Shadow and Reality
Almighty God, help me to lay aside the distractions and, through Your Word, seek to encounter the living Christ.
Read COLOSSIANS 2:16–23
16 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 a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
New International Version (NIV)
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Paul is giving the Colossians a spiritual vaccine against demonic quicksand. The vaccine consists of a strong dose of Jesus.
If Satan can’t prevent us from being Christians, he can at least distort our view of what Christianity is all about. He can also distract us from Christ. The Colossians might have been influenced by the Jewish synagogue, or mystery cults, or pagan practices, or even local folk religion. We too live in a syncretistic, plural society, but Scripture calls on us to reject the impostors in the picture and to focus instead on what Christ has done.
One impostor is religious observance. You can have demanding religious scruples about certain foods, or new moon celebrations, or special Sabbath days (16), but these can divert people from Christ. The Colossians probably believe that a new moon or the movement of the planets influences their prospects, rather like horoscopes in our newspapers, but these are just shadows—they’re not the real thing (17). The substance belongs to Christ. It is Jesus, not religious activity, who saves us. Another impostor can be false religious experience (18,19). The Colossians are being judged by their critics because they don’t measure up in terms of experience. The danger here is to think that religious experience is proof of religious reality. Perhaps this was a warning against the desire for some dramatic experience from the spiritual world. However, if such experiences are not centered on Christ, they result only in spiritual pride. The third impostor lurks in adherence to religious rules (20–23). I live a good life, I keep the rules, so I’ve earned it. All such impressive self-denial is a vain attempt to become more holy (23).
All three impostors oppose the Gospel. They miss the truth of what Christ has done for us. They fail to convey the greatest news of all: that he is sufficient. The way to true spirituality is through our union with Christ.
Our lives and our churches can be distracted by many things, some of which are very religious. Pray for protection from the false and for a growing appreciation of the true.
Lord, keep me from falling prey to the pride that accompanies religious externalism.