Colossians

Day 8: Shadow vs. Substance

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

Why would Paul need to direct the Colossian church to not get caught up in feeling guilty when people judge them for not practicing ancient customs or observing old traditions? (Colossians 2:16-17) Why would the apostle need to tell these young Christians to resist bowing to those who teach that the way to spiritual health comes through asceticism— the self-denial and fasting summarized in verse 21 as “Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch”?

False teachers had descended on the Colossian church, teaching that true believers in God needed to practice self-discipline, observe certain festivals, and follow a certain diet in order to claim genuine faith.

At first blush, many of us might say those rules don’t sound like much of a life. Who would be tempted to fall into those traps?

But Paul is not speaking to the particular rules themselves. He is speaking to the heart behind them. Paul is essentially saying, These guys will come through and they will have an air of wisdom. They will be very persuasive. They will appeal to your consciences. And you will be tempted.

Paul knows the human heart. He knows we will always find the prospect of turning genuine faith into a system of alluring rules. Show us the levers to pull and the button to push to get this faith up and running; tell us what to do and what to avoid in order to get our spiritual lives in order, and we will always be tempted to lean in and listen.

Paul does not completely demonize ceremonies or the observance of holy days. What he is saying is that those things were given to foreshadow the coming of Christ. They were given as symbols of the promise that the relationship between God and man would one day be restored. Christ has fulfilled that hope. Ceremonies and holy days are only shadows. Christ is the substance of our faith.

For as long as the church exists on this earth, we will need to be reminded that Christ is not after our behavior. He is after our hearts. Hearts are not won by prescribing rules. But for the heart that loves God, devotion and obedience become the overflow of our affection and trust. This is what Paul wants to mark the lives of the believers in Colossae, and this is what Christ Himself wants for us—that our devotion and discipline would flow out of our love for Jesus Christ, the substance of our faith.

written by Russ Ramsey

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