“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or Sabbath day. These are a mere SHADOW of the things that were to come; the REALITY, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
In Paul’s letters to the Galatian and Colossian believers, he writes very specifically about the lure of the Law, the lure of pagan religious observances, the lure of any rule-keeping system to put us back into bondage. These are referred to by Paul as, “elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3,9; Colossians 2:20). And, prior to Christ, we were slaves to them.
But we have been set free from these systems! Christ set us free. According to our verses above, these systems were only a SHADOW of things to come. Christ is the REALITY. We are in the reality. We are in Christ. We are set free in Christ. Christ is our reality.
Your shadow is not you. That long shadow across the driveway in the late evening is not you. I can jump with two feet on your shadow and you won’t feel a thing. Because your shadow is not you. But your shadow points to you. I can follow your shadow into the front yard and find you!
The law or any rule-keeping system is a shadow. It is not life-giving. It has no life in it, just like a shadow has no life in it. But it points to the life-giver. The Law points to Christ. “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). The Law is the shadow. Christ is the reality.
Think about it this way. During several months of our engagement, I was working for a mining company in remote Alaska. And Rhonda’s letters to me were a lifeline in our connection. They were beautiful. I read them over and over. I parsed every word. I read between the lines. Her love for me literally flowed out of them. For my part, I sent an equal number of much more average letters back to her in Indiana.
Fast forward 5, 7, 10 years after our wedding; I don’t exactly remember when. We found our box of love letters and thought, “This would be fun. Let’s read them again.” After a couple of letters, we looked at each other and were each afraid to say what we were thinking. The letters were still beautifully written, but they had become, how shall I say it … boring, bland, lacked pizazz. Rhonda’s hand-drawn scrollwork was as pretty as ever, but the words kind of fell flat. And my letters did not pass the test of time well at all.
What happened? The letters were the shadow. When that was all we had, it was beautiful and powerful. But now we were married. Now we had the reality. We were sharing our lives together every day. We were raising a family together. We lived life together. We were eating together. We were going out together. We were sleeping together. We were experiencing the reality of marriage. The shadow, as beautiful as it was in its time, no longer held its value.
The Law and the rule-keeping systems we try to use today in its place are the shadow. Christ is the reality. Christ in you is the reality. Christ living His life through you is the reality. And it is not just a theory or theology. It is a reality that we walk in! Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!