“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” James 1:23-24
There’s an old country song that plays on the remember/forget idea like only a country song can. It goes like this: “I forgot to remember to forget you….” The song was recorded by various artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and was a hit back in the 1950’s. The song spoke to the idea of wanting to forget something, but not being able to, and also wanting to remember something, but not being able to do that either, and tying the two together in an interesting way.
My dad had a joke about his memory that he’s repeat quite often saying, “I’m taking pills for my memory but I keep forgetting to take them.” I also worked with an older gentleman who used to joke and say, “My memory works really well, it’s even photographic, but it doesn’t last too long.”
Our ability to retain the memory of people, places and things, as well as our ability to remember logic and experiences from the past is a core part of our human existence. Our very consciousness is tied to our ability to remember. Losing this ability to remember by devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease is a horror. Intelligence is directly related to the ability to retain knowledge.
The Bible has some very practical advice about remembering and forgetting that I want to take a look at. Let’s look again at this verse in James in the fuller context:
“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 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 observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:21-25
Regarding our memory, you will notice that these verses are not talking about our ability to retain knowledge or to remember important information for extended periods of time. The message here is more about the alignment of what we know with our actions. The “forgetting” that is being referred to here is more about being consistent with the information that we have previously accepted as truth.
It’s interesting that God has made it that we need no special abilities or talents to be His children and to walk successfully in faith. We don’t need superior intellect or photographic memories. We don’t need any extraordinary characteristics; to the contrary, we must become like children to walk with God.
What we do need may be closer to what we call honesty. Notice that verse 22 of James 1 uses the phrase “deceiving yourselves.” Think about it, what does it really mean to deceive ourselves? How can we lie to ourselves? …..yet it seems that we do. Maybe we conveniently forget what we want to forget to make things easier, or to feed our flesh? It would seem that we already know a truth that relates to our situation, but we don’t want to “connect the dots” to put things together and reach a needed conclusion to result in the proper behavior, so we somehow block out this truth, and continue in the wrong behavior.
George Orwell, in his famous book “1984” coined a term “Doublethink”. Here’s the quote from the book:
“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” Orwell – 1984
James is writing to correct this issue of doublethink, but he uses the term “forgets” to describe it. We are exhorted by James to remove the inconsistencies and contradictions between our beliefs and our actions. We need to apply the same beliefs and values to all situations consistently.
James uses an analogy to describe this inconsistency: a man looking in a mirror and then forgetting what he saw. When I read this in the past, I would always think that he is referring to a man seeing the wrong that he has done when reading the word of God, and then forgetting about this wrong later when he is faced with a temptation or situation to commit the same wrong actions. I don’t think this is what he’s really saying. The verse in James says he “immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” I think he’s saying that there are times when we forget that we are a child of God! We forget that we are pilgrims on a journey just passing through! We forget that we are ambassadors for God! We forget that we are ministers of God, given the ministry of reconciliation!
Here’s the practical advice: We must often remind ourselves who we are! The implanted word of God and the law of liberty has established the truth of who we are in Christ Jesus and of what we are promised. We need to “remember not to forget” this truth.
The law of Moses was focused on a list of do’s and don’ts that needed to be obeyed. The law (or principle) of liberty says that we have been transformed by faith into a new creation in Christ Jesus, and that we need to walk according to this new life, and view everything based on this new spiritual reality.
“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 1 Corinthians 5:16-17
We must walk daily in the light of this truth, reminding ourselves of the spiritual reality that has been revealed and implanted in us from the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Consider also the fact that we represent Christ as ministers and ambassadors:
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself though Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5: 18-20
This is very practical. While you are sitting with your co-workers or friends who don’t know God, remind yourself of who you are. Remind yourself that you represent Jesus Christ. You may not be saying the words, but your presence is a reminder to them of God’s mercy. Your life is an example to them. You must be aware of this truth and not forget it. It will influence your actions in a positive way. You will become a doer of the word as you have this mindset.
The battle that we fight is in our minds, how we think, how we perceive our surroundings and situations, how we perceive ourselves, and how we perceive the influence of God in our lives, in the light of the truth of His Word.
It is very easy to forget that this world is temporary. The world around us functions as if it will last forever and there is no end. In the world’s mindset, to consider the limits of our existence and the vanity of our accomplishments is foolishness. We as Christians must live in the reality of this world’s futility and it’s temporary state that will end soon. Peter the apostle reminds us also not to forget this truth:
“Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For this they willfully forget that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” 2 Peter 3:3-10
We do well to keep these truths at the front of our minds and memories, even more as the day draws nearer. May the Lord keep these truths in the forefront of your mind and bless you in preparing you for that day. Amen