Scripture: Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17 ESV
Observation: Having cautioned the Colossians to avoid those who compete for their affections with tantalizing traditions and philosophies that have the appearance of godliness, Paul reminds them that in Christ only do we find meaning and fulfillment in life. Such false teachers of salvation seek to captivate and control our lives (2:8-10). But Christ, our emancipator, has paid our debts by nailing our sins to his cross. And he has “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (forces of evil that seek to own us), making a spectacle of them in his triumph over death (2:13-15). Thus, in the above passage, Paul urges the church members to ignore those who attempt to judge and shame them according to their legalistic observances, for such religious practices are mere shadows of what lies ahead in the fullness of Christ.
Takeaway: Is Paul saying that religious observances and spiritual disciplines are harmful to the soul? They can be if we seek to prove to ourselves and others that we are good Christians worthy of Christ’s love. Indeed, Paul dedicates most of his epistle teachings to this matter. A Pharisee among Pharisees, Paul rigorously observed Yahweh’s holiness code to the point of persecuting the followers of Jesus. And then the Lord wrecked his life. No longer could Paul justify himself by any means other than by grace through faith in Christ—our source for living holy lives that brings glory to God.
So whether asceticism or any other trending moralistic philosophy, for Paul, all these worldviews are shadows of the ultimate reality that was to come: the consummation of all things made new in Christ. As John tells us in his Revelation, the glory of the Father and Son will light their re-creation, and there will be no more shadows of sin (Revelation 21:22-27). Because the “substance” of all that is good, right, and holy “belongs to Christ,” and that includes us.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that the substance of all creation belongs to your Son. Would you please rescue us from the shadows of endless worldly philosophies and instead apprehend Christ’s love and grace which is sufficient for the here and now? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling