Mirrors have the capacity to bless or curse.
On one hand, they help us see things about ourselves we otherwise could not see. Going to a job interview, you’d like to know that your tie is knotted correctly or that your eye makeup is applied properly. In these cases, a mirror helps.
On the other hand, a mirror may expose blemishes and imperfections. For those suffering from eating or body image disorders, mirrors are a curse. Rather than help, they condemn.1
Whether for good or ill, mirrors reveal.
A Two-Sided Mirror
In the children’s version of John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, the travelers discover a two-sided mirror. When anyone looks into the front of the glass, they see what everyone else sees — physical blemishes, imperfections, and the ugliness of our human corruption. It is a depressing view.
However, when someone looks through the back of the mirror, what is seen is not what anyone would expect. If the front of the glass is the human perspective being reflected, the rear of the glass reflects the Father’s perspective on those who look to Jesus as their sin-bearer. Instead of blemishes, imperfections, and the ugliness of human sin, there is reflected the image of the crucified and risen Jesus in all his moral perfection and radiant glory.
This two-sided mirror teaches us that, in the gospel, God no longer sees us in our sin. He sees us in the Son.
The two-sided mirror is nothing more than a law/gospel mirror, allowing us to see ourselves from both perspectives — (1) who we are in the flesh (law) and (2) who we are in Christ (gospel).
Martin Luther called this dual view of the regenerate soul simul justus et peccator — “simultaneously sinful (in the flesh according to the law) and righteous (through faith-union with Christ according to the gospel).”
The front view of the mirror reveals our sinfulness while a view from the rear reveals our true condition as the fully-forgiven, perfectly righteous, dearly beloved, and adopted children of God.
The Scottish preacher Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-1843) was known to tell his congregation, “For every one look you take at yourself, take ten looks upon Jesus (as your sin-bearer and righteousness provider).”
The same could be said for the gospel mirror. For every one gaze into the side that reveals the flesh, take ten that reveal who you are in the Beloved.
Reversing the Percentages
This is much easier said than done, isn’t it? Sadly, I tend to reverse the percentages. For every one look at Christ as Savior, I take ten or more looks at myself as a sinner.
Why am I so averse to beholding the beauty of God’s mercy in Jesus? Why is it so hard for me simply to allow myself to rest in grace by believing the gospel?
If you struggle here, too, you are in good company. Martin Luther, who knew himself to be peccator for sure, preached God’s grace in Jesus as the core of his message. Yet he struggled to believe his own preaching.
With men you may boast… but when you come before God, leave all that boasting at home and remember to appeal from justice to grace. But let anybody try this and he will see and experience how exceedingly hard and bitter it is for a man, who all his life has been mired in work righteousness, to pull himself out of it and with all his heart rise up through faith in this one Mediator. I myself have been preaching [the message of grace]… for almost twenty years and still I feel the old clinging dirt of wanting to deal so with God that I may contribute something, so that he will have to give me his grace in exchange for my holiness. And still I cannot get it into my head that I should surrender myself completely to sheer grace; yet [I know that] this is what I should and must do.2
Surrender to sheer grace. Look with faith upon the risen Savior with nail scars. Yes, yes, yes! But oh, this is so much easier said than done.
Consolation and Motivation
By the way, gazing into the gospel side of the mirror isn’t only for spiritual consolation in our moral failures. It is for spiritual motivation. Paul makes the sanctifying power of beholding how the Father sees us from the back of the mirror in 2 Corinthians 3:18, writing,
But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (NASB).
The gospel of Jesus crucified for sinners is not only wondrously good news, it is transformative news that actually changes us, enabling us by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to love like Jesus, which is the essence and apex of the sanctified life.
Helping Others See From the Gospel-Side of the Glass
What if, having gazed into the gospel mirror ourselves, we began to help others to see themselves from the gospel side of the glass. Yes, we must have a clear view of our sinful condition in the flesh. We need to see how disheveled we are and that the makeup of our hearts is a total mess. The law side of the mirror must do its work of revealing our need for mercy.
However, I think a lot of people have looked into the front of the glass and know there is a problem. For those of us in that condition, if we think there is only one side of the mirror, what will we do? We will try to cover our blemishes with a million avenues of self-salvation, whether through morality, religion, success—some kind of superiority over someone lesser on the totem pole.
Yet, there is no totem pole. No pecking order. The ground is level at the cross. Any kind of superiority I feel over someone else is an illusion before the holiness of God. As Paul wrote to the Romans, every human falls short of the righteous requirements of God’s moral law.
This is the bad news side of the mirror.
But remember, there is a good news side, too. It is this side that has the power to set sinners free from guilt and despair with hope and joy in being able to see themselves as God sees them in Christ.
What if followers of Jesus made it our aim to show people the other side of the mirror? Helping others see that we don’t have to save ourselves. In fact, we can’t.
But there is someone who can.
A prophet named Isaiah wrote these words eight hundred years before the crucifixion of Jesus took place. Here, we see here how God’s plan was to send his perfect Son into the world to take our place on the sinful side of the mirror so that we can be seen by God through the glass of perfect righteousness. In Isaiah 53:4-6, he writes,
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Because the events of Isaiah 53 were fulfilled on a hill outside of Jerusalem around 30 A.D., we can have confidence that, while the law reveals our iniquities, the cross reveals God’s mercy.
It bears repeating. In the gospel, God no longer sees us in our sin. He sees us in the Son.
A Question to Ask
When someone blows it, there is a simple question to ask. In that context, we usually do not need to stick the law in their face in order to help them see their failure more clearly. They need to see the other side of the mirror.
What if we learned to ask fellow sinners, “Have you seen yourself from the other side of the mirror?”
We need folks asking us that, too. What about when you blow it? Will you have the courage to look at yourself from the other side, too? Often, we don’t. At least, I don’t.
That is one reason why we need community. Not to keep each other accountable to obeying the law but accountable to believing the gospel. Because we know that obeying the law (manifesting the fruit of the Spirit) is dependent upon believing the gospel with a personal abiding by faith in the gift-righteousness of Jesus as my true identity before the Father!
So friends, let’s make it our aim to gaze often, longingly, and confidently into the mirror of grace, viewing the glass from the Father’s perspective, believing that his smile of approval is the very banner hanging over your every breath as we help others fix their eyes on Jesus with the same believing gaze.
If you suffer from a body image disorder, I in no way wish to trigger you by this post. My prayer is that you will know you are not alone. Help is available. Reach out to me if you’d like, and I will assist you in finding a counselor or treatment facility that can help. Again, you are not alone. There is help.
Martin Luther, The Sum of the Christian Life, quoted in Helmut Lehmann, gen. ed. Luther's Works, ed. and trans. John Doberstein (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 284-85.