Defined like this: of, relating to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal.
What we mean, then, by supernatural, is that there is a default way of everything. The law of gravity, for example, means that things are pulled downward, or toward the center of the earth. If one day things started “falling” upward, or if things began to float on their own without some outside force acting on them, we would say it was a supernatural occurrence because the observed happenings were not in line with what they’re supposed to be.
Christians deal in the realm of the supernatural all the time, even if we don’t recognize it. We believe the natural, the default, posture of the human heart is sinful. When we commit acts of sin, it’s a very natural thing for us to do because that’s our bent. It’s an expression of who we are. But when we believe the gospel, something supernatural happens. Our default changes. We begin to act in accordance with our new nature. We do things and think things and believe things and say things that are out of place in the natural order of the world:
We love our enemies.
We rejoice when persecuted.
We are grateful in all circumstances.
We give instead of take.
All these things are against the way of the world. But just because something is supernatural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s mystical. When we think of something being mystical, it’s a bit more hazy than something being supernatural. When we say something is mystical, we mean it’s obscure. It’s mysterious. And while the two words might share some characteristics, I’m thinking more and more that it’s important for us to recognize the difference because doing so impacts the way we live out our faith.
Take, for example, Paul’s words in Galatians 5:16:
I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
“Walk by the Spirit,” says Paul. This sounds like a pretty mystical thing when you first read it. We might have a picture in our minds of someone starting out from their house to walk with no aim in mind, just waiting for the Spirit to show them where to go. They go through their lives this way, waiting for that voice or feeling or vision so they will know the next step to take.
I’m not saying it doesn’t happen that way; you, like me, have probably had times when you felt like the Holy Spirit was leading you in a certain way or to say a certain thing or to contact a certain person though you don’t know why in the moment. But walking by the Spirit, though supernatural, is not that mystical, or at least not that mystical all the time. Take a look at the rest of the text from Galatians:
For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other so that you don’t do what you want. Bit if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law… (Gal. 5:17-18).
If you continue to read, you’ll find Paul describing the works of the flesh – things like sexual immorality, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, and others. Then he describes the fruit of the Spirit – love, you, peace, patience, and so on. These don’t seem like mystical kinds of things.
Supernatural? Absolutely. Mystical? Not so much.
Instead, what they seem like are practical, moment-by-moment choices in every day ordinary moments of life. It’s in these small choices that we make the choice to walk with the Spirit instead of walking by the flesh. And when you add all those choices up, you find a moment-by-moment, occasion-by-occasion turning from our self-lordship to an acknowledgment of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things. That only happens through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, but it’s lived out in the very non-mystical ordinariness of real life.