Looking in mirrors is nothing new and some people spend too much time doing it. Checking and rechecking their appearance, they hope to make the best possible impression. A slip, a spill, a gust or a shower and it is all undone. Then there are others who give no thought to how they look nor show concern for personal hygiene. In their case, less is definitely not more.
In what is perhaps a familiar metaphor, James the brother of Jesus compares the person who looks in a mirror only to forget what he saw, to the person who hears the word of God but forgets to do it. The value of ‘the perfect law of liberty’ is not only what it tells us about who God is, but that it also shows us how to be the people that God wants us to be. (James 1:23.)
Spiritual self examination is the first step and valuable only when we compare ourselves with the perfection and holiness of God. A quick glance won’t do. We must look intently into the mirror of God’s word and put our minds to work to understand what God is saying. This takes the kind of diligence that just won’t quit until the truth comes out, so that God’s truth might be formed within us. And it takes humility.
Mirrors do not lie and especially not the one provided by God. Therefore, when we do “look intently into this mirror” (1:23) we must be prepared to make changes both big and small.
The bathroom mirror can show us when our hair is a mess and our clothes don’t match. It is always easier to leave things as they are or to hope that no one notices. And besides, we all know people who look a whole lot worse. To the contrary, believing what you are seeing and understanding that there is a problem is the first step. Caring enough to change is the second. Big changes take a lot of effort. Lasting change takes a lifetime in order for the change to last for a lifetime.
As spiritual people, we truly care about how we appear to God. We want to be our best and to do our best in our new relationship with Him. To that end, we want to immediately correct anything ungodly in our lives and bring reproach upon the Lord. The time to change is now…lest we forget what we saw or learned about ourselves from the mirror of God’s word (1:24). Decisions delayed or often forgotten.
Jesus talked about this in the parable of the sower. Some of the seed was snatched away by the Devil when those who heard God’s word did not fully understand the truth (Matthew 13:19). Instead of asking, studying and digging for the light of God’s truth, some drifted back into the darkness.
A lot of men who check in the mirror to get ready in the morning do not come back for a second look. Women tend to be more intentional and take greater care. The mirror is bigger and a second is magnified. The room is brighter – attention to detail is the order of the day. A full length mirror ensures that all of the pieces fit just so and the mirror on the way out the front door agrees. There is a compact in the purse and another in the car’s visor just in case.
When it comes to the mirror of God’s Word, we ought to be more like women than men. One look is never enough. A weekly Sunday morning checkup leaves us barely able to remember what the sermon was about. We live our lives daily and need God’s word each moment of our lives. If we make it our goal to be pleasing to our heavenly Father, we must consult God’s word from day to day.
Even when we do study God’s word, we might misunderstand what he has said or fail to do what we know that He wants. Self deception is the most dangerous kind, since there is no one closer to us than ourselves (1:22). Let us then be warned and instructed to study God’s word in the light of the scriptures and to see our reflection in the light of that truth. When we see what it is that God’s word requires, let us do it without delay. Let us do it while our heart is soft, our spirit is yielding and our life is before us.
James therefore encourages us to look intently into the Word of God for the express purpose of spiritual transformation. The idea of liberty is a freedom to be the people who God created us to be. In addition, James writes that we will be blessed in our effort and work.
The result that God wants is this: “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (1:25)
Change is rarely easy and sometimes overwhelming. And when so many are needed, where do we start? Perhaps the most important thing is to choose one thing and start with that.
James suggests some areas by way of illustration.
- We might begin by learning to control our thoughts and the things that we say.
The writer of Proverbs said, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.” (Proverbs 27:19). Jesus identified the mouth as the gateway to the heart. What a person says reveals who they are within. Control of the tongue then is a heart issue. It begins with our thoughts, our attitudes, our motives and beliefs. We cannot be strangers to the word of God and truly ‘know’ God at the same time.
- Attending to the needs of those who lack family support. Widows and orphans were high on the list in ancient times and are joined today by many others.
- Resisting the corruption that is in the world through lust – by staying pure. (1:26-27). Living lives of positive righteousness as our Lord did is the best way to resist corruption. Our lives must be defined by the good that we embrace and do and not just the absence of sin.
Let’s be regular, consistent and intentional in our Christian walk, ready when our Lord returns: “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:14)