Day 8

Shadow vs. Substance

from the Colossians reading plan

Colossians 2:16-23, Romans 14:1-23, Hebrews 8:1-6, Hebrews 10:1-10

BY Sarah Matheny

Text: Colossians 2:16-23, Romans 14:1-23, Hebrews 8:1-6, Hebrews 10:1-10

I’ve heard it takes 21 days to make a new habit stick. In theory, after three weeks of going through the paces, whatever habit you’re trying to adopt will finally stick. The shadow of who you want to be, in 21 days, will have been fully eclipsed by a new, truer you—a sugar quitter, a regular exerciser, or one of those responsible individuals who skips the Netflix binge-watching and goes to bed early. In theory.

The tricky part—which anyone attempting such goals will tell you—is getting through those 21 days without quitting. Keep in mind, this is coming from the woman who has twice caved during 30-day sugar detoxes to cookie dough ice cream and peanut butter cups (days 8 and 11, respectively).

In an effort to maintain consistency, we easily-tempted humans utilize all sorts of “self-help” tools of various rules and rituals, not to mention accountability via hashtags online, social media check-ins, wellness apps, and maybe even real live community groups. While these things can be useful in getting us closer to our goal, we also run the risk of making them our sole and supreme focus.

Though Paul certainly isn’t referring to quitting sugar in these words to the Colossians, he is speaking to the danger of being so lost in religion and ritual and how-tos that we never truly taste the goodness of God. He is preaching against asceticism, a severe, man-imposed self-discipline that serves as self-serving checkmarks rather than true submission to God (Colossians 2:22-23).

Paul feared Christians in Colossae were becoming more occupied with these acts of “merit” than with the living Christ Himself.

Friends, don’t we do our own version of these empty acts today? Take my daughter, for example, making “breakfast” in her play kitchen and then gnawing on a plastic waffle. Are we tasting the real thing or just going through the paces? Are we doing spiritual things because they’re “good,” or are we doing them out of love for Christ?

These “virtuous” disciplines, as Paul writes, are simply a shadow. The substance is Jesus (Colossians 2:7). When we buy into these practices apart from the person of Christ, we undervalue God’s grace, presuming that He needs our righteousness. He doesn’t. Christ is perfectly righteous, and we can only find our fullness in Him. In love, He calls us to live in a way that is good and holy and right—not out of fear of losing our salvation, but out of our adoration of Him.  

A full life in Jesus doesn’t mean 21 days of going through the paces, making a prideful display of spiritual acts we think will make us more holy. We can’t be satisfied with the shadow, not when we have the Savior. The gospel offers real fullness in Christ, freely given. And believe me, friends, nothing tastes sweeter (Psalm 119:103-104).

Post Comments (76)

76 thoughts on "Shadow vs. Substance"

  1. Michelle of LA CA says:

    Thank you for this reading . It hit the spot for me today .

  2. Sarah says:

    I get this and I get the gospels me am a Christian but one thing I have been stumped by for awhile is what does it practically look like to find my fullness in Jesus. How do I really “taste” Him?

    1. Carolina says:

      I think “tasting” Christ is when we begin to find all of our joy in him. We look to the word constantly for inspiration, all of our accomplishments are because of him and we thank him for it, we look to him in every situation, etc. When we find all of our joy in Christ, that is when we are able to “taste” his goodness.

      1. Michelle of LA CA says:

        Great answer . I couldn’t of said it better !!!

      2. Abigail Jolly says:


  3. Kylee says:

    “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” — this must have rocked their world to hear! But it’s the same for us today; no outward displays of affection or attempts to win his favor with our actions can earn our salvation, only Jesus can do that & HE ALREADY DID! Let it rattle my senses, Lord, and spur me & all my sisters on to loving you for the sake of Christ and not to check boxes off a list of faith to-do’s.

  4. Kiki714 says:

    Now go listen to Dolorean’s “In Love with the Doubt”. So good.

  5. Melisa says:

    These two verses from Hebrews 10 really brought it home for me.
    “9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
    We have been saved once and for all! We have Jesus! We don’t need to keep striving to become righteous by following the law or man-made rules. Only God makes us righteous, and this only through His perfect sacrifice.

  6. Kate S. says:

    Did anyone else love those last two verses in Romans 14? There is so much freedomin Christ! I needed to hear that today.

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