Choose Substance Over Style

Another Year of Choices

By Barbara Dahlgren

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People come in all shapes and sizes with diverse genetic, cultural, geographical and family backgrounds. Because we are all different, our preferences and points of view may vary. Different does not necessarily mean wrong, it just means “not the same.” God created us that way.

Since we are all “not the same,” we have strong opinions about what we like and don’t like – in all areas of life: the color and cut of our hair, the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the foods we eat, the books we read, the cars we drive, and so on. The list is endless. You might call this our style. We all have a certain style. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, God gives us the freedom to develop our own unique and distinctive style.

However, if we aren’t careful sometimes our style can lead to faulty thinking. The danger isn’t so much in knowing what we like; the danger comes from wanting everyone to like what we like or even worse, thinking we know what God likes. Though we might not admit it, most of us secretly think God likes what we like and hates what we hate. Those who set up their style as God’s standard have a tendency to judge others who don’t measure up. Sometimes, if given the choice, people choose style over substance.

We should never confuse style with substance. Let’s take a church setting for example. Some might focus more on what people are wearing, the vocal quality of the speaker, or singing their favorite song than on Christ. Believers meeting together to draw closer to God can take a back seat to personalities, appeal, and presentation – or for want of a better word – style.

Basic CMYK

Style is a haircut or wardrobe. Substance is realizing God looks on the heart not the outward appearance. (1 Samuel 16:7) Style is how mellow or upbeat the music is. Substance is worshipping God by focusing on the lyrics sung. (John 4:24) Style is tradition and ritual which is totally different than doctrine. Substance is internalizing and actually living the word of God. (Matthew 4:4) There is nothing wrong with style, if you don’t confuse it with substance.

Some in biblical times had a problem with this as well.

People didn’t like John the Baptist’s style. He was a bit of a recluse and lived in the wilderness. He dressed funny and had strange eating habits. (Mark 1:4-6) He seemed a little severe and stark. Many didn’t know what to make of him so they called him demonic. (Luke 7:33) They didn’t like his style so they rejected his substance – the message of Jesus Christ.

Christ was the opposite of John, but many didn’t like his style either – especially those priding themselves on having “godly” standards. Christ was not a recluse. In fact, he came eating, drinking, and joining in the midst of life at that time. (Luke 7:34) He associated with everyone including tax collectors, prostitutes, scribes, and sinners, so they called him a glutton and a drunkard saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax gatherers and sinners?” (Matthew 9:10, 11; Luke 5:27-30) In other words, “You need to change your style.” Because they could only see His style, they missed His substance – His message of mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness.

Sadly, today many would rather debate whether or not Jesus turned water into wine or grape juice (style) instead of being amazed by the miracle itself – and even more amazed by the miracle maker (substance). If examined honestly, we would probably find most church divisions come to pass because of style, not substance.

Consider this… As we grow closer to God, we realize substance is more important than style and with God’s help we learn to differentiate between the two. After all, styles will come and go, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.


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Suggestions for practicing this choice…

It’s all right to have preferences, but do not think your preferences are God’s preferences.

Do not look down on others who are different from you or don’t share your point of view.

Do not look down on sinners because, believe it or not, you are one.

None of us want to be criticized, so practice being less critical of others. Sometimes it’s best to keep our opinions to ourselves because it isn’t our opinions that count, it’s God’s!

Ask God to help you differentiate between style and substance.


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