This morning I slept in. I heard my alarm, shut it off, snuggled back into bed, and fell asleep.
The next time I woke up, my clock informed me that I had but 7 minutes to get dressed, get my things together, and make the 10-minute trek to class. Perfect.
I leaped out of bed, threw on some sort of outfit, and took a quick peak in the mirror. My hair was sticking out in all directions, there was sleep crusted on my eyelashes, and crumbs from the granola bar I had just consumed were scattered on my shirt. I took in the sight of my rushed-morning self, heaved a sigh, and went to class.
Later, during my break between classes, I ran and grabbed some coffee and a snack for an energy boost. Before my lecture started I thought I'd better make sure I looked half-decent. Taking a look in the bathroom mirror, I noted the huge coffee stain on my shirt, the pen marks on my hands, and the leaves that had probably gotten tangled in my hair as I was walking through the blustery wind earlier. I shrugged, took another swig of coffee, and went to class.
In the evening, I had a class workshop in the amphitheater. As I was about to leave the dorm with my group of friends, I checked myself in the mirror. I took note that I was wearing two different shoes, I was missing an earring, I had food stuck in my teeth, my shirt was buttoned up crookedly, and my tights had a hole in the knee. I put it out of my mind, and went to class.
These scenarios were made up. They didn't happen. They wouldn't have happened, because they're ridiculous. If I go to look at myself in the mirror before heading out the door, it's because I want to make sure that nothing is out of place. I want to make sure there are no stains, no rips, and no smudges. When I look in the mirror, it's to double check that I look presentable. Without a mirror, it's hard to see what's out of place.
And if I look in the mirror and something's wrong, I fix it. I wash my hands. I wipe my face. I comb my hair. I brush off my shirt. I tie my shoes. I fix what needs fixing. I clean what needs cleaning. If I were to check the mirror before heading to a formal dinner, notice mess on my face or something in my hair, and then go right on in... I'd be crazy. What's the point of looking in the mirror, if you don't do anything about the problems? What's the point of double-checking your clothes if you don't even make the necessary adjustments? If you continue on your way without changing what needs to be changed, it's like you didn't look in the mirror, at all.
You walk away, and you forget what you look like.
James 1:22-24 - "But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You SEE YOURSELF, WALK AWAY, and FORGET WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE."
The Bible is a mirror. It reveals to us the nagging sins that we are ignoring. It shows us the things in our life that are dishonourable to Him. It shows us the bad habits we might not even notice without the teachings of the Bible. It exposes the patterns of our life that we thought were harmless, but might actually need to change.
The problem is, many go to the Bible without the intention of truly looking at themselves through God's lens. They go to it for a brief moment of encouragement, or to satisfy their guilty conscience, or out of a sense of obligation. Some read it and understand the dark things it's pointing out... but they don't do anything about them.
But, I ask you, would it make sense to look at yourself in the mirror, see the giant mustard stain on your white shirt, and then leave the house without changing? Of course not. If we did, we would only be fooling ourselves. In the same way, to read the Bible with no intention of obeying is to fool ourselves!
Romans 7:7b - "Am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that SHOWED me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.”
The purpose of God's Word is not to make us feel good about ourselves. On the other hand, the purpose of God's commands is not to give us a way to "save ourselves." The commands of God are not what get us to Heaven. Obeying His Law does not grant us salvation. If that were the case, nobody would be saved! However, even though we are granted infinite grace and mercy through the cross of Christ, that does not give us the opportunity to go on sinning!
Somewhere between legalism and liberalism is a place called abundant life. And that's where Jesus lived.
The Law is not abolished. The Commands are not erased. They do not show us how to be saved, but they show us what the life of the saved should look like!
Philippians 2:12b - "Work hard to SHOW the RESULTS of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear."
James 2:14-17, 24 - "What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't SHOW it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, "Goodbye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well"- but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.... We are SHOWN to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone."
It's not the message that this culture likes to hear. We prefer the idea that once we're saved, we're cool. No need to obey. No need to change. We're constantly told that we are "Flawless." "Perfect." We're told that we "don't need to change for ANYONE." We're just fine the way we are. And because of this mindset, we are missing the other half of the equation: Obedience. Faith and works are interdependent. Works don't get you to Heaven, but the mark of True Faith is that it produces something!
Would you say "I believe it's going to rain today," and then leave without a jacket or an umbrella? Would you say, "I believe there's a test tomorrow," and then refuse to study? It's nonsensical. It's oxymoronic. It's hypocritical. If you believe something, your actions will inevitably correspond. Faith doesn't exist by itself. And if it does, then perhaps it is simply a faith of the mouth. A faith built with meaningless words.
James 3:13 - "If you are wise and understand God's ways, PROVE IT by living an honourable life, doing GOOD WORKS with the HUMILITY that comes from wisdom."
In fact, when James refers to the faith of Abraham, he reveals to us that Abraham's works actually perfected His faith. It's one thing to claim to trust God. It's an entirely different thing to be ready to offer your son as a sacrifice in obedience to God.
James 2:21-22 - "Was not our father Abraham justified by what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith was working with his actions, and his faith was perfected by what he did."
Jesus condemned those whose faith extended only as far as their mouths. But He commended those whose faith led them to do something about it! Faith leads to obedience. You cannot have one without the other. Separation without surrender is legalism, but surrender without separation is hypocrisy. This co-dependency is the definition of faith! With true faith in Christ, obedience is not so much an obligation as it is a natural response! When a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, flying is not an obligation, but a new and better way of living! By claiming to know Christ, we are claiming to be forgiven. We are claiming to have died to our sinful nature. We are claiming to have been transformed into a New Creation.
Romans 6:2, 6, 15-16 - "Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. Well then, since God's grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don't you realize that YOU BECOME THE SLAVE OF WHATEVER YOU CHOOSE TO OBEY? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living."
It's scary how little I hear obedience preached. It's crazy how rarely we are being taught to live in obedience to the Word. When we think of obedience, we think of judgment, bigotry, intolerance, and offensiveness. That's the culture we live in. But I agree with the words of Charles H. Spurgeon: "When we think too lightly of sin, we think too lightly of the Saviour." Does that not perfectly describe our Western, First-World version of Christianity?
We don't go to look in the mirror just because it's fun. The mirror has a purpose. It shows us the problems that we can't see with our own eyes. We go to the mirror so that we can see what needs changing. It reflects our image back to us.
What if we came to the Bible with that same attitude? What if we stopped treating it like a motivational tool or a book that gives us warm, fuzzy feelings... and began treating it like a mirror? It's a tool that reveals God's standard. It shows us the way to live. It's a handbook to life. It teaches us how to live more like Christ. It reflects our image back to us, if we are willing to reflect over what it says. Why don't we start giving the Mirror the courtesy of actually doing what a mirror is meant to do? What if we went to it for the purpose of learning how to obey? Or gaining wisdom from God? Or growing in knowledge of His Plan? Or hiding His Words in our hearts? It gives us the opportunity to grow. In fact, that's the second part of the passage in James:
James 1:25 - "But if you LOOK CAREFULLY into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you DO what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it."
The life of a Christian should look different from the lives of the worldly.
If yours doesn't, it might not be a bad idea to take a good, long look in the mirror.