A Lasting Family Resemblance

I rinse the facewash off my face, reach for a towel to dry it off, and then pull my elixir of youth from the mirror vanity. I take in the face that stares back at me, with its shape, fluctuations, flaws, and features.

“I really do look like my mother,” I think—a thought that comes more often the older I get. My mother passed away five years ago, and her physical features still feel real and vivid to me today. I can picture and imagine the skin on her hands as clear as day. Like her, I have dark, full eyebrows, skin that tans easily, and hazel-brown eyes.

When cleaning out old photos, I search the pictures of her when she’s around my age, hoping to see myself in her, and her in me. I wonder if I remind anyone else of her.

Scripture speaks to familial resemblance, but the resemblance it speaks of is far richer than a mere physical trait or habit. These traits are far more healing than any bad habit or even wounds we might carry from the previous generation. They speak of transformation.

When someone believes in Jesus as her Savior, sent from God to save her from her sins by dying on the cross, she is, as Jesus explains in John 3, “born again.” The old self is gone and the new self lives. Jesus continues in John 3:5-6, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The new believer does indeed experience a new birth, or regeneration. Sanctification, or the process of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, begins when the new life begins and continues throughout a Christian’s life.

Just as a new mother looks at her newborn and tells the father, “he looks like you,” so too, the Christian begins to be transformed to look like their heavenly Father. Jesus came to the earth to reveal the character of the Holy God to the people. He came so that his people, who so desperately needed (and still need) a clear, physical picture, could look at his life, his words, his actions, and say “You must look just like your Father.”

Of course, it feels good and is special to notice the things about me that look like my mother, but even that is an imperfect resemblance. She was not perfect, nor am I. We all carry burdens and learned behaviors from previous generations that we would rather have left at baggage claim. Even the most “perfect” parent pales in comparison to our Heavenly Father.

So while I watch myself age and perhaps mimic things I remember well about my mother, the person I most want to resemble is Jesus. When my boys look back on their life with me, I want them to not even see me. I want them to see Jesus in me.

For the believer, this isn’t a pipe dream or a Hallmark card. It is a promise. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Thankfully, the promise is underwritten, backed by the Spirit who is the Lord, and who also is God. The Trinity itself initiates and completes this transformation. It is not up to me alone to start looking like Jesus through some man-made makeover extravaganza.

Paul writes further of the believer’s new identity, “… you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:9-11) Paul deconstructs the strictest divisions of identity, from nationality to religion to status in the community. He says essentially, that it does not matter who you were or where you’re from or who your mama or daddy is. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation that encompasses and overtakes all those old identities.

You wonder who you are? Look at whose you are.

There is great freedom in that.

I am not just the stereotypical suburban mom. I can do the things suburban moms do, but that isn’t who I am. I am not equal to the learned behaviors or habits, good or bad, that I inherited. I might struggle with those, but it doesn’t define me. I am not defined by how I look or dress. I might choose fashion trends, but they don’t change my inner being.

In order to resemble our Heavenly Father, we must spend time with Him, just like we did with our earthly parents. We spent years with them, picking up on cues, tics, and habits, and it shows. The more I rely on Jesus for my salvation, resting in the finished work on the cross, and the more I spend time getting to know him through the Bible, the more I grow in relationship with Him. The Spirit is at work throughout all of it, melting and remaking my heart to resemble His. From the simple practice of time in the Word or prayer come the fruits of a relationship with God. The grace here is that the more you get to know Him and who He is, the more you want to spend time with Him.

I want my children to see Jesus in me, but they will not see Him though a picture-perfect family or a calm and peaceful household. When I lose my temper and ask for forgiveness from my spouse, child, and the Lord, that is Christ in me. When I pray in a difficult situation with my children, that is Christ in me. When our family walks through pain and loss and we hope in the goodness and promises of the Lord, that is Christ in us. When we can enjoy and be thankful for a happy day on vacation, that is Christ in us. Relying on the Lord in all things, places, and circumstances is Christ in me—and reveals Christ to my children.

We are all seeking to look like something or someone. My prayer is that when I look back on my day, my week, my whole life, I will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, see moments where I think, “There. That looked like Jesus.” In the same way, I hope that God will graciously give me glimpses of himself in my children. My life, and my children’s lives are hidden in Christ. By His Spirit, with each passing joy and trial, may we look more and more like Jesus .

Dawson Cooper lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Wil, and three boys (ages 7,10, and 15). She graduated from Wake Forest University. While at Wake Forest, she began freelance writing for a local magazine. She has been writing for Rooted Ministry since 2017. She also works as a lead floral designer with Marigold Designs. Dawson and her family attend Covenant Presbyterian Church where she is involved with leading a youth small group. When she isn’t at or driving to her boys’ various games, school events, or activities, she enjoys reading, playing tennis, and enjoying a good meal with friends. 

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