Looking in the Mirror

Do you own a mirror? Of course you do. Why?

You might answer, “So I can see what I look like.”

Alright, but why? Why do you want to see what you look like?

For most of us, the reason is that we want to see if anything about our appearance needs changing, and we want to see clearly as we go about correcting it. (If instead you just enjoy gazing at your reflection, then you have problems that will have to wait for another essay.) So, for instance, if I look in the mirror and notice a stain on my shirt or a runaway eyebrow hair, I can take steps to fix it. That really is the main reason for looking in a mirror.

An illustration from the book of James makes this point regarding the word of God.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)

James pictures a person who looks at himself in a mirror, but then walks away and forgets what it showed him. He makes no honest evaluation of his appearance. He takes no action to change it. And so the mirror hasn’t done him any good. The NLT paraphrases it this way: “If you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.”

I was reminded of this principle just the other day. I was sitting in a local eatery, when in walked a woman who had dressed (?) herself in a way that should have been embarrassing to any rational human being. (No, you don’t want me to describe it.) How, I wondered, could she have put on that getup, looked at herself in a mirror, and said, “Yep, looks good. Let’s take that out in public”?

Self-deception, that’s how.

James’ discussion suggests that the forgetfulness in view is not absent-minded, but willful. It is, verse 22 says, deluding oneself. A person can look at his reflection and see fixable flaws, but convince himself that they are not flaws at all, or at least that they are not important.

So it is with God’s word. When I look into it, it will show me things about myself that are not what they should be. Behaviors I need to put aside. Attitudes I need to drop. Thoughts I need to control. Priorities I need to change. Things neglected that I need to be doing. At that point, I have a choice. I can begin seeking to change those things with God’s help and become an “effectual doer.” Or I can ignore, dismiss, or excuse those failures and do nothing, in which case I have deceived myself and become a “forgetful hearer.”

Clayton Harrup described the self-deluded, forgetful hearer this way:

The things which he hears never penetrate beneath the level of the skin. No matter what is said, nothing happens. There is no conviction of sin, no realization of wrongdoing. There is no deepening of love and no compassion for the lost. There is no encouragement to service and no pricking of the conscience because of the realization that God expects more than is being done. The life of the person is unaffected. (The Letter of James 44)

In contrast, James describes the person who “looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it.” Here is someone who looks carefully into the mirror of Scripture. What’s more, he is honest about what he sees. He is continually evaluating himself in its light and doing as it instructs, and so he is being transformed into what God calls him to be. He is blessed.

Some time ago I read about an ugly incident at, of all places, a Bible quoting contest in Alabama. It seems one of the losing contestants got so upset that he shot and killed the winner. Now, I assume a fellow would have to know his way around the Scriptures to enter such an event. And I suspect at least a few of the passages quoted that day were along the lines of “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Be angry and do not sin,” or “You shall not murder.” But at least one contestant looked in the mirror and went away forgetful.

Bible study is not a purely academic exercise. The blessing that comes from it is not in mere reading or memorization. We study in order to learn God’s will. We learn God’s will in order to conform our own will to His. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But it profits nothing unless we let it penetrate the depths of our hearts and minds, making ourselves a living expression of its truth.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

More importantly, what do you do?