We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” –C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chapter Three: Divine Goodness
Ellen White, in The Desire of Ages, Chapter 86: Go Teach All Nations, makes a similar statement: “Christ is sitting for His portrait in every disciple.”
The question naturally arises, what does it mean by portrait? A portrait is a reproduction of visible or invisible imagery on canvas. It is a mixture of various shades and tints. From this composite comes forth a masterpiece of representation.
It may well be asked, what are the various shades and tints? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23 NAB. A parallel passage is II Peter 1:5-7.
Let’s focus on love:
Love is so misunderstood and so unknown today. No human definition is adequate. We can see the results everyday if our eyes are open to see. It seems that love finds little expression, and many wonder why.
Love cannot be commanded. It must be given. To give requires to have. If you don’t possess it, you cannot give it; that is so simple, yet it is so complicated because the complication lies within us.
Love is an element of divine infusion from the Holy Spirit. It is a foreign substance introduced into our mind by Infinite Love. Once we grasp this momentous reality, we come face to face with the question—what do we do with it? There are two choices open to us—to accept or to reject.
Love remains where it is wanted. Love never intrudes itself because it recognizes it can only manifest itself in fertile soil.
A genuine life produces love because it has nothing else of worth to produce. When the product is seen, then the truth, that is the basis of creation and redemption, finds vindication.
The vindication of God is found in total loving. Total loving is manifested in total giving. For you see, the portrait of reproduction or character development is nothing more than total loving. Total loving is the direct result of the daily work of the Holy Spirit.
To have the character of Jesus means to love the same way that He did. “When we love the world as He loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven; for we have heaven in our hearts.” DA, Chapter 70: The Least of These My Brethren
Now we have a slight glimpse of the portrait. In this life we can only see the portrait in midnight shades. Should this concern us? The answer is no; our concern is to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, and the Spirit will bring the perfection of fruit to harvest.
The reality of all of this is open to each one. There is only one condition.
Jesus stands at the door of the heart and knocks. We possess the power of will to give Him the invitation to come in. He will stay only if we want Him to stay. Our daily wanting is the condition.
To behold an apple and never partake of it is to deny oneself a pleasure of joy. To behold Jesus and never invite Him in to stay is to deny oneself the reality of love—agape.
G.D. Williams has worked in Adventist higher education for 30+ years and is happily counting down to retirement. His other pursuits include photography, genealogy, collecting antique books, and working on his old farmhouse. This essay has been adapted from an article originally published in 1977 in Southern Accent, the student newspaper of Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University), and is reprinted here with permission from the author.
Photo Credit: Julia Eisenberg / FreeImages.com
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