THE APOSTLE PAUL WROTE, “Look at what is before your eyes” (2 Cor. 10:7a). He continued, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves… when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12). We must each examine our own actions and assume responsibility for them without comparing ourselves to or rejecting others (see Gal. 6:4-5). In the same manner, we are responsible for how we appear to others. If they don’t see Christ in us, then He might not see us in Him either.
I am not speaking here of “salvation by works,” a false doctrine that leads countless individuals down the wrong path. But we are saved unto or for good works. James writes, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:17, 26). James says, “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” (James 1:22-24). Moses wrote, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deut. 6:4-6). Moses was saying to Israel, “Move knowledge to your heart and take action.” James said, “Hear, then do accordingly.”
In spirituality, a mirror symbolizes spiritual reflection. The spiritual mirror reflects consequences of actions that are both negative and positive.
Just as a mirror reflects what you look like on the outside, God’s Word reflects what you’re like on the inside. Have you ever seen yourself in the Bible? Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God’s Word discerns the ruminations of our heart. Scripture is our true spiritual mirror. Regardless of dispensation or covenant, we are told to find our image in the Word of God. With Scripture as our starting point, we take all action necessary to walk in God’s will. We will never know who we are in Christ without dying to our own moralism. We need to turn from the world and its “horizontal” orientation and turn to the Word and the “vertical” orientation Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden. They chose a horizontal orientation when deciding for themselves how to answer the questions of origin, purpose, morality, and destiny. Humanism and moral relativism sprang forth at that moment, and man has been attempting to define life through countless isms ever since.
One valuable lesson I learned during my recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is that I tend to despise in others those character traits I hate in me. Rather than seeing others as children of God, I see my defects of character in full bloom. Summarily, I judge and reject them, deciding they’re “too difficult to be around.” Worse, I use their blemishes to prop up my good traits. I project my bad traits onto others, deciding, “Well, at least I’m not that bad.” God has a specific plan for my recovery and spiritual maturity, but I will accomplish nothing by looking at others. It is not possible to fully walk out your salvation with fear and trembling if you predicate it on the success or failure of those around you, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (see Phil. 2:12-13). The Greek verb rendered “work out” in this passage of Scripture (katergazoma) means “continually work to bring something to completion or fruition—an activity involving considerable expenditure of effort. The way we avoid being arrogant in our “walk” is by using the Word of God as our mirror rather than comparing ourselves to others.
“A flower does not think of competing [with] the flower next to it. It just blooms.” —Theodore Roosevelt.
Paul says it is our “life’s work” to walk out our salvation. The goal is to become Christ-like, “…conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). This is not optional. In using the middle-voice of the verb katergazoma, Paul depicts the subject (us) as the one who initiates the action and then participates in its effects. We have a responsibility to put forth real effort to walk as Christ walked. John MacArthur writes, “…is the Christian life an exercise in passive trust or active obedience? Christians who try to reconcile every doctrine in a humanly rational way are inevitably drawn to extremes.”(1) MacArthur believes the best way to view sanctification is to emphasize God’s role to the virtual exclusion of the believer’s effort. He says this is often referred to as quietism. The opposite extreme is called pietism. A pious person is not a humble person. Rather, he or she who submits entirely and becomes dependent on God will be divinely protected from sin and led down the path of faithful living. We cannot strive against sin or discipline ourselves to produce good works under our own power.
Pastor Rick Warren asks, “When was the last time you looked in a mirror? You probably look in one every day—maybe even multiple times! Why do you look in a mirror? You use it to evaluate yourself. And then you do something about what you see.”(2) He adds, “Just as a mirror reflects what you look like on the outside, God’s Word reflects what you’re like on the inside.”(3) Warren believes many people don’t read the Bible because they are afraid to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see themselves as they really are. I have a close relative who told me he is afraid to ask God what to do about a significantly troublesome issue in is life because “…I’m afraid of what He might say.” The very lessons we need to learn are presented to us in God’s Word. Hebrews 2:1 says, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”
In a recent message, Pastor Brandon from my home church said, “As believers we must die to our own moralism.” This is followed by practice quiet availability to be used by God, demonstrating articulated evidence of God at work in our lives, and being faithful practitioners of the faith: what Pastor Brandon called “active participation” in the gospel. This requires a daily step-by-step process of “taking part in the engagement of Scripture.” He added, “Being in the Spirit causes us to do the will of the Spirit.” Rather than “do” things to earn our salvation or manage our flesh with the flesh (which is impossible), we must be in step with Christ in the “religion of done,” participating with Him in the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ promised this power to us: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). He added, “I have overcome the world” (16:33).
It is from this springboard that Jesus entrusts us with the greatest of responsibilities:
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[fn] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age'” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.T.S.
(1) John MacArthur, “The Apparent Paradox of Sanctification,” Grace to You (a blog), Feb. 28, 2022. accessed Oct. 30, 2022, https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B140702/~?x-source=website&x-type=download#!
(2) Rick Warren, “How to Use the Bible Like a Mirror,” PastorRick.com (a blog), April 14, 2020, accessed Oct. 31, 2022, https://pastorrick.com/how-to-use-the-bible-like-a-mirror/
Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references contained herein are from the English Standard Version (ESV).