When many people consider Christianity, they immediately hear a list of “Don’ts.” Don’t do this; don’t do that. James 1:22, too, follows a set of restrictions, though they are cast in the positive (viz. quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry versus don’t speak too quickly and don’t get angry). James continues this list with an inclusive exhortation to “get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives” (v. 21). Unfortunately, even for many believers, this is all that is heard.

If one were to compare this to driving a vehicle, James begins by instructing the believer to stop driving in reverse—they are losing ground. However, it is also not sufficient to merely change gears to neutral. For James, he is referring to this when he directs his reader not merely to listen to God’s word. In other words, as a believer matures, it is not enough for them to stop doing one thing or another. There is more to a Christian’s life than only existing. Instead, a Christian must transition from reverse (and neutral) to drive—they must progress forward.

Today’s verse, along with verses 23-24, is sandwiched between reverse and drive. Before James 1:22, a believer is instructed on what not to do; after, they are encouraged with examples of what they should do. James 1:22-24 is a depiction of the transition or neutral state. For this state, James uses the metaphor of a mirror. The purpose of a mirror, of course, is to reflect what already exists. A good mirror will not add nor remove anything from view. Instead, it only shows what is currently visible. It may be difficult to comprehend someone forgetting what they look like. However, how many times have we looked at pictures of ourselves as babies and not recognized it is us? In these cases, we may have no point of reference, and thus we are not easily identifiable. As adults, however, we see our reflections often enough to recognize ourselves instantly.

While a mirror’s purpose is to reflect, its ultimate goal is to affect change. A person concerned with their appearance does not simply see their unkept hair or wrinkled clothing in the mirror but shrugs their shoulders and ignores their state. Furthermore, looking in the mirror once a week (e.g., Sundays) or even once a day (e.g., daily prayer time or devotion) is not enough. For this reason, every bathroom has a mirror—to reflect our appearance and constantly make us aware of anything that needs to be addressed.

God’s word should be a mirror that constantly reflects our spiritual condition and draws our attention to anything that should be changed in our lives. This is why constant, repeated meditation on God’s word is critical to the growth of a believer. To be candid, one reflecting on their current spiritual condition should be performed as frequently as they visit the restroom so that any necessary changes can be addressed immediately. Finally, a follower of Jesus should not be satisfied with not doing what they shouldn’t, but they should strive to do what they should. Following means moving forward, not simply sitting in neutral.