Shadow and Reality

“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!

Obedience

The word “obedience” can be a trigger for those raised in a law-keeping system.  Years ago, my wife was mentoring a young woman who was newly discovering grace and leaving behind a legalistic mindset and lifestyle.  One of her first requests of Rhonda was, “Don’t talk to me about obedience!”  Her rule-keeping background had turned obedience into a chain.

Our freedom in Christ sets us free from our chains, even the chain of obedience.  Does that mean a free-for-all lifestyle with no thought of obeying Jesus?  No, not at all.

Our obedience flows from an understanding of what Christ has brought to us and done in us that is not commonly taught.  Our obedience is not some allegiance to Jesus PLUS a rule-keeping system.  It is understanding that “in Christ” we are a new creation with a new nature and a new heart and a new Spirit and a new want-to; a new power over sin.  Thank you Jesus!

If the word “obedience” is a legalistic trigger from your past, let me offer you this.  I like to use the word “alignment” for expressing my new life in Christ.  The apostle Paul wrote, “I entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).

Ephesians chapters 1, 2, and 3 summarize our calling with all kinds of powerful descriptions of who we are in Christ.  “Saints who are blessed with every spiritual blessing.  Chosen before the foundation of the world.  Holy and blameless before Him.  Adopted as sons.”  And that is just in the first 5 verses of the book!  There is so much more in these first 3 chapters; more than I can squeeze into this post.  Suffice it to say, our calling, His description of who we are in Christ, is incredible!

So when we come to Ephesians chapter 4, Paul is asking us to “align” our actions and attitudes with these amazing truths!  The theology of who we are in Christ is not difficult.  The New Testament is saturated with its explanation.  But putting it into practice, learning to live in “alignment” with our new identity, is the transformation process that God desires for us.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Our freedom in Christ comes with this choice that is always before us.  Our old man died at the cross with Jesus.  But we can still align ourselves with the old man way of thinking and doing; an alignment the Scripture calls “walking according to the flesh.”  But we also have the freedom to choose – and might I add that we have the power of Christ in us to make this choice – to align our actions and attitudes with the new man.  A new man “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).  God is speaking into our new hearts, “Walk this way with Me.”

Don’t let the word obedience scare you.  It is a beautiful word because is aligns us with living according to WHO WE ARE.  Not a to-do list.  Not a drudgery.  Not a buck up and do what you don’t want to do.  In your heart of hearts – or may I say your new heart of new hearts – obedience is what you want.  It aligns your actions and attitudes with who you really are.  The freedom to obey is not a contradiction.  Obedience that derives from our being placed “in Christ” is the ultimate in living free.

The Power of the Cross … to Energize Our New Life (Part 6 of 6)

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (I Peter 2:24).

When Christ “bore our sins in His body on the cross”, He set us free from the penalty of our sin.  As we have seen in our previous posts, Christ’s death on the cross in our place justified us, placed us in right standing with God.  But in a less understood miracle, His death on the cross in our place did something more, something much much more!

Christ’s death set us free from the power of sin as well.  It is all right here in our verse from I Peter.  His death set us free to “die to sin”, be released from its power, and to “live to righteousness”, walk according to the power of the Spirit that lives in us.  Dying to sin – something Christ accomplished for us in His body on the cross – means being set free from sin’s power as our master.  Paul explains it more fully in Romans chapter 6.

“Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus … For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:6-11, 14).

The power of the cross and the power of the resurrection now fuel our living the Christian life.  They are not only the path to receiving our salvation.  They are the path to experiencing our salvation, living according to our new identity in Christ.

This power that infuses us to live the life is pure gift.  “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6).

Acknowledging this gift leads to Paul’s singular boast regarding what the power of the cross did for us.  “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).  I have been crucified to the world.  I am no longer under its spell, no longer a prisoner to its influence.  I have a new power – the power of Christ and His Spirit living in me.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).  This Easter season, may you glory in the resurrected Christ and in the POWER OF HIS CROSS!

The Power of the Cross … to Remove Our Shame (Part 5 of 6)

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

One of my favorite phrases about what Christ has done for us is “despising the shame.”  Death on a Roman cross was the epitome of shame.  A naked man publicly put to death on a stick of wood.  Its cruelty and shame would have us turn away in horror.  But instead of turning away, we are called to “fix our eyes” on our dying Savior.  And when we do, we see the suffering Son of God rejecting the shame put upon Him.

Jesus did not accept the shame of a cruel death on a cross.  Jesus did not embrace or believe the shame.  Jesus refused the shame.  What Satan meant for shame, God turned into glory; the glory of the Lamb of God “enduring the cross” for the “joy set before Him” of bringing us to salvation.  Jesus rejected the shame.  Jesus despised the shame.  Jesus threw aside the chain of shame.

Can I encourage you to do the same?  The power of the cross is available to us to take away our shame.

How many of us carry labels from today or our past meant to induce shame?  Perhaps a parent expressed a constant disappointment in you; an incessant drumbeat of you are not good enough.  Maybe an employer or teacher in your teen-age years told you that you would never amount to anything.  Or an unwise spiritual leader in your life called you out as a stubborn child, a slow learner, or disobedient.

Whatever the shame you carry from your past or present; reject it, destroy it, send it packing, do not accept the shame.  But what about those times we were stubborn, disobedient, or hurtful to those closest to us?  Do we accept responsibility for our sin, for the ways we have harmed others?  Yes, and living in Christian community involves admitting our sin and forgiving each other.  When we sin, we have done something wrong.  This is a true statement.  And we need to resolve the harm caused to our brothers and sisters when we sin.  The “wrong” is about our actions, not our identity.

Shame attacks your identity.  Shame proclaims, “You are something wrong!”  Jesus says just the opposite.  You are deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted, and complete in Christ.

“For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world should be saved through Him.” (John 3:17).  Christ did not come to condemn you for your sin.  He came to free you from your sin!  Christ walked through that shameful death on the cross for the purpose of redeeming you back to God’s presence.  Let the power of the cross set you free from the chains of shame.

The Power of the Cross … to Reconcile Us to Each Other (Part 4 of 6)

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made us (Jew and Gentile) both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us (Jew and Gentile) both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16).

The cross has reconciled us to God and has reconciled us to each other.  The cross of Jesus has brought us together into one body.  Paul explains it further in the rest of Ephesians chapter 2.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).  God’s Spirit, a sign of us being God’s temple, God’s dwelling place, abides in all of us who believe.  We have an inseparable connection with God and fellowship with each other.

“But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7).  Here, we see the two reconciliations together.  You are in the Light and you walk in the Light because of your place in God’s family.  And as His child, you have fellowship with each other and the blood of Christ has cleansed you, reconciling you with God the Father.

All of us are equals at the foot of the cross.  There is no superiority.  There is no partiality.  There is no one-upmanship.  We all stand equally guilty and in need of God’s grace.  And grace is exactly what God has given to us.  Peter announced to the Council at Jerusalem, “But we believe that we (Jews) are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they (Gentiles) also are” (Acts 15:11).

“For you are ALL sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For ALL of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are ALL one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).

“You are all one in Christ Jesus.”  These are not just beautiful words.  They are a powerful promise, brought to fruition by the power of the cross!