Your Righteous Smile

Several years ago, when we lived in Houston, I went to visit our daughter, Bethany, on the job.  She was working at the time as a nurse on a medical-surgical floor at Methodist Willowbrook Hospital.  She didn’t know I was coming.  It was a surprise.

I made my way to the seventh floor and wandered through the labyrinth-like hallway.  I am sure I looked lost.  I came up to a nurses’ station and said to the secretary, “Can you tell me where I can find Bethany?”  As the secretary stared at her paperwork, she asked, “What room are you in?”  I guess she assumed I was a patient looking for my nurse.

As I pondered her question and before I could answer, she looked up.  I smiled.  She let out a quiet shriek.  “Oh, you must be Bethany’s dad!”  Which of course was what I was about to say.  But before I could say anything, she exclaimed, “I would recognize that smile anywhere.  You have Bethany’s bright smile.”

I did not correct her with the fact that actually Bethany had my smile since I had it first, but I did appreciate her making the connection.  As with most families, there are many physical and personality qualities that I share with my kids that point to a family resemblance.

Likewise, you have a family resemblance to God.  You have a “smile” of righteous character that looks like your Father.  Now that is not to say that your similarity in character is always obvious.  Just as a child can hide their family resemblance though how they wear their hair, or color their hair, or their dress, or other factors, we can hide our family resemblance to God though sin.

Because sin is not part of God’s character (I Jn 3:9), when we sin we are putting a blemish on that family resemblance.  We are hiding the fact of our resemblance.  The look is still there under the sin.  The look does not go away.  The look was given to us at our salvation.  Our role is to let the look fully shine forth.  Our role is demonstrate what a child of God looks like by the “smile” of our righteous character.

Living by Faith

It is a prominent theme throughout the New Testament that the Christian life is lived by faith.  One example of that is our current topic; our family resemblance to God.

The Bible teaches that believers are indwelt by the very seed of God.  His Spirit lives inside us.  As such, we have taken on a new nature; a nature prone to righteousness.  Now if righteousness is our new inclination, why do we struggle with sin?  If our family resemblance to God is in our moral character, why is that resemblance, at times, hard to recognize?  The answer to this question is multi-faceted and I have written on various aspects of this many times; Galatians 5 and the War with the Flesh, Temptation Vs Sin, and The Exchanged Life are a few examples for your perusal.  But for today’s post, our focus is on the role that faith plays in this conflict.

Walking by faith is essentially living as if what God says is true, even when our experience stands in contrast to God’s promise.  When my experience does not seem to line up with God’s promise, which am I going to believe?  I am going to believe and trust and rest in God’s promise.  And one of His promises that saturates the New Testament is a life set free from the power of sin.  How do we put this promise into action?

God says that I have a family resemblance to Him in my character.  I don’t always feel this in my sensory perception.  I sometimes feel sinful.  I feel evil.  I feel anger, malice, jealousy, and a host of other sinful passions.  But because the Christian life is lived by faith, God is asking me to confess those passions, push them aside, and cling to the promise of all that became new in me.

This is not just spiritual theory.  Once I take the very real first step of clinging to His promise, I take the next step of living into the promise.  We often put the cart before the horse here.  We try to live the Christian life by our willpower; by beating ourselves up about our performance and committing to trying harder.  Faith is something we see in our distant past when we first believed.

But living, active, daily faith must come first.  When we consistently believe that we actually have a new nature, a new disposition, and a new power, we can fully live into God’s commands.  Living by faith is not license to ignore God’s commands.  It is not thinking we somehow live above God’s commands.  Living by faith is believing that I have the power, by Christ in me, to live the life; to live into all that Christ commands.

I cannot emphasize the practical nature of this faith enough.  My practice when faced with temptation is to literally tell myself that failure is not who I am.  It is not my identity.  It is not my new character of righteousness.  It is not befitting a child of God.

Does this sound too simple?  Do I ever fail?  Yes, we all have our downfalls in our conflict with the flesh, the world, and the devil.  But failure does not have to be our common experience.  And yes, it is that simple.  It is living by faith in God’s promise of a life set free from the power of sin.

Your Family Resemblance to God

“Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; and the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (I Jn 2:23).  If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, God is now your father.  And if God is your father, you share a family resemblance with Him.  This is not a physical similarity, but a resemblance of character.  You have a moral resemblance to the Father and the Son.

The apostle John spells this out in his first letter found near the end of the New Testament. Let’s review the highlights of this key passage from I John 2:29 to 3:9.  “Since you know that He [God] is righteous, you know that every one also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (I Jn 2:29).  This “since…then” sounds a little backward to our English grammar.  What the apostle is saying is that because God is righteous, it is natural for His children, those “born of Him”, to also practice righteousness.  When we do this, we are showing our family resemblance to God.

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.  For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God…and every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I Jn 3:2-3).  Because we are children of God, we are to emulate our Father by purifying ourselves; by living out the new life He has given us.  Just as God is pure in His moral character, we should practice purity in our moral character.

“And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.  Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He [God] is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.  The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.  No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in Him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (I Jn 3:5-9).

When “Jesus appeared in order to take away sins”, He not only took away the penalty of our sin, but defeated the power of sin in our lives as well.  One of the “works of the devil” that Christ destroyed was the power of sin.  And the New Testament makes clear, over and over, that the way God accomplished this was to nail our sin nature to the cross with Christ and to raise us with Christ to live a resurrected life; to live into a new nature, Christ’s nature, a divine nature infused with the righteousness of God.

The key word in this passage is practice.  The believer, because of his new identity as God’s child, does not practice sin on a regular basis.  Sin is not our regular habit.  Do Christians commit sins?  Yes, and when we do, we have an advocate in Jesus who forgives our sins.  What these verses emphasize is that sin is not our natural course as a child of God.

So yes, you do have a moral resemblance to God by virtue of your new identity in Christ.  But what about the times we fail?  What about when sin does seem to be our practice?  What about when, quite frankly, we see no family resemblance?  We will answer these questions next time.