it, that should be obvious.

That doesn’t diminish how absurdly powerful prayer is. It’s reality alteration. When characters in comics have that power, they get put in chemically-induced comas. They get locked away, because it’s too powerful, and when they wake up, it’s a big deal. Like Franklin Richards, right? Or Proteus, Moira McTaggart’s son.

Think about the stories of what prayer did in the Bible. Prayer called down fire from the sky. It raised the dead. It healed the sick. It ended wars.

And its power has not diminished since Bible times. Ask Ashley Jennings sometime about the guy she healed in New Orleans. They were on a prayer walk, and they asked for people to minister to. A car pulled up to them and told them to get in. They ended up at a trailer with a guy who couldn’t stand up because of the pain he was in. Ash laid hands on him and prayed. And the pain was gone.

Maybe the most compelling application of prayer is to change the human heart. It enables and accelerates soul evolution. If you open yourself to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to change you from inside out, He will. He promised that, and He does it every day.

I could go on. Jesus granted His disciples authority over demons in Matthew 10. We’re promised immortality. And I’ve just talked about the things everyone gets. I’ve barely mentioned the gifts of the Spirit that God spreads among individual Christians.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
-1 Corinthians 12:4-11

The Church should be a superhero team. As Paul says, we have different gifts that come together as the Body of Christ. We should be out changing the world day by day, empowered by the Spirit to do things that are beyond us.

So, what gets in the way? We’re not all growing by leaps and bounds every day. Some days, we’re just lost and confused, and can’t hear God speaking. Sometimes our prayers aren’t all that powerful. It seems like our gifts fizzle sometimes.

Holy living is a choice. God wants it for us, but we can resist it. We can reject it. Paul gives us a very simple, but profound warning in the book of 1 Thessalonians.

Do not quench the Spirit.
-1 Thessalonians 5:19

The fact that Paul warns us not to means that we can. He puts it like this in Ephesians:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
-Ephesians 4:30-31

You see why we need the Spirit to change: how else could we get rid of “all bitterness… and slander”? All the things he mentions there are contrary to the new creation. They do not fit with someone who has been redeemed.

The Spirit is working in you. He wants to change you. But the flesh is tugging at you too. You’re left with a choice of whom to follow. We can cooperate with the Spirit, or not.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
-James 1:22-25

Do you see what James is saying about the mirror? I don’t think that metaphor is an accident. We are made new when the Spirit enters us. Our nature is changed. Our souls evolve. So when we don’t follow Jesus’ words, we are acting contrary to who we are. We’re forgetting who we have become.

And when we do that, we quench the Spirit. Disobedience to God is our spiritual kryptonite.

Spider-Man is pretty much the quintessential do-gooder. He has powers that help him fight the good fight, but maybe his greatest strength is his virtue. Then he gets invaded by this alien costume – the Venom symbiote. He finds himself becoming more violent, losing control. He has this thing inside him, urging him to indulge the darker side of his heart. To take the easy way out. But his conscience is fighting against it.

That’s not a bad metaphor for the flesh. It was a painful process for Spider-Man to separate himself from the Venom symbiote. Likewise, as we follow the Holy Spirit and slowly put the flesh to death.

In coming lessons, we’ll talk more specifically about what that looks like. Jesus calls us to live in a way we could never live without Him. Love your enemies, He says. Bless those who curse you. Consider others better than yourself. Give generously. Walk by faith, not by sight.

Without the Spirit, we can’t do it. But we have Him. And He’s ready for us to live like heroes. And when we cooperate with Him, we will.


About Brian Armitage

Struggling to live like Jesus, celebrating mild successes.

Posted on November 22, 2011, in Christianity, Gaming, Geekery, God, Holiness, The Bible and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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