Walk into her house and a showcase living room quickly commands your attention. Ornate, expensive furniture populates rooms tastefully embellished with understated artwork. A lavish floral arrangement adorns a perfectly lit breakfast nook.

But no one ever sits on the furniture. The flower-shaped soaps in the soap dish never clean anyone’s hands; the towels in the kitchen and bathroom don’t dry anything. Everything you see is for show. Soon enough, the host ushers you to the basement. It’s not nearly as attractive, but downstairs is where the actual living takes place.

Most of us maintain a similar façade in our lives. When I’m angry with my wife or snap at my kids, but then I answer the phone and my voice suddenly becomes pleasant, I’m presenting to that caller only the upstairs of my life. If I lead everyone to believe that my spiritual life has only minor struggles, I’m not bringing the real me.

The apostle James warned about the self-deception we’re so susceptible to: “Don’t just listen to God’s Word,” he said. “You must do what it says” (James 1:22). Then he pointed out some specific areas where we all fall down. “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

Next, he took additional aim at religion simply based on appearances: “How can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” he asked (James 2:1). “Doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?” (James 2:4).

An attractive house with two sets of living space is one thing. But a life that hides reality from the world is of no use to anyone. True religion requires honesty with ourselves, with each other, and with God.

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: 1 Samuel 8:1-5