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Shadow and Substance



“Don’t exchange the substance for the shadow. There’s much that looks like Christianity, but you stay rooted to Christ.”

As we continue in our series through Colossians, we hope and pray that this word from Ben Stuart encourages you to pursue a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Key Takeaway

Do not be deceived. Don't be taken in by a shadow when you have the person of Jesus walking with you. He is enough. He is all you need.

God was on the move in Colossae. Whenever you see God moving in power, crazy always moves in next door. They want to skim off and co-opt the message. The false teachers were telling the Church that because you haven't done some things or experienced some things, you aren't a real child of God. However, God cares more about your heart and character.

Colossians 2:16-17.

Paul is warning them against syncretism. Some of the teachers were saying that they had to adapt their diet and observe certain holy days.

As humans, we think we have to keep doing things to be ok, but the Bible is clear that we are not. Throughout history, we have always sacrificed people and things trying to appease the assumed gods. The one true God sacrificed for us so we could be saved. We are dislocated from our Head, our God. Through many people, including Noah and Moses, He showed us how to live.

Paul references all the Old Testament symbols, the fasts, holy days, food, and drink, as a tutor to lead you to Christ. That's why John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Jesus is the ultimate, once and for all sacrifice. All of those things are a shadow, He is the body. When you meet someone, you don't talk to their shadow; you talk to the body. All of the ceremony leads to the Son. Religion says do, Jesus says done.

Religion has been used to do a lot of damage to different people, to tyrannize them. That's why many give up. That's not true Christianity. Christianity is Jesus plus nothing else. Nothing else can take the place of His sacrifice. Don't demean His sacrifice by requiring people to eat certain ways and do certain things and then equate that with salvation.

You may change your lifestyle to position yourself to enjoy that intimacy with Him differently, but that is profoundly different from doing things to earn God's smile.

Colossians 2:18.

Paul encourages the believers not to let anyone disqualify them by the ideas of asceticism and worshiping angels.

Asceticism- means humility, but not the character trait. Here it's referencing the positioning of your body in an uncomfortable manner to placate God. It's a physical restriction of yourself for performance.

Worshiping of angels or ascending to worship with angels is an experience.

What is happening here? Syncretism. Taking a little bit of every little thing you want and mixing it all together.

So in Colossae, they are being told to pick Jewish spiritualism because it looks cool, but also add some physical stuff in to have an ecstatic experience. The idea is that if I physically discomfort myself, I may kickstart an ecstatic experience: then I've truly met with God. Paul warns against this teaching.

There's a difference between having an experience and pursuing an experience. The pursuit tends to lead you away from the pursuit of a person. It sounds spiritual, but it's all sensual. It is completely obsessed with a sensory experience.

Colossians 2:19.

Paul continues his warning by telling them that the danger may be severing themselves from the Head, Christ. It's a taxidermist model. The exterior looks real, but it has lost its soul. It's trying to do some things in order to get something else. That is manipulative.

Fads are powerless to stop the indulgence of the flesh. They just redirect it. That's what the pursuit of an experience does. It will eventually die out. Stay in the flow of the headwaters and remain faithful to Christ. Fadish spirituality rips religious communities apart, but when we are united in Christ- we work through our differences together, grow together, stand together, and knit together. Growth is hard. It doesn't look fantastic right away. It looks like farming. It takes time. Don't exchange the substance for a shadow. Stay rooted in Christ.


"You may change your lifestyle to position yourself to enjoy that intimacy with Him differently, but that is profoundly different from doing things to earn God's smile."

Ben Stuart

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Scripture References

  • Colossians 2:16-19
  • Colossians 2:23
Ben Stuart Ben Stuart is the pastor of Passion City Church D.C. Prior to joining Passion City Church, Ben served as the executive director of Breakaway Ministries on the campus of Texas A&M. He also earned a master’s degree in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Donna, live to inspire and equip people to walk with God for a lifetime.