Every morning, you look in the mirror. You check to see that your hair is neat, your clothes are straight, and that you don’t have any weird objects in your teeth. You might take one last glance in the glass before heading off to school, ensuring your collar isn’t sticking up.
Perhaps you remember a time when you did not check a mirror and found that people snickered at you. You didn’t realize until it was too late that you had a big chunk of lettuce stuck in your choppers. This is why it is important to have mirrors around—and to remember to look into them.
In God’s Church, we talk about examining ourselves in a spiritual mirror. This is not about keeping lettuce out of your teeth, however. This is about something much more important: character. God tells us to examine ourselves in terms of our character. He wants to us to be able to see our spiritual flaws so we can fix them and become more presentable spiritually.
Most people fail to undertake this important activity, which means they just blindly stumble along. They might be making their parents angry or their teachers frustrated. They might be offending their peers. They might be radiating immaturity and selfishness. They might be extremely arrogant. They might be rude and overbearing. They make mistakes, they offend people, and they suffer all kinds of problems and curses—but they don’t see it. They don’t take a look at themselves in the spiritual mirror, so they don’t clearly see the effect they are having on other people. It is the character equivalent to having messed-up hair, a dirty face, or salad-filled teeth.
That is why self-examination is so important. You need to be able to see yourself as you really are—as God sees you—and make the right changes as a result. Let’s dive into the subject of self-examination, examining the command, the tools and the practical means by which we can implement them.
The Spiritual Mirror
1. Are Christians actually commanded to examine themselves? 1 Corinthians 11:28.
This command is in the context of the spring holy days. God commands the baptized members of His Church to examine themselves before Passover to ensure they are taking the symbols of the bread and the wine in the right attitude.
2. How often should Christians examine themselves? 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Although you will hear the most about examining yourself around the spring holy days, this is something God’s people need to do all the time. We should always be looking into the spiritual mirror and paying attention to our character.
This applies to you—even though you are not baptized yet. You need to learn how to examine your character. The better you get at looking at yourself in the spiritual mirror, the more attractive you will be to God and to other people—and the fewer embarrassing situations you will find yourself in because of a glaring character flaw.
3. What is the spiritual mirror that God gives us? James 1:22-25.
The law of God defines perfect character. When we study into God’s perfect law of liberty and then compare our own thoughts and actions against it, it gives us a plain look at ourselves in that spiritual mirror. It shows us exactly what we need to change.
4. Does God’s law reveal what is right and what is wrong? Romans 7:7.
If you examine yourself according to your own ideas and thoughts, the picture you get back will be wonky and distorted—like a funhouse mirror.
For example, you might have your own ideas of what you should change, or you might pick up other people’s ideas. Perhaps a fellow teen tells you that you need to change a certain habit or tendency. It may sound right to you, but if those ideas are different than God’s, then you are getting a distorted picture. The only way to be sure is to compare it to what God says in His law. Without God’s law, you cannot know whether you are off track or not. But with God’s law, you can clearly see what is right and what is wrong.
God’s law tells you exactly where you are disheveled, dirty or smudged. It tells you exactly what is wrong with your character and how to fix it. Let’s look at some examples.
1. How does God’s law tell us to treat other people? Matthew 7:12.
This is God’s entire law—His entire way of life—summarized in a single, beautiful sentence. It’s often called the Golden Rule: Treat other people the way you want them to treat you. And any time you do something different than that—any time you are treating someone other than the way you want to be treated—you are actually revealing a flaw in your character that needs to be changed.
So take a look in the spiritual mirror. How do you treat your siblings, friends and classmates? Are you pleasant and kind? Are you considerate of their feelings? These are the kinds of questions that you need to ask yourself—and to ask God. Ask Him for help to see how you really are.
2. What does God’s law tell us about the words we speak about others, as well as the way we treat them? Leviticus 19:16-18. What about the attitude we should have toward our peers? Verse 17-18.
There are a lot of specifics there! In modern language: Don’t gossip. Don’t speak unkindly of other people behind their backs. Don’t hate someone, even deep down in your heart. God is concerned about your inner feelings toward other people! Don’t retaliate; don’t hold grudges. Those are sins. They are problems that need to change! Take an honest look at yourself in God’s spiritual mirror. If you are making any of those mistakes, admit it. Then ask God for the power to help you change it!
3. How does God command you to treat your parents? Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3; Ephesians 6:1.
God commands that you fear—deeply reverence and respect—your parents and also obey them. Take a good look at yourself: How do you do with that command?
4. How does God tell us to treat the elderly? Leviticus 19:32.
God wants you to stand when a gray-haired person comes into your presence. He commands that you honor older people. Do you obey that command? Or is it as though your shirt is untucked or your collar haywire in that area of your life?
5. What is another law by which we can examine ourselves? Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 19:11.
God’s law forbids you from cheating in sports, school, work or anything else you do. He commands that you tell the truth—that you avoid deceit to try to cover up your mistakes. Are you a truthful person?
6. What does God think about dirty jokes? Ephesians 5:3-4.
In the New King James Version, verse 4 reads, “[N]either filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” God appreciates good humor, but if it is inappropriate, His law says it is wrong!
These are just a few examples of the ways God’s law can help you examine yourself. This is the pattern that you can follow with all of God’s laws! God gives clear-cut commands that apply directly to your daily life. There are a lot of specifics that you can look at as you examine yourself. And even as unbaptized young people, you should get into the habit of regularly measuring your thoughts, words and deeds against God’s law.
The Next Step
Imagine checking a mirror just before you leave the house and seeing a total mess: Your hair is tangled, your face is filthy, your teeth are yellow, you’re wearing a disastrous outfit. Then imagine just shrugging your shoulders and walking out the door to face the world.
Obviously, you wouldn’t do that. But it illustrates an important principle. Looking in the mirror in and of itself doesn’t change anything—it just shows you what needs to be changed.
1. What is the next step, according to God’s law? James 1:22-25.
If you hear what the right thing to do is and don’t actually do it, you are deceiving yourself. You are thinking that it is good enough to look in the mirror, see a disaster, and walk away without doing anything about it. James makes that exact analogy in verses 23-24.
Once you examine yourself in the mirror of God’s law, that’s when the work begins! When you see that you are doing something wrong, it’s up to you to change it. If you are off track, then find the right track, and get on that track. The process is not complete until you do something about it.
2. Can you make these changes on your own? Jeremiah 17:9.
God’s law says it is impossible for a human being to see his own heart because there are so many twists, turns, folds, crevices and cracks in there. It is easy for him to deceive himself. Now, apply that to yourself. It’s easy for you to think that you are better than you actually are. You have to ask God to help you see yourself as He sees you—and then you have to ask God to help you change the character flaws that He reveals to you. If you try to overcome a bad habit or fix a flaw in your character on your own effort, you will quickly peter out. That effort might last for a short amount of time, but eventually, you will revert to the old habit. But if you ask God for help in turning those habits around and improving your character, He will give you that help—and you will be successful!
This is not an easy process, but it is something each of us must do throughout our lives. This is at the heart of the character growth that God is looking for in all of us. And the beautiful thing is, as long as you are making changes—even if they are just small changes that take time and a failure once in a while—you are moving in the right direction, and you are winning victories in your effort to examine yourself.
So take a good look in that spiritual mirror. Look into God’s law. Examine yourself, and when you see something that needs to be changed, don’t just walk away from that mirror. Get to work fixing those flaws and making yourself more presentable to your parents, your peers and your God.