“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:11-13.
Had it not been written down in God’s own inspired, infallible Word, it would be too good to believe. Too beautiful, too incomprehensible, too downright wonderful to even be possible—that a human being should be called a son of God! Perhaps that is why we sometimes fail to grasp the full import of this scripture and underestimate the grace available to us. Such incredible power—the power to partake of the image and likeness of God—could such power indeed be possible to mortal man!?
Before Adam’s fall, he was made in the image of God. With the stamp of divine crafting in every feature of the soul as well as the body, he must have displayed that beauty and glory that set him apart as the offspring of God (Acts17:28). Foul indeed was the foe whose subtlety prompted man’s rebellion and who stained the soul once so pure by inherited right. Sin corrupted man’s heart, tainted his mind, and perverted his affections. His innocence was lost, and more— his likeness to his Creator. No longer did man resemble the Holy One. He now resembled the devil, whose son he had become (1 John 3:10).
God and man were now estranged from one another. No doubt God was grieved that man had by choice forfeited his divine inheritance. There is something special about having a son in your own image—someone who bears your likeness because he takes his substance from you. The grief that the Creator suffered when Adam sinned must have been like the grief of one who, in losing his son, has lost a part of himself. But God was not finished with man. Although the cost to restore His own was infinite sacrifice, He was willing to pay the price. All the way to Calvary love drove Him—not merely to spare man from punishment, but to restore that union of soul that would give man fellowship with Him in holiness. By the miracle of the shed blood of Jesus, man could experience a new, divine birth. He could put away the old image of sin and be created a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“Except a man be born again,” Jesus instructed Nicodemus, “he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). And again, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The apostle Peter describes the same new birth. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23). To be born of God is no light thing. The very Word and Spirit which called light out of darkness and brought order to the universe are the same Word and Spirit that have breathed their divine creative influence into the soul of a child of God.
A child is formed from the substance of his father. In the features of his face, in the workings of his mind, and in the expression of his personality, he bears a strong resemblance to his father because he has been made in his father’s image. Often, we look at the child and identify the father without being told. He bears his father’s likeness, and that likeness betrays whose son he is. In like manner, every Christian has divine life within him which comes from the very substance of God. He partakes of the divine nature (1 Peter 1:4). He has escaped the corruption and lust of the world. He walks in God’s holiness. He lives separate from sin. He can do this because He is a son of God.
It is as easy to recognize a child of God as it is to recognize a child of the devil. “Ye are of your father the devil,” Jesus rebuked the unbelieving Jews, “and the lusts of your father ye will do…When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). To be a Christian is not to be conformed to a mere set of standards (for a liar can pretend outwardly good behavior). To be a Christian is to be like Christ both on the inside and out. It is to have divine life springing from the soul in rivers of living water. It is to be a son of light (Ephesians 5:8), blameless and harmless in the midst of a crooked and perverse world (Philippians 2:15). It is to display the fruit of the Spirit in one’s daily living (Galatians 5:19-23).
There is growth in the Christian life. Just as the small child who shares his father’s interest but cannot wield a hammer with his father’s precision because of immaturity, we may find ourselves with less patience and love today than we will have tomorrow. But even when those graces are immature in form, they will be present in each Christian life, and the world looking on will be able to recognize the characteristics of God.
It is said that we do not need to live righteously to gain an entrance to heaven because our salvation lies in claiming the righteousness of Christ. The second statement is true—our salvation lies in claiming the righteousness of Christ, but it is impossible to claim Christ’s righteousness without showing Christ’s righteousness. Any claim on Christ’s righteousness which is not backed by Christ’s likeness is a false claim, for “let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). I cannot claim God as my Father if I have no likeness to God.
The apostle John sums it up for us in a few words: “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning…Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” 1 John 3:7-9.