In writing about “Your Facebook Profile Picture” last week, I suggested that many people keep posting “updated” profile pictures because they’re not really sure who they are or who they want to be. I quoted the passage in the Bible book of James that talks about people who “look at themselves in a mirror; they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like” (James 1:23-24). In the very next verse James tells us about another mirror, one that can be life-transforming:
But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing. (verse 25)
What is this law of liberty? In the next chapter, James talks about hypocrisy, which is like putting up a Facebook Profile Picture that you know isn’t really a true likeness of you. Once again he talks about the law of liberty. He seems to equate it with the royal law which he sees as summarized in “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Here’s the whole passage:
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:8-13)
James is presenting as another mirror God’s Law as revealed in the Old Testament, God’s will for the way we live our lives. He’s not talking about what the Bible calls “the letter of the law” (see Romans 2:29), do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. That was the problem with the person who looked into the first mirror: he couldn’t take in all the detail and quickly forgot the reflection of what he thought he was supposed to look like. Instead, James focuses on the “spirit of the law,” as seen in the royal law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He’s encouraging us to look behind the details of the Old Testament Law and sense the throbbing heart of God himself. Then we’ll see the perfect law of liberty. Why did James choose the word “liberty” in connection with law? Because he had learned that true liberty can only be experienced by a person who lives out God’s intended destiny for that individual. A train is only free to travel when it’s on its tracks. Off the tracks, it’s grounded.
James encourages us to “look into” the mirror of the law of liberty. The verb is unusual, coming from a root that means “bend over.” It’s used to describe Peter’s careful investigation of the resurrection of Jesus: he “ran to the tomb, stooping and looking in,” bending over to get a better view to make sure Jesus’ body wasn’t there (Luke 24:12). The verb implies looking intently, with concentration; this is not to be a casual glance you can quickly look away from and forget.
So, before you do your next Facebook Profile Picture update, take a good, long look at yourself in this second mirror. Are you living on the highest plane of your potential? Are you aspiring to be all that God has created you to be? Are you living by his perfect law of liberty?
In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s seventeenth century allegory of the Christian life, the young woman Mercy is anxious to look into a legendary mirror. Bunyan describes the mirror’s miraculous qualities this way:
“Now the glass was one of a thousand. It would present a man, one way, with his own features exactly; and turn it but another way, and it would show one the very face and similitude of the Prince of pilgrims himself. Yes, I have talked with them that can tell, and they have said that they have seen the very crown of thorns upon his head by looking in that glass; they have therein also seen the holes in his hands, his feet, and his side. Yea, such an excellency is there in this glass, that it will show him to one where they have a mind to see him, whether living or dead; whether in earth, or in heaven; whether in a state of humiliation, or in his exaltation; whether coming to suffer, or coming to reign.”
The “Prince of pilgrims” is, of course, Jesus who shows his followers how to fulfill the perfect law of liberty.
One day Jesus had a conversation with a woman who had lived a pretty sordid life. Afterward, she ran to her friends and said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done” (John 4:7-30). When she looked into Jesus’ face, she realized she was peering into the perfect law of liberty. She was not mortified to have Jesus expose her past; she felt affirmed and accepted.
So she updated her Profile Picture on the Facebook equivalent of her time and place: she rushed to the city square and told all her friends.
— Pastor George Van Alstine