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Ed Jordan: Shadow or Substance?

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Posted: 3/10/17 at 7:30am. Column by Ed Jordan.

Have you ever seen the little video clip that presents a series of shadow images projected onto a screen, featuring Louis Armstrong singing, “What a Wonderful World?”   The shadowy images are shadows of the hands of Raymond Crowe. The hands’ shadow became a silhouette of Louis Armstrong, a rabbit, a swan, trees, and a child’s and adult’s hands.

Shadows are fun to look at, but you can’t embrace them because they lack any substance. Shadows are interesting, but they are not as phenomenal as the substance and reality projecting the shadow. Shadows look alive, but they are not.  You might get some vague ideas about what a person looks like by its shadow, but you may not even be able to recognize the reality when you see it.

In the video discussed above, you see a swan in the shadow.  The substance that created the swan’s image in your mind was not really a swan, but two hands put together to look like a swan.

A shadow is a one-dimensional representation of a real substance, whereas the real substance is usually complex, multi-dimensional and has more depth and layers to it than can be seen.  Similarly, the substance and reality of personally knowing Jesus is always in many multifaceted ways better and more satisfying than merely looking at a shadow or picture of Jesus, or at some secondary aspect of religion that attempts to exalt distorted glimpses of Jesus.

For many centuries leading up to the birth and ministry of Jesus, people who desired to please God tried to do so by following religious rules, and offering sacrifices. As a result of this mindset over the centuries, more and more religious people produced more and more religious rules. While often the rules were established with good intentions, the religious rules became odious burdens that enslaved people to joyless, rule-dominated lives.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, explained that no one is made righteous by obeying the law (Gal. 2:16), because all of us have sinned (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).  Jesus came to live a perfect life. He is the only human who has never sinned.  Jesus died in our place, and His blood paid the penalties for all our sins. With the law perfectly kept, and forgiveness of our sins provided when we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we are then declared justified and righteous in God’s sight.

The culmination of God’s work in Jesus began when Jesus rose from the dead, and then at Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to come live within each Christian. With God’s Spirit living within the believer, we are thereby given the desire to live a lifestyle pleasing to God, as God Himself provides the power for us to actually do what God asks us to do (Philippians 2:13).

God has finished everything required for our life and godliness. This produces a dilemma for many Christians.  Most of us were raised in religious settings and are accustomed to living by rules that have become so engrained in us that they easily pop back up as our default mode of operation.  We so quickly forget that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Our challenge is to remain free in Christ and to not go back to letting shadowy religious rules run our lives (cf. Gal. 5:1).  We must also be very careful not to place those kinds of expectations on others either.

This is the background for what God is saying through Paul in Colossians 2:16–17 (HCSB):  “Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.”  In The Message, this passage reads: “So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.”

The substance of our faith is Jesus. Our faith and life are to be lived experiencing the real substance of life, which is Jesus.  Secondary issues about what to eat, drink, or how or when to worship, etc., should remain periphery issues.

Don’t let your life be consumed by secondary issues.  Shadows aren’t alive and will never satisfy you like Jesus will.  Be consumed with Jesus!

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.