TEXT: 1 John 3:1-3
In 1905, the American novelist, poet, and playwright Gertrude Stein was asked by the great Pablo Picasso to sit for a portrait. She was 31 years old at the time, but in Picasso’s rendering of her, Stein appears as a much older woman. Interestingly, the writer herself loved the painting—but others have described it as “dark, brooding, and strange.”1
Asked about his portrait of Gertrude Stein, Picasso famously said: “Everybody says that she does not look like it—but that does not make any difference. She will!” 2
In our text from the First Epistle of John, we read: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 JOHN 3:2).
God wants to make us look like Jesus. “When he is revealed, we will be like him.” God intends to work in us, and work with us, and work on us—until we fully reflect the spirit and character of Christ.
Part of what it means for a person to be “in Christ”3—or what it means for all of us to belong to the “body” of Christ4—is simply this: when God looks at us, he sees Jesus. He sees the likeness of his Son—right now, when the Father looks at us, that is what he sees.
Others—perhaps especially those closest to us—may not think we look very much like Jesus, at this point. But that does not make any difference. We will! That is the promise of Scripture—and of the living God.
Consider that. You and I are growing into the image of Jesus; and even though there are days when we do not seem to be very much like him, we will be … one day. An American Episcopalian named Carroll Simcox has put it this way:
You and I shall be our real, complete selves for the first time ever. We think of ourselves now as human beings. We really aren’t that—not yet. We are human becomings. The fetus conceived only yesterday is a human becoming. If you are living in Christ, believing in him and trying to follow and obey him as the master of your life, you are—by his grace—becoming ever more and more like him.5
Hopefully, there are some days when we get it mostly right—days when we do reflect the likeness of Christ. This is not to say that God is cloning us into exact replicas of Jesus of Nazareth. To me, it seems that the more we become like Jesus, the more we become our truest selves.
But what does that mean? And what does it mean, here and now, to be in the process of becoming Christ-like?
Here’s a story. Both fortunately and unfortunately, it is a true story. A couple of years ago—and for a period of several weeks—I was driving a car with extensive body damage on the driver’s side. In fact, the exterior mirror was held on by duct tape and a bungee cord.
Why was that? Well—and here’s the unfortunate part of the story—it was the result of extremely bad driving on my part. One day—in a very crowded lot—while backing into a parking space, I damaged not only my own vehicle, but also the Dodge Ram truck that was parked in an adjoining space.
It was completely my fault. Obviously, there wasn’t enough room, and it was stupid of me to try and fit my car in there.
Anyway, I figured I should not leave the scene. So, for the next 85 minutes, I stayed put, waiting for the owner of the truck to return. And I have to tell you, even though I knew I was doing the right thing … I came to understand why people flee from accident scenes. I had close to an hour and a half to stew about this. And the anxiety was almost unbearable.
Finally, the other driver appeared. She noticed the damage to her vehicle at the same moment that I was getting out of my car to apologize and exchange information.
She expressed her dismay, of course. She said that she had just got the truck back from the shop after having other body work done. Which made me feel even more terrible.
But here comes the fortunate part of this story. Maybe I looked as terrible as I felt. Or perhaps she wanted to set a good example for her young daughter, who was with her. Or maybe she was simply a good person. In any case, this woman—whose property I had severely damaged—chose to extend compassion and understanding.
She thanked me for sticking around and taking responsibility. “That doesn’t always happen,” she said.
And then she said, “Neither of us wanted this to happen—but these are just things. And things can be repaired.”
You know, it’s one thing to be treated with respect when you are in the right. You expect that. But it’s quite something else—in fact, it is a remarkable thing—to be treated with respect and kindness when you are in the wrong. I think that is called grace.
I have no idea whether that woman is a Christian. But, that day, she certainly looked like Jesus to me. My transgression had wounded her—or, at least, wounded her truck! I expected to receive a blast … but instead, I received a blessing.
Yeah. To me, she looked very much like Jesus. And that encounter has left me wondering how my own behaviour stacks up, in times of stress and crisis. In the future, when I am inconvenienced or injured, I hope I remember to be as merciful to others as that complete stranger was to me.
And you know, this just might be the way we can actually change the world for the better. Maybe this is how we can speed up the arrival of the Kingdom of God upon this earth. Perhaps we can best serve that purpose by extending mercy and forgiveness and genuine love in our personal relationships. I wonder if that is really the way in which the healing of the nations can be accomplished—face to face, one person at a time.
Jesus is the pattern and the power—the model and the source—of authentic human life. God wants us to have what Jesus has: a radical and liberating faith; a childlike trust in the grace of God; a durable hope that, because we are in God’s hands, death and sorrow and pain and tears are not our final destiny—but joy and wholeness and health are!
God wants us to have absolute confidence that we and the world are headed, not toward midnight, but toward sunrise; and—above all—a clear understanding that the heart of Christian faith is unconditional love.
Maybe the question we should be asking is: how can we become as human as Jesus?
Here’s the thing: genuine transformation is not something we can accomplish on our own. It is not a self-help exercise or a do-it-yourself project. It is God’s work. Transformation happens as God convinces us we that we are loved—that, like Jesus, we are his beloved children. The words God spoke to Jesus at his baptism are the same words God speaks to each one of us: “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.”
God’s love for us is tender and strong, reassuring and challenging, nurturing and empowering. God’s arms are always open to us—and they are arms of welcome, open wide. We are God’s children. We are loved.
Do you believe that? Do you believe that you are loved by God? Do you believe that—no matter what the world or society or culture may be telling you—you are precious in the sight of your Creator?
I hope you do. For I believe that assurance—that deep-down assurance that we are loved—is the instrument God uses to transform us. We are valued and cherished and cared for as children of a God whose name is Love. Surely there is power in that realization! And it can fuel our own determination to love and value and cherish and care for one another.
This is how we become more Christ-like, my friends. This is how the Holy Spirit works in our minds and our hearts until we think and feel and act like Jesus. This is how we find courage to join him in loving and healing and changing the world—one person at a time.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God, and that is what we are.”
2 As quoted by Stein herself. See Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein, Carl van Vechten, ed. (New York: Modern Library, 1962), p. 12.
3 See, for example, ROMANS 8:1; 2 COR. 5:17; GALATIANS 3:27; PHILIPPIANS 1:1; COLOSSIANS 3:3; 1 PETER 5:14.
4 See ROMANS 12:5 and 1 COR. 12:27.