Getting ready every morning includes a stop at the bathroom mirror. We stand in front of the mirror and groom ourselves, check things over and make the necessary adjustments. Once we’re ready, we head out the door.
James and the Fools
This daily routine makes the comparison in James 1 so apt. There, James compares the law of God to a mirror—something we should look at on a regular basis. Because, just like a mirror, the law of God is very revealing. If we’re honest about what we see there, the law of God reveals to us our failures and exposes our blemishes.
The law of God is very revealing. If we’re honest, it reveals to us our failures and exposes our blemishes.
In his letter James is rebuking antinomians—Christians who say it doesn’t matter whether they heed God’s commands or not. They like the idea of a religion that lets them get on living how they want.
But James says that they’re fools and their faith is worthless. His point is it’s not enough to have the Bible on our shelves, or installed as an app on our phone. Neither is it enough for us to simply sit under sound preaching every Sunday. Faith that doesn’t change us isn’t faith that saves—God demands we hear and do the word! It is God’s will that we put his word into practice.
“This is what you’re like,” says James to those who talk up their religion but who live like unbelievers:
If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (1:23-24).
James presents a situation we should see as absurd—unthinkable! Imagine looking in the mirror at 7:45 on Monday morning and then forgetting what you look like by 8 o’clock! A mirror shows a person a reliable picture of himself. When you look with open eyes, you can hardly forget.
Mirrors in the time of James were different from mirrors today. A mirror back then wasn’t made of glass, but of a metal like bronze, silver, or even gold: beaten flat and then polished to a high shine. The image wouldn’t be perfect, so you had to look from various angles, and with extra care and attention. Taking a superficial glance into this kind of mirror wouldn’t be of any value at all.
A mirror back then wasn’t made of glass, but of a metal … you had to look from various angles, and with extra care and attention.
Such is the law of God, says James. It is the perfect mirror because it perfectly reflects the character and will of the Lord. And God has given it for our instruction and correction. When we examine ourselves with Scripture, we start to see the sinful spots, blemishes, and shadows on our lives. And, as we see these things, we should endeavour to make the necessary adjustments. We should want to put things in order.
Sometimes we use God’s law in a superficial way. We act as mere “hearers of the Word” who hardly pause to consider before hurrying away. We don’t stop to think about how this or that text might apply to us. We give ourselves an obligatory check in the mirror, but don’t act on what we’ve seen.
Yet James insists that we use God’s word in the way he intended: we should “look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere” (1:25); literally, we must look “intently” into the law. We should look at Scripture from every angle in order to get the right picture of ourselves. Only when we look intently into God’s Word will we start to see the whole truth.
Only when we look intently into God’s Word will we start to see the whole truth.
When we stare into Scripture like this, we find that, just like your bathroom mirror, it is very personal. I look intently into the mirror of God’s law and it reveals what is wrong with me, not just what’s wrong with my neighbour (that’s always easy). When I pay attention to what I’m reading (or hearing), the word convicts me: I have been proud; I’ve been a poor husband; I haven’t trusted Jesus like I should; I haven’t given God my best, I haven’t put others ahead of myself.
Revealed by Scripture
Scripture is full of such mirrors: Paul’s letters … the Sermon on the Mount … the book of Proverbs. They challenge us to face up to hard questions: have we really loved God with our whole heart, soul, and mind? Have we loved our neighbour even half as much we love ourselves?
As often as we read Scripture, we’re being confronted with our failures. But we’re also beholding God’s marvellous grace in Christ.
As often as we read Scripture, we’re being confronted with our failures. But the good news is that we’re also beholding God’s marvellous grace in Christ. On every page, we get to see the One who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). We’re being constantly reminded that God has wiped away all our sins for Jesus’s sake. This message of his steadfast love moves us to gratitude and sets in front of us our joyful duty: to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
In this country we have so many opportunities to spend time with Scripture: we get to read it in our homes and listen to it wherever we are. We have access to churches where we can hear the word preached faithfully, Sunday after Sunday. When we do these good things, let’s remember to take a good look in the mirror and reflect on how these Scriptures relate to our lives. Are we working with what we hear? Not only hearing, but doing? Not only hearing, but believing?
God has given his word to show us hard but also great truths. It reveals the particularity of our sins. It shows us what we are in Christ despite our sins—children of God. It shows us the people God wants us to be through his Spirit. So take a good look!