“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” —James 1:23-24 (NIV)
A couple of days ago I had an “aha” moment about this passage of scripture. I realized I had read it all wrong. When we see ourselves in the mirror, then go away and forget who we are, we’re not forgetting how bad we are—which is the way I had always understood this passage—but how good we have been made.
We are the righteousness of God in Christ.
We are the mighty warriors God saw in Gideon.
We are the adulterous woman who Jesus protected, forgave, and then told to go and sin no more—a vote of confidence—because Jesus believed her capable of doing just that.
We are God’s own people, those He told to “Be holy, for He is holy”—again, because He believes this to be possible.
Amazingly, God believes in us.
“But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” —James 1:25 (NIV)
Doing God’s word causes it to become part of who we are. The result is that we won’t immediately forget who we are after we look into the mirror (or get up from our quiet-time tables after having read the Scriptures). Obedience is part of the transformation process.
Mental ascent to the holy writ by itself cannot transform character. It is by bringing our lives and our wills into submission to the words therein and, more importantly, to the Author of those words, that we are transformed.
Neither do we have to guess what James means by “doing God’s word.” He spells it out in verses 26-27:
- Bridling the tongue (ouch)
- Visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and
- Keeping oneself unspotted from the world—or living a morally pure, unblemished life.
Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet said “Your words were found, and I ate [consume, feed on*] them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.”(Jeremiah 15:16, NKVJ).
Amazingly, the prophet Jeremiah said this in the midst of both persecution and loneliness. Why did he “eat” God’s word? Because he was called by the name of the Lord God of hosts. His identity was of one who belonged to God, of one whose name was carved into His hands, of one called to live on a higher plane—that of obedience.
The passage in James makes clear that the person we see looking back at us in the mirror (and our ability to remember who we really are) is established by obedience to God’s word.
God’s word truly is life–giving. As we obey it and let it become part of our character, it makes us whole, consistent, people of integrity, and brings with it the joy and peace the prophet Jeremiah spoke of.