The World’s Half-Truths for Teens Pt.6: The Power for Change Comes from Within

When I first began working with youth, the first Percy Jackson series was all the rage.  Greek gods, adventure, and awkward teen drama had captured the imaginations of youth all over the country – and some at my church.

Being totally unfamiliar with the books, I was curious to read them to find out why these books had become so popular.  So I picked up the first book in the series and began to read.

It didn’t take long to figure out what kids found so alluring about Percy Jackson’s story.  As the story begins, Percy appears to be relatively insignificant, marginally outcast, and and uncomfortable-in-his-own-skin pubescent youth.

Before long, we discover that–despite appearances–Percy Jackson is anything but normal.  Much to Percy’s own astonishment, he’s really a demigod – the son of a human mother and a Greek god for a father.  And Percy doesn’t have just any Greek god for a father, his dad is Poseidon, one of the “big three” in the Greek Pantheon.

Along with the revelation of his lineage, Percy also discovers that as Poseidon’s son, he inherits some of Poseidon’s power.  Percy discovers he can breath under water.  Water gives him strength. And most importantly, Percy can control water, bending it to do his will.

How awesome would it be to discover that a god-king was your father and that your father-god shared his power with you…?

Yeah, pretty much that’s the gospel – isn’t it?  Pretty amazing.

In Christ, haven’t we become children of the One True God, king and ruler over all things? (cf. Galatians 3:29, 1 John 3:1-2)  And what’s more, because we are his children, hasn’t God shared his power with us, filling us with the Holy Spirit as a downpayment of our inheritance? (cf.Galatians 4:6, Ephesians 1:13-14)  Isn’t this the source of our joy and delight? (cf.Ephesians 5:18-20, Colossians 3:15-17)

Familiarity with these truths sometime blinds us (and the youth) to their sheer awesomeness.  Sometimes it takes something like Percy Jackson to wake us up to the sheer wonder of the story in which we find ourselves.

Obviously there are some difference between Percy and the Christian.  First, and most importantly, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is fiction whereas our adoption and inheritance are reality.

Secondly, there is a fundamental difference between the power of Poseidon at work in Percy and the power of Yahweh at work in us: Percy seeks to control Poseidon’s power to wield the god’s strength for his own ends, while we seek to be controlled by the Spirit to be wielded by Yahweh for his ends.

It’s here that we begin to see the lie that underscores Percy Jackson’s interaction with the world.

In the end, any difference that Percy makes in the world or change that happens in himself emanates from his own willpower and ability to control the power of his father god, Poseidon.  Ultimately, and change is of his own doing (the gods are rather disinterested in the affairs of their children and the human world).

For the Christian, however, meaningful change cannot begin with our own efforts but with the grace of a God who cares deeply about us and this world.

Biblically speaking, the power to redeem doesn’t come from us learning to control the Spirit of God, but the other way around.  The Holy Spirit is not a weapon or tool that we wield, but that wields us even as the Spirit works to renew us into the image of our creator, Jesus (Colossians 3:10).

Certainly we are called to participate in the Spirit’s work as we seek to put off the old self and put on the new self – but even this is done by faith as we learn to rest in Jesus’ finished work and receive from him the inheritance he secured for us in the Spirit as the Lord bless our time in Scripture, prayer, Christian fellowship, and the sacraments.

So concerning the world’s half-truth of the power to change coming from within, I say, Amen! Let us find the power for change within…but not within us as ourselves, but within us as children and temples of the One True God who is generous with his grace.  And let us cling to his grace by faith – not as a reward for our personal effort, but as a gift of the Spirit works within us to conform us to the very likeness of Jesus.

Mark Howard was a youth pastor for five years before joining Elam Ministries, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and surrounding areas. Through Elam, he's had the opportunity to work with Iranian youth as well as talk with American churches about God's work in Iran. Mark has his M.A. in Theological Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School and serves on Rooted's steering committee.

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