But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For 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. 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.
I spoke recently to over 100 sorority girls at their weekly chapter meeting on the subject of body image and beauty. As I looked around the room at the perfectly put-together students, I wondered, “Where is the motivation for these girls to change how they see themselves, to change how they understand and practice body, beauty, and eating? They look in the mirror, and whatever they don’t like they change, even if it’s drastic or costly or unhealthy.”
Surveys show that most women have upwards of 50 negative body thoughts daily, ranging from comparing size of arms and thighs to lamenting the shape of their hips or nose. It’s addicting, and these thoughts are so common that women are dulled to their impact. We don’t even realize we’re doing it!
One counselor put our obsession with our image this way:
“[Telling a weight-obsessed woman to stop obsessing] is like telling a drug dealer, who makes $5,000 a week selling crack and heroin, to stop for the betterment of the community. He drives a Porsche, buys anything he wants, and has money to spare. As long as he perceives status as a direct result of his efforts, he has little reason to quit. In the same manner, women get attention for looking good and wearing hip-hugger jeans to showcase their thin, flat, sunken-in stomachs….The problem is that what seems like a good thing and appears to be mere self-discipline is actually a ritual that begins to deny life and crush our spirits. Instead of being healthy, we are an object that retains value from being perfect or without a mark. Our preciousness is no longer defined by the beauty of our soul or the standing of our spirit. We are the looks we draw.”
Why do we use mirrors? We use mirrors to perceive ourselves and then make the necessary adjustments. James says we use the Word of God in a similar way. Scripture is like a mirror to our souls—It discloses our sin, need for repentance, and promise of grace. So we need to remember what we see long enough to consider what is amiss.
Sometimes we gaze at ourselves all too carelessly. We peer into the mirror momentarily each morning and investigate the image. Is our hair turning gray? Receding? Are wrinkles developing? Is everything buttoned? But time rushes on, and we leave quickly forgetting our appearance and moving on with our day.
As a mirror shows physical flaws, so the Word is a mirror for the soul. Doers of the Word are active, and if we fail to connect creed and conduct according to James, we deceive ourselves. We deceive ourselves if we say we hear the Word but don’t follow it like the one man who observes his face in the mirror, goes away, and forgets what he looks like. Another, in contrast, observes the perfect law, perseveres, remembers, and acts upon it. The first man deceives himself. The second man is blessed.
Just as we can obsess in front of the mirror to assess the image in front of us, we can avoid mirrors for the exact same reason. We don’t want to see what is before us, as we avoid the Word of God. We don’t want to see the reflection of our souls or what we ought to be. One college student said to me recently, “I’ve always believed in God, but it’s always safer if He’s out there.”
James says that the Word deserves our attention because it is perfect and it gives liberty. We think of this “law of perfect freedom” as binding, restraining, or anything but free. But James can describe it this way because the law is a rich description of God’s interaction with His people as He let them know throughout the ages what it means to be fully human. Inquiring into the Word of God leads us to become a person in a community who bears the family likeness, someone who bears the image of God.
And an enduring faith is a faith that becomes visible in doing. As Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). Sociologists have long known that there is a limited value in questions that ask people about their beliefs. Because in order to really know what people believe, you need more than a word on it…You need their life and what they do day in and day out. Author Leslie Newbigin echoes this sentiment saying, “It is less important to ask a Christian what he or she believes about the Bible than it is to inquire what he or she does with it.”
God’s truth is meant to be seen and not just heard. And that’s what the incarnation displays to us. The Word became flesh to show us who we are in Christ so that we might live His Word out. And of course in Christ, God destroys the enslavement of our outward appearance, not only by covering our sense of unworthiness, but by conquering death so that we can wear the beauty of His character forever. Let us hear this call to receive the Word, to heed to it, and to live in the freedom it provides.