About twenty years ago, one of my father’s parishioners painted a portrait of him. For several weeks, each Monday morning, she came to his office, and he posed for her sitting very still, with his legs crossed and his hands folded across his lap. Although this woman was a professional artist, the portrait didn’t look much like my dad. It was impressionistic, not realistic.
And yet, she captured the essence of my dad as he rested after a long weekend of pulpit ministry. Two things stand out especially: the contemplative look on my dad’s face, which he always gets when he’s doing one thing and thinking about another, and the way his hands are folded across his lap. The portrait may not look like my dad, but it resembles him.
I do too. A while back, in the middle of a worship service at which I was scheduled to preach, I found myself seated on the platform waiting for my turn at the pulpit to come. I was sitting very still, with my legs crossed and my hands folded across my lap. Someone was speaking, but I wasn’t listening. My mind was elsewhere. Then I realized I had seen my dad in the exact same chair and pose Sunday after Sunday. I am my father’s son. I don’t look like him—I inherited dark hair from my mother—but I resemble him.
The seventh beatitude pronounces happiness on people who introduce harmony into conflicted situations: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt. 5.9). A son of God does not look like him, but he bears a striking family resemblance. There are character traits they hold in common. Peacemaking is one of them. So is showing love. As Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven,” and “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5.44–45, 47).
A son of God, in other words, is one who acts like him. And that introduces a problem for us. We do not act like God. We are combatants rather than peacemakers, persecutors rather than enemy-lovers. We are not perfect. So, in what sense are we God’s sons? A better question is this: Given that we are not now God’s sons, how do we become them?
We become God’s sons when he adopts us into his family. Paul writes, “In love, [God] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1.5). We become the sons of God through the Son of God! Christ is a peacemaker and enemy lover and morally perfect human being, so he is God’s “natural” Son, so to speak. But we are not adopted as second-class members of God’s family. Instead, we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8.17).
Through Christ, we become sons of the heavenly Father. And through Christ, we resemble our Father more with each passing day.