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.
During the time when James wrote this epistle, common mirrors were made from highly polished sheets of metal, usually brass. This type of mirror gave back a poor reflection of the observer. As a result anyone using one of these mirrors had to take the time and effort to really study what they looked like. They had to look carefully and determine if any flaws or problems were present. And that’s what James is referring to when speaking of the natural man looking into the mirror. What James is telling us, is that the Christian who hears the word of God and does nothing is like the natural man or non-believer. He intently takes the time to study and discover the flaws, but quickly forgets everything after walking away. Likewise the Christian who is a hearer, but does not do is like the natural man and immediately forgets everything they just heard. Such a person should closely examine their faith and determine if it is indeed a real saving faith.
They may be deceiving themselves with a false faith, in which case they are still in their sins. In addition, just as mirror shows us what we look like, so to the Bible exposes our true selves, our sin and what we look like to God. God’s word shows us where we fall short of God’s standard. God’s word gives us wisdom to trust in the Lord and we change through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So the person described as a “hearer” in these passages, is someone whose sin has been uncovered by God’s word and does nothing. They immediately forget what they heard and as a result, they are deceiving themselves. Or worse yet, they could be making a miscalculation. They need to examine the true quality of their faith and their salvation. In this context the mirror spoken of by James is the implanted word of God. And when we study God’s word and do what it says following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We help in the process of our own sanctification because we do not hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. In addition, studying the word of God helps the Holy Spirit to bring about our spiritual growth. Because the Holy Spirit illuminates our understanding of scripture in light of our salvation and who Jesus is and what He has done for us.