The Impression of Jesus
The likeness of Jesus is what every disciple is beckoned to. It is the glory of God revealed in human flesh, and one day we will each attain his radiant perfection. But, as of yet, we are caught in the ‘in between’. We are found in the tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ of the Kingdom. We were made for the likeness of Jesus, but we are sadly still so far from being perfected. Each of us is on a journey towards that heavenly reality but none has yet come anywhere close. In our pride, we often refuse to fully acknowledge how far we have fallen and thus how far we must come to return to the righteousness for which we were created. If we do allow our eyes to be opened to our apparent lack, it is all too common a response to strive to earn one’s own salvation. With some baffling and warped beliefs, we think that it is possible to right our own wrongs and crawl out of our sin into the perfection that belongs to God alone. We all too often believe that everything comes at a price and must be earnt, that dependency is an ugly weakness and that we are powerful enough to even redeem ourselves. We have so much to learn from our Maker.
The reality of the Gospel is drastically different from the story the world tells us. The Gospel is a wild tale of extravagant love and audacious grace that simply doesn’t make sense according to our limited understanding. But then, how could we ever suppose to fathom the unfathomable ways of God? The Gospel is intrinsically offensive to us. It challenges the unwritten laws of this world and breaks every rule in the book. The guilty are not meant to be declared innocent. Debts are not meant to be cancelled. The dead are not meant to rise again. Our God is radically rebellious against the lies of our fallen ‘reality’. The Truth of Jesus is that, though guilty, we have been declared innocent and made clean by the blood of Christ. Our debts have all been cancelled and we have been set free from our slavery to sin. And, even now, we rise into the resurrection life of Jesus and are in the process of being transformed into his likeness. No one could ever earn this. No one could ever achieve this in their own strength. It is the free gift of God to his wayward and broken people, so great is his longing to see us whole again. This is the Gospel.
There is no other name on heaven or on earth by which we can be saved. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through the Son. It is to this Son that we are called to surrender our everything in total abandon. As we do so, the attainment of him becomes our only purpose and our destiny. To be ever transformed and moulded into the likeness of Jesus should be the greatest desire of our hearts, for as we seek his face and know him more we cannot help but be changed. This is also the greatest desire of the Lord himself for each of our lives. He longs for communion with his creation, knowing that as we meet with him we begin to more fully reflect his perfection. We are foolish if we think that this transformation can be bought or earned. Neither can it truly be sought, since it is only a by-product of our life-long pursuit of God himself. Our perfection and self-improvement must never the goal, the Lord alone is our beginning and our end.
That being said, God is in the business of refining his servants like gold in the crucible and our hearts cannot help but be changed as an overflow of encounter with him. The likeness of Jesus is the heavenly reality to which we are called. But how do we attain the image of God? By what method is the righteous perfection of Christ made manifest in us? We are called to press in. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. It is the impression and imprint of Jesus Christ in us that leaves us changed and forever bearing his glorious image. We are soft clay in the hands of our Potter and as he moulds us we take on the shape impressed by his hands. The impression of Jesus is his likeness, and his every touch leaves a mark on us.
The impression of Jesus is only possible through closeness. A potter with his clay demonstrates great care and intimacy. He knows its every curve and crease; he has known it from the time it was a formless clump and has shaped it into all that it is now. The Potter doesn’t use cold, impersonal tools. He isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with our mess. He takes hold of us, gently but firmly, and his hands are close around us as he presses in and shapes. But his hands never become too tight; if we resist him, he doesn’t force himself upon us. His fingers will loosen, though, in his faithfulness, he will never let us go. His likeness is the purpose for which we were created, however, often we reject our Creator and turn away. This saddens the Father’s heart and the fullness of God cannot be realised in us. You can’t expect to look like Jesus if you’re keeping him at arm’s length. The likeness of Jesus is only possible if you get close to him. This is our greatest invitation, and it involves total surrender.
“Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’” (Isaiah 45:9). As soon as we press in to Jesus and surrender to his transformation in us, we must surrender all rights to ourselves. We are not our own, we were bought at a price. We are clay in the hands of our Maker and must give him full permission to do whatever he wants in our hearts and lives. We can’t hold back, we can’t have reservations. We must trust him completely. Then, as we allow God to have his way, we will begin to marvel at the glory of his likeness displayed in us. The impression of Jesus is always far more beautiful than we could ever anticipate or imagine. He redeems us and utterly transforms us until we are almost unrecognisable. Where we once succumbed to temptation, we now have the strength to stand firm. While we once feared much, now we fear the Lord alone. Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will abound. The old is gone; the new is here.
The impression of Jesus marks us with his seal. “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm…” (Song of Songs 8:6). A seal bears its owner’s likeness and is used to mark authority and endorsement. He presses into us and so endows us with his Sonship. In baptism we are adopted as children of God and marked by the seal of the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He marks us with his approval and unconditional adoration. We are forever set apart and defined by the steadfast love of the Father. His seal confers to us all authority on heaven and on earth, which has been given to the Son. This is a remarkable reality of the impression of Jesus which we would do well to not forget so easily. Our world would look drastically different if every son and daughter of God was walking in the fullness of their God-given identity and authority.
Not for a moment do we lose our distinct personality; the only part of ourselves that God asks us to crucify is the sin part. Our beautiful uniqueness becomes even more radiant as each part of our character that displays the glory of Christ becomes magnified. The finished result is highly unlikely to be anything like that which we expected or thought we were signing up for. It will be better. The likeness and impression of Jesus is the most glorious reality a human being can ever experience. Jesus never disappoints. He is most radiant, holy and perfect; he is both God and man. What a marvel that we are invited and beckoned into his image and his inheritance. This is the adventure and purpose of our Christian lives, to know him ever more and so be ever changing, closer and closer to his likeness. This is our pursuit and our only goal.
The impression of Jesus is the glory of mankind.