Salvation in Cinema: Born royalty
The 2001 Walt Disney movie, The Princess Diaries, provides an unintentional picture of salvation in cinema to believers.
Here is the plot summary of the movie from imdb.com:
Mia, a socially awkward but very bright 15-year-old girl being raised by a single mom, discovers that she is the princess of a small European country because of the recent death of her long-absent father, who (unknown to her) was the crown prince of Genovia. She must make a choice between continuing the life of a San Francisco teen or stepping up to the throne. While Mia makes up her mind, she's pressed into taking princess lessons from her grandmother.
Let's take a look at some of the events of the story and see what they show us:
1. Mia is born as royalty. She is a princess in the kingdom of Genovia from the day of her birth. She did nothing to merit, earn, or somehow contribute towards her royal status. Similarly, when believers are born physically they are already chosen by G-d. We are already part of G-d's eternal kingdom.
Consider Paul's words to the believers in Ephesus:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Please note two things from this passage:
1. G-d did the choosing. It does not say that we chose G-d but that He chose us.
2. The choosing occurred at the beginning "before the foundation of the world." We were not present with Him at the beginning of creation to participate in any way in our salvation.
Paul makes a similar statement to the believers in Thessalonica:
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
Salvation does not ever depend upon our actions. As Paul puts it in Romans 9:
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)
Why is this so? It is because G-d does the choosing. From the moment of our creation we are part of G-d's eternal kingdom.
2. Mia is unaware of her special status as royalty and lives the first fifteen years of her life in a rather unremarkable manner. She appears to be a bright but otherwise unexceptional girl.
In a similar manner, those who are chosen by G-d but are unaware of it live their lives in an unremarkable fashion... doing the things of the world and walking in darkness. As Paul describes it in Ephesians 5:8, "...you were formerly darkness, now you are Light in the Lord..."
Even if by chance Mia had performed some action that was royal in nature it would have been viewed as pretentious (at worst) or simply odd (at best) since neither she nor anyone around her was aware of her true royal status. There was no visible connection between her actions and her (as yet unknown) royalty. This brings to mind a passage in the writings of the prophet Isaiah:
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
Any act of righteousness (i.e. righteous deeds/good deeds/good works) that are separated from G-d's direction to do that act are like a "filthy garment" [literally: a menstrual cloth].
Like Mia, those whom G-d has chosen but are unaware of that election are unaware of their special status and walk in the darkness of their ignorance.
3. Mia is visited by a special messenger: her grandmother, the queen of Genovia. It is her grandmother who informs Mia of her father's royal lineage and thus her own royal position of princess.
Believers are also visited by a special messenger to inform them of their special status: the Holy Spirit (Hebrew: ruach Hakodesh). As Peter notes in his first letter:
It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:12)
Paul also tells us that the gospel (the good news of Messiah and his kingdom) come to us by the Holy Spirit:
...for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction... (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
4. Mia's grandmother, the same messenger who informs Mia of her royalty, also sets forth a new set of standards for Mia's behavior and establishes new expectations for the young princess. She must conform her speech and actions to behavior that is fitting to her new found status.
In a similar fashion, the Holy Spirit begins writing the Law [Hebrew: Torah] of G-d upon our hearts as the New Covenant promises:
Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
As Peter exhorts us in his first epistle:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." (1 Peter 1:14-16)
Just as the queen exhorts her princess granddaughter to act like the princess she is, so Peter also exhorts believers to live like the citizens of G-d's kingdom that they are.
In Acts 26 Paul relates his encounter with the risen Yeshua and shares these words of the Master:
"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me." (Acts 26:15-18)
In this passage Paul is not commissioned to make unbelievers into believers but to teach believers of the truth of their salvation and to train them so that they may turn from darkness to light. He is being sent so that they will stop living in the dominion of Satan and start living out the truth of their existence as part of the kingdom of G-d and the commonwealth of Isra'el:
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands-- remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13)
The Holy Spirit, the same messenger that informs believers of their salvation, also testifies to the world that we are children of the King:
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:16-17)
With the help of others around her, Mia's grandmother trains Mia to live the life of a princess. In doing so she is set apart and "sanctified" to her position. Sanctified means "set apart" and Mia's behavior must be set apart in order to reflect her "set apart" position. Note that Mia's behavior does not make her a princess. She was a princess at birth. Her behavior is simply a reflection of the knowledge of who she is.
The Holy Spirit, through the lives of other believers around us, also conforms us into the pattern established for us:
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; (Romans 8:29)
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
Scripture describes two realms: one of darkness and one of light. Although believers are "Light in the Lord" we formerly walked in darkness. Paul admonishes us that we should walk as children of Light (Ephesians 5:8). The Master, Himself, says:
"I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." (John 8:12)
"I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness." (John 12:26)
Mia's training is all encompassing: how she stands, how she sits, how she walks, how she talks, how she eats, how she waves... Everything she does is adjusted and conformed to the standard of her position.
Paul exhorts the believers in Corinth:
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
He also exhorts the believers in Ephesus:
..for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8-10)
At various points Mia despairs and nears the point of abandoning her position and seeking to avoid the responsibility that has been thrust upon her. It is a high and demanding calling and her character is tested.
In a similar manner, believers are often tried, tested, and tempted. Scripture provides cautions regarding testing (e.g. 2 Corinthians 2:9, 2 Corinthians 13:5-6, 1 Timothy 3:10, Hebrews 11:17, 1 Peter 1:7, 1 John 4:1). Scripture provides observations about temptation (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10:13, Galatians 6:1, Hebrews 2:18, James 1:13-14). It also provides many exhortations to stand firm (1 Corinthians 16:13, Ephesians 6:11, 6:13-14, Philippians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 1 Peter 5:12)
Nobody is forcing Mia to choose this new life. Indeed, some are trying to talk her out of it. She must make her own choice. This brings to mind a famous passage from Scripture:
"If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)
5. Mia does not train and prepare just so she can do the things a princess does. Her training and preparation have a purpose: one day she will be queen and she must be prepared to rule.
Believers also are being trained to rule, to rule in G-d's kingdom.
If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:12-13).
And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." (Revelation 5:9-10).
Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6).
Like Mia in the movie "The Princess Diaries." believers in the risen Messiah live the following experiences:
• Born as Royalty
• Unaware of Special Status
• Awakened to the Truth By a Special Messenger
• Given a New Set of Standards and Expectations
• Trained to Live as Royalty
• Trained in Preparation to Rule
What is the conclusion of all this?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)
May we strive by the power of the Spirit of G-d to be conformed to the image of Christ and live our lives in the knowledge of who we are and who we have been chosen to be.
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20)