It’s very encouraging for young Christians to see older saints who look like Jesus in thought, word, and deed. Their example motivates us to honor the Father and to be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). How do we grow into such a resemblance over time?
For many years, researchers have questioned why married couples look like one another more and more over the years. Studies like this one conducted three decades ago at the University of Michigan consistently show that couples do grow to look more like one another as they age. Researchers believe that couples begin to mimic each other’s facial expressions and in time develop muscle memories that are similar. Over the years, these habits cause their facial features to be conformed more closely to one another in a permanent way. It is also believed that the shared emotions that accompany these facial expressions may also increase visible similarities over time.
The Christian’s experience with Christ is similar. In his treatise on the Holy Spirit, John Owen wrote: “[Love] begets a likeness between the mind loving and the object beloved…A mind filled with the love of Christ as crucified…will be changed into his image and likeness, by the effectual mortification of sin, through a derivation of power and grace from thence for that purpose.”
The Holy Spirit works in our hearts such that we love Jesus. We set our minds on him, and we change by putting sin to death and living to righteousness. God tells us so in Ephesians 4:22-24 where Paul writes, "put off your old self...and...be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and...put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."
What characterizes people who love Jesus like this and grow to look like him?
- They love to read and to hear Jesus’ word in order to think his thoughts after him. They consume God’s word and hide it in their hearts. It’s no accident that old people who look like Jesus know what Jesus has revealed of his thoughts and his mind as they consider their circumstances and daily activities. Along with their thoughts, their emotions grow to resemble those of the Savior.
- They love to speak to God using the word of their Savior. Babies growing up in a home don’t just listen to the words of their parents, they eventually learn to talk by using those same words. People who look like Jesus speak back to him using Scripture, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
- They love to spend time with him and his family. They delight in knowing his special presence in worship. They pick up the characteristics of the other children in the family through love, fellowship and service.
It’s exciting to grow in our likeness to Jesus as we love him more and more each day by his grace. Nevertheless, we should be warned that this growth will come most rapidly before the face of Jesus in the midst of hardship as the Apostle Paul attests with joy in 2 Corinthians 4:6-11:
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.