Why Every Christian Should Have a Me-Mirror

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This daily review of our acts, to see whether conscience approves or condemns, is necessary for all who wish to arrive at the perfection of Christian character.[1]
The first time I read this statement I didn't like it. It came across as promoting a self-focused religion and for me, Christianity is all about focusing on Jesus and being transformed as we behold him, not ourselves. Interestingly, I have also been reading John Wesley, A Biography by Stephen Tomkins. Before he was converted by the gospel of grace Wesley was the proverbial legalist. During these days, the daily review of his acts was something he took seriously. He would keep a journal in which he logged every spiritual success and failure. This discipline got to the point where he was updating the journal, with his successes and failures, on an hourly basis and giving himself a score out of nine. I wonder, in the midst of all this, how much time is left to care for others and focus on the beauty of Jesus? Is this what Ellen White was promoting? In asking that question I am reminded that Ellen also said, 
"Ministers of the gospel would be powerful men if they set the Lord always before them and devoted their time to the study of His adorable character."[2]
"As Christ’s ambassadors, they are to search the Scriptures, to seek for the truths that have been hidden beneath the rubbish of error... One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other,—Christ our righteousness."[3] 
Christ and His righteousness—let this be our platform, the very life of our faith.[4]
It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit.[5]
These are the things we are never to forget. The love of Jesus, with its constraining power, is to be kept fresh in our memory.... His sacrifice is the center of our hope. Upon this we must fix our faith.[6]

Clearly, Christianity was a Christ-centered religion for Ellen White, not a self-focused one. Then what exactly was she talking about when she made such a big deal of self-examination and perfection? First, we need to remember what Ellen White meant by perfection. Ellen White never believed in perfectionism (also known as absolute perfection or sinless perfection) but in perfection in love. Perfection in love is not a unique Ellen White teaching nor Adventist doctrine but one that comes to us from John Wesley (yes, Wesley believed in perfection even after his conversion to the gospel of grace) and is still taught today by the United Methodist church. Perfection, in the eyes of Ellen White, is growth in our walk with God. This growth is characterized by an ever increasing loveliness of character, gentleness of spirit, and commitment to God - not flawless behavior. Though it is clear that perfection in love affects a persons behavior as well it is not meant to imply absolute perfection or the idea that we can, in this lifetime, overcome every shortfall of character nor does it mean that we must reach a certain level of behavioral perfection in order to be saved. Perfection simply means maturity and growth in the love of God. 

So now that we understand perfection a little better it helps us to understand self-examination. Self-examination is not an invitation to naval gazing religion. It does not mean that we must, day by day, ruminate over our many failures. And it certainly does not imply keeping a journal of all your sins and giving yourself a score out of nine. So what does it mean? I find it best to explain with an illustration.

There are times when I, as a father, act out in anger toward my kids. In my frustrations I say things and do things I shouldn't do. When that happens I have two options. I can either forget it and let it pass from my memory. Or I can examine it, bring it before the Lord, and ask him to change me. If I ignore it, it will fade from my memory but not from my character. I will continue to act the same way for years to come - perhaps even the rest of my life. But if I examine it by using my me-mirror, I can confess it to the Lord and allow him to transform me. The end result is the perfection of Christian character. I become lovelier, kinder, and gentler in my parenting and am able to glorify God with my life. That is self-examination. That is perfection.

This concept, however, was around long before Wesley and White came into the picture. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5 "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" James echoes this in James 1:23-25 when he says, "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. And once again, Paul the "champion of grace" tells us in regard to the Lord's supper, "Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:28-32).

There is value in having a me-mirror. Every Christian should have one. We all act in ways that dishonor God every day. The visitor at church we didn't greet, the teenager at the youth meeting we spoke rudely to, the driver on the freeway we flipped off, the wife we ignored, the husband we insulted, the co-worker we gossiped about. Rather then allowing those things to pass from our memories we should examine them and bring them to the Lord. But we must never allow self examination to become the focal point of our faith. We are not saved by self examination. We are not saved by perfection. And an obsession with self examination is idolatry. Our minds and hearts should be constantly on Jesus and his beauty. It is by looking to him that we become changed - not by looking to self. But there is, nevertheless, value in examining ourselves in the light of the cross so that we can surrender our faults to Jesus every day and grow to reflect his loveliness and beauty in everything we do.

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[1] Testimonies Vol. II, 511
[2] Selected Messages, 187
[3] The Review and Herald, August 31, 1905. 
[4] 1888 Materials, 765
[5] Desire of Ages, 83
[6] Counsels for the Church 302.4

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