We need to see through and reject false images of ourselves and reflect the true spiritual image God wants us to have.
Many fairgrounds feature a "hall of mirrors" — a building containing various configurations of mirrors that reflect distorted Images. Your face can become fat or thin, your body elongated or squat, depending on the type of looking glass you view. However, when you use a mirror at home, you expect to see a faithful reproduction of yourself. But does your outward appearance reflect a true picture of you? Could there be, lurking in your life, a person you don't truly see? When we as Christians spiritually reflect on ourselves, is what we see really us? Or is it rather just an image we have created of ourselves — an image, which we also project to others, that gives both us and them a distorted view of our Christian condition?
Only an outward show
The Pharisees of Jesus' day presented a distorted picture of their own righteousness. They thought they were pretty good people, and often it appeared that they were. But Jesus saw through the facade and condemned them: "Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess"'" (Luke 18:9- 12). Here was a representative of a group who trusted in their own actions to prove their righteousness. They felt that the outward show of physical observances, such as fasting or the careful calculation of tithes, was enough. Jesus Christ, though, knew otherwise: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23:27-28). Yes, the Pharisees had a certain aura of religiosity, but Christ was able to look beyond this and see their inward thoughts. What He saw showed that the two did not match. What we must individually ask ourselves is: Do my outward actions reflect the true feelings that are within me? Or am I deceiving myself as well as others about the real me?
Leaves or fruit?
Consider the biblical episode of the fig tree: "Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He [Jesus] was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. And when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, 'Let no one eat fruit from you ever again'" (Mark 11:12-14). The physical evidence of leaves on this fig tree indicated that fruit should have been developing. But Christ supernaturally discerned that the tree, perhaps diseased, was incapable of bearing fruit. The tree had failed to fulfill its purpose and was of no further use. So Christ cursed it. On the return journey, Christ's disciples noticed that the tree had withered and died (verse 20). This incident clearly illustrates that, although we may have the outward signs of being Christians — attending church services, paying tithes, keeping the Holy Days — it is the fruit or attitude behind such observances — conversion, deep spiritual growth — that is the real criteria. After all, tithing, the Holy Days and even the Ten Commandments were given to a physical nation, Israel, to observe. Outward obedience was, basically, all that was required for Israel, since they had no promise of the Holy Spirit to enable them to fulfill the spiritual aspects of God's law.
Our spiritual mirror
Our minds, deceptive as they are, can easily cause us to think we are bearing spiritual fruit when all we have is an external adornment — superficial leaves of an acceptable outward appearance — an appearance that can even deceive others at first glance. But it takes a spiritually objective look to reveal the real self. And it also takes a special looking glass to penetrate the deceptive images we set up of ourselves. We read about this extraordinary mirror in the book of James: "Whoever listens to the word but does not put it into practice is like a man who looks in a mirror and sees himself as he is. He takes a good look at himself and then goes away and at once forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks closely into the perfect law that sets people free, who keeps on paying attention to it and does not simply listen and then forget it, but puts it into practice — that person will be blessed by God in what he does" (Jas. 1:23-25, Good News Bible).
Our minds, deceptive as they are, can easily cause us to think we are bearing spiritual fruit when all we have is an external adornment — an acceptable outward appearance that can even deceive others at first glance.
The Bible is that special mirror. In addition to telling us about the observance of God's law, the Bible also reveals how our minds, with their deceiving nature, are inclined. So with the aid of God's mirror let us examine three aspects of the human makeup. And while doing so, let us ask ourselves how far we have come in overcoming the carnal, natural proclivities that the Bible shows are wrong — how much we are masking our real selves from ourselves and others.
Inclined to self-justification
First, we have to appreciate that, by ourselves, we do not know the right way to conduct our lives. Long ago, the prophet Jeremiah realized this truth: "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jer. 10:23). Even though mankind can come up with seemingly plausible ways to live, unless the overall direction is based on God's Word, then failure is certain (Prov. 14:12). Of course, the carnal mind does not realize that. But, as Christians, we know better. Yet how many times do we find ourselves saying, "Now here's the way I look at thus and such," and giving a point of view that could not be substantiated from God's teachings? In I Samuel 13 we see how Saul used his own human reasoning, in spite of having received some clear instructions from one of God's servants. Earlier, Samuel told the king, "You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do" (I Sam. 10:8). But Saul became impatient and decided to rely on his own thinking: "So Saul said, 'Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.' And he offered the burnt offering" (I Sam. 13:9). Saul knew it was wrong for him to offer the sacrifices, yet he went ahead and reasoned that it would be acceptable on this occasion. Because of Saul's disobedience, Samuel told the monarch that the kingdom would be removed from his family (verses 13-14). What tragic consequences resulted from relying on the human mind when God's instructions were explicit!
Inclined to evil nature
The second point, which is closely related to the first, is that we have to admit that we are, by nature, inclined to do evil. Jeremiah also recognized this problem that man has: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). Isaiah was moved to record similar sentiments: "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isa. 64:6). Paul, too, saw this evil direction in his life (Rom. 7:18). The question is: Do we? It is easy to read these statements and agree with their intent. But a Christian's reaction must go beyond casual agreement There has to be a genuine understanding of the extent to which these truths disintegrate the images we too easily erect and, not always unwillingly, display. We must desire to see ourselves as we really are and to let God make us into what we should be. Earlier we read of the Pharisee who uttered a self-righteous prayer in the Temple. But also in the Temple was a tax collector. This tax collector better recognized the true nature within the human mind. He prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" (Luke 18:13). Being able to admit that we both do wrong and are wrong is difficult. Yet it is essential if we are to succeed in unmasking the real people lurking inside us.
Inclined to compare
Thousands of years ago, a man named Job was deeply concerned about his public image. He was one of the wealthiest people of his day, which gave him a high public profile, and he was meticulous in his observance of the physical aspects of God's law. Even God said Job's performance in this latter area was perfect (Job 1:8). And, no doubt, from time to time Job's righteousness made him think how unique he was — in a different class than anyone else. And that was his potentially fatal (perhaps only!) mistake. Job failed to see the real Job. He did not appreciate that his mind was set on how good he was and on how to continue to appear good — the way of self-righteousness. The Bible shows that God allowed many severe trials to befall Job. Yet, several times during the agony of his trials, Job insisted, "I am righteous" (Job 34:5) and "I am pure, without transgression; I am innocent, and there is no iniquity in me" (Job 33:9).
We can only overcome the deceptive traits in our nature through desiring to really see ourselves, asking God to open our eyes spiritually and then, by looking into God's spiritual mirror, finding the true image we should reflect.
What's more, in the dialogue that occupies most of the book of Job, the paragon's three friends could not point to the fact that Job's problem was spiritual in nature. That's because it is simply beyond the range of the natural mind to grasp that truth. However, after some powerful words from Elihu and some irrefutable arguments from God Himself, Job eventually got the picture. He finally came to see how inconsequential his actions were, compared not with man but with the true yardstick — the great God (Job 42:2). And that's the same conclusion we must arrive at. The third aspect of our analysis, comparing, is something we too often do between ourselves, when we should be comparing ourselves with God. Although our achievements may be considerable and our physical observance of God's law beyond reproach, our actions are nothing compared with the perfectness of God. Some who have low self-esteem compare themselves negatively with other people, while "self-made" types often compare themselves with those who have achieved less, making themselves feel superior. But both comparisons — comparing "up" and comparing "down" — are wrong. God says we shouldn't compare ourselves with any other human (II Cor. 10:12), but with God alone.
Take on God's image
Having considered these three areas of human weakness, you should now be able to get a clearer picture of the real you — the you that God sees — the real you that may have natural failings, but who is, it is to be hoped, overcoming the problems. Seeing our real selves and our flaws need not be discouraging, though. It should act as a spur to make us try harder to overcome and achieve the goal God has for us — perfection (Matt. 5:48). Only by recognizing such proclivities can we begin to develop the character that God desires in His children. And we can only see and overcome these deceptive traits in our nature through desiring to really see ourselves, asking God to open our eyes spiritually and then, by looking into God's spiritual mirror, finding out what is the true image we should be reflecting. It is to be hoped, of course, that as we look into that mirror and compare ourselves with the image we see in it, we will see less and less of our old selves in our conduct. Eventually we will completely lose our hall-of-mirrors distortions and reflect the perfect mirror image of God. The image that will one day become reality.