In your family, whom do you resemble most?
My dad and I share the same name, but we don’t look at all alike. He’s fair-skinned and red-haired; I’m olive-skinned and brown-haired. I used to be able to say that he was bald and I had a full head of hair, but every time I get a hair cut, I know that distinction is slowly becoming less true.
I get my looks from my mom. Even more specifically, I look like her father. I have a picture of him from the 50s or 60s. He’s wearing a suit and playing a guitar. In another 20 years, I’ll look just like him, right down to the male pattern baldness which I unfortunately inherited from him.
Because of advances in science, we know that family resemblances are the result of heritable genes. When your parents conceived you, they gave you life, not to mention your hair and eye color, cleft chin, and dimpled cheeks—or whatever it is they gave you. How you look is determined in great measure by who gave you birth.
This genetic principle—we look like our parents and ancestors—is true spiritually as well. If you belong to the family of God, you bear the family resemblance. In this case, the family resemblance isn’t how your chin is cleft or whether your cheeks are dimpled, it’s how you act. First John 2:29 states the spiritual genetic principle this way: “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.”
Notice, first of all, that God is righteous. In other words, he always does the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right reason. Each of these four elements—action, manner, timing, and motivation—is an essential element of righteousness, and with God, each of them is present in everything he does.
Notice, second of all, that we are called to do what is right. Christianity is not merely a creed, it is a way of life that is characterized by holiness. When we do the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right reason, we demonstrate our family resemblance to God.
But herein lies the problem: We are not in fact righteous. We do not perform the right action. And even if we do, our manner, timing, and motivation is usually off. Our righteousness is less a real family resemblance than a mask or theatrical makeup.
That is why, third of all, you should notice that we must be born through Christ. Consider what 1 John 5:1 says: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” We are not righteous, but Christ is. Through his “atoning sacrifice” on the cross, he makes us righteous before God (1 John 1:7, 2:1-2, 4:10). If we bear a family resemblance to God, then, it is only because of Jesus.