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. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ …
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 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. (verses 16-17, 20-23)
We know that Paul was a man of discipline. No question.
He actively engaged in behaviour to grow his spiritual life. We see him fasting and praying with fellow leaders in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). Together, they engaged in worship. We hear him talking about his “labour, struggling” on behalf of the Colossian and Laodicean believers, likely a reference primarily to the discipline of prayer. He talks about freely enduring hardship for the sake of the Gospel (2 Cor 11:21-29), going without sleep, experiencing hunger and thirst, and bearing the weight of concern for the churches. Further, he urges the Ephesians and Colossians to take active steps to “put off” the old self and to “put on” the new (Eph 4:22-24, Col 3:9-10). He doesn’t shy away from decisive action that furthers spiritual growth – indeed, he encourages it both in himself and in others.
Yet here in Colossians 2, he urges his readers not to get bogged down in behavioural rules, nor to submit to the judgement of those who do. “These,” he says, “are a shadow of the things that were to come.” Therefore, don’t allow them to shape your behaviour. Why? Because on their own they have no power – “they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” If you are relying on these things to be spiritually approved, you’re missing grace. If you are exerting your own effort to stay on the “straight and narrow,” you’re bound to stumble.
“Human commands and teachings,” Paul says, look good, seem smart, appear to be spiritually attuned and rigorously committed since they so often require severe self-denial and strict rule-keeping. Yet, they fall short. They lack power.
Rather, “the reality … is found in Christ.” He is the source of complete salvation. When, from the cross he cried, “It is finished,” lives were ransomed, sin set aside, forgiveness secured, and reconciliation with God attained. No additional human effort or struggle or mortification or self-sacrifice could add anything in addition. From that point, it was all of grace. The only response required was faith.
So, don’t come under the bondage of human rules – they only distract you from leaning into Christ. Don’t submit to judgement doled out by those who trust themselves to keeping religion or asceticism or legalistic guidelines – it’s only a shadow, not the reality.
Trust only in Christ.
And as you trust in him, embrace all he leads you into – yes. Pray, fast, worship, persevere, sacrifice, give him your all. But remember, “the reality … is found in Christ.”
Yes, in Christ alone.
Lord Jesus, I turn my eyes to you yet again. You are my only hope, my only source of grace. As I lean into you, freely receiving, I want to honour you with all I have. Strengthen my walk. Shape my character. Align my behaviour with your heart and will. To your glory. Amen.
Reflect: Spiritual disciplines are good. But is there any activity or behaviour in which you are trusting, beyond Jesus himself? Put it into his hands afresh. Continue with discipline, yes, but freely, for his joy and glory.
Photo by KEEM IBARRA on Unsplash