“And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself. For 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. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law–the 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.” James 1:22-25
I had my first really embarrassing moment in Kindergarten. My teacher, Mrs. Perkins, had traced everyone’s silhouette onto black paper and then cut them out. I think it may have been a science lesson on shadow and light, but I don’t recall. What I do remember is her holding up the profiles one by one and letting us guess who each one was. When she held up my little 5-year-old head, the class went wild with laughter, pointing at me with their snide 5-year-old fingers. They all knew who it was immediately because my hair was so ridiculously out of place all the time. I honestly don’t know why my mother let me go out like that. The thing is, I probably got up in the morning, looked at myself in the mirror, saw my unkempt appearance, and then got too distracted by the Rice Krispies awaiting me downstairs to do anything about my crazy hair. Then, so satisfied was I by those darn Rice Krispies, I went along my merry way and didn’t give another thought to my appearance for the rest of the day. I had forgotten what I looked like.
Over spring break, I took a mini-retreat just to get out of the city and have some good fellowship with God. It was sweet, yet challenging as He revealed to me some areas in which I haven’t been giving Him first place. He showed me some things I’d begun to set up as idols, and He called me to give up some things that I very much enjoy. I was able to see how unkempt those parts of my life were, and as God gave me peace about giving them up, it was like He was handing me a spiritual hairbrush to straighten myself up a bit. But when I came back to the city, I got swept back up in the day-to-day, laid the intense Bible study aside, and I found myself rationalizing my involvement with the very things I’d just told God I would give up! I had forgotten the things I had learned about myself, the things I’d learned about God, and the sweet peace I’d had as I submitted to Him in light of the perspective I’d gained. I had forgotten what I looked like spiritually! I had listened to what God had to say for a moment, but then I didn’t follow up with obedience.
I was fooling myself.
The only way to not forget what we look like spiritually is to constantly keep in mind what God looks like by saturating ourselves in His Word. When we do that, we see ourselves in proper perspective. Our shortcomings become glaringly obvious, but when we live according to His Word, we allow God to bless us through freedom–freedom from the worries of the world, from thinking we need things that we don’t need, and from thinking that we have to straighten ourselves out. God’s law–the rules that govern–is love. If we think about God’s law not as something that, when broken, is to be punished, but as something that describes a state of being (like a law of science or nature), we can experience this freedom. God loves us. Jesus became sin for us so that we could become righteous (1 Cor. 5:21). He has taken care of everything, and He is all we need. If we don’t forget this, but live in light of it, responding to God’s love by loving Him and those around us (Luke 10:27), we will be blessed indeed!