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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.   

                                                              Colossians 2:16,17

In this chapter Paul warns the Christians at Colossae that there are four dangers facing them.   In the process of doing so he reasserts the supremacy of Christ – and the empty alternatives of other systems of belief.

I want in particular to leave with you the central thrust of verse 17, which I paraphrase in this way:

Flee the shadows – the reality is in Christ


Paul is, of course, speaking specifically in this section about the dangers of tradition by which the believer might be criticised or judged – in particular the traditions of religious observance – festival, New Moon or Sabbath.  These Jewish traditions were a foreshadowing of what was to come – and now that Christ has come they are replaced by the “reality that is found in Christ.”

In expanding on this verse I want to highlight what I believe to be a very troubling tendency – evident in the world at large – but particularly dangerous to the believing community.  A tendency to be preoccupied with SHADOWS rather than THE REALITY OF JESUS.

Ours is a generation preoccupied with flickering shadows.  Our entertainment seems to depend upon a technology of shadows – but our outlook is also perilously superficial.  

When we were children – and the habit remains with us still – the shadows were places of uncertainty  and fear: our ignorance and imagination filled them with dangers – but also made them fascinating to us.  And in varying degrees that preoccupation and the misunderstandings it feeds on is with us still.

As we grow older the shadows in our lives take on a deeper significance. There are places we go, experiences we live through and sometimes situations we seek out that are very much with us.

Most of all we are easily duped into placing a greater value on, or given greater significance to the SHADOWS of life rather than the REALITY which is in Jesus.

Our spiritual lives become two-dimensional and we are preoccupied with that which lies on the surface – appearances and so on – when we should be deepening our knowledge of Christ and our faith in Him.

Today Paul warns us as he warned the Colossians:


In doing so I want us to be aware of the DANGERS that surround us and result in this most serious warning, and then to consider some of the ways in which our lives should demonstrate the REALITY THAT IS IN CHRIST.

The dangers are stated in verses :  4   8  16 and 18:

              Don’t be DECEIVED

              Don’t be CAPTIVATED

              Don’t’ be JUDGED


              Don’t be DISQUALIFIED

You are surrounded by value systems and mind sets that oppose the all sufficiency of Christ.  The world is convinced that success and significance lies in other things. Don’t be taken in.

1.  Don’t be deceived by fine-sounding arguments  v4

There are many other systems and ideas abroad that sound convincing and plausible. The Colossians had experienced the dangers of such philosophies.

There were people who claimed to have found the secret of the universe – the answer to the human problem.   They prided themselves on their KNOWLEDGE and REASONING. 

Paul has to remind them that “all the treasures of wisdoms and knowledge” are hidden in Christ.

One of the side effects of an educated society is the exposure to fine sounding arguments.   Ideas which leave God out of the reckoning

The danger here is that the believer will be DECEIVED – taken in – duped. 

The world offers several “shadows” :

1.     The Christian life is for those who do not face up to the claims of science or of the present – for the weak and the gullible.

2.     Life is for real NOW – leave the future to others – and as for eternity – forget    it!

3.     The present pleasures of life are preferable to the claims of Christ – sin may be         ugly at times but it is “fun”.

Such shadows are aimed like a flickering film show across our lives to distract us from the claims of Jesus on our souls.

2.  Don’t be captivated by hollow and deceptive ideas

8 See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

There is much in other human traditions.  We would be foolish to deny that. But the claims of our world  with its ALTERNATIVE VALUES and ALTERNATIVE IDEALS is a dangerous aspect of the shadows that surround us.

Man is always looking for a world system that will satisfy his desire to be DOING SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT.

What kind of systems occupy the unbelieving mind these days?

Well there is always the notion of SOCIAL CONCERN and CARE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT.

Now you must not misunderstand me here – I believe the Christian has a responsibility for the care of the world in which God has placed him – but that is different from  a preoccupation with such matters – as being an end in itself – and being such as to make sense of life itself.

It is because they are such laudable causes that these things appeal – and they do so not so as to supplement the believer’s underlying view of human sin and failure – but as an end in themselves.

They represent in all their variety – causes social and environmental, charitable and political “the hollow and deceptive philosophy and basic principles of this world RATHER THAN ON CHRIST”   Such views are closely followed by New Age ideas.

They are shadows.

3.  Don’t be judged by religious observances  vv 16,17

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. 


Down through the ages Christians have been derailed from their simple faith in the all sufficient Christ by a plethora of TRADITIONS and OBSERVANCES – many deriving from the Old Testament rules – which Paul here clearly describes as A SHADOW OF THINGS THAT WERE TO COME – in other words (as Hebrews testifies) they have already been displaced  by Christ Himself.

A religious life full of liturgical practises and complicated rules about what is allowable or not was a feature of the religious life of our Lord’s own time.

Since then there have risen many large and small denominations and groups who major on ritual observance and holy days and fasts and feasts.

We ourselves look back affectionately to the Passover – and we recognise the principles that it enshrines – but we do not any longer celebrate the Passover – we meet around the Lord’s table.

Some Christians have made a great deal out of celebrating the Sabbath – others have become preoccupied with the worship of saints and icons and a liturgy that often has roots outside of Scripture.

But before we move away from that – we need to examine the traditions of our own extempore worship and our  “free church” rituals.

Such things are a SHADOW – the reality is in Christ and in Christ alone.

How many of our practises do we hold so dear that they have become to us a major preoccupation – and we JUDGE OTHERS BY THE STANDARDS WE HAVE INVENTED OR INHERITED FROM OTHERS – forgetting that the reality lies elsewhere in the Lord Himself.

How easily we consign to a lesser spiritual group those who do not share our particular views on worship or gender or prayer or music?

What matters is CHRIST.

But sometimes you would not think that that is so – we become preoccupied – having failed to take notice of Paul’s warning here – with small matters – and cherished traditions.

We become all too easily a people of HABIT and SUPERFICIAL RELIGION convinced that what matters is how we worship, or how an individual speaks, or whether others accord us due respect…

4.  Don’t be disqualified by claims of superior spiritual     experience    v 18

18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19 He has 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.

Pride is a pernicious force in the Church.  One believer may be convinced he has  had a superior experience of God – or that he has been given a vision that others do not share because it has been given just to him.   How many of us have suffered guilt in the face of other believers who claim a deeper prayer life or a special knowledge?

When I look back over my childhood and my time at college too I remember those who dominated the scene locally because they had “a special vision” or an incomparable devotional life.

The ones who really were an example were marked by true humility – those who had allowed themselves to be derailed by pride and false spirituality were always complaining about those who did not share it!

We too easily replace FAITH with a dependence upon cherished ideas and thoughts of personal discipleship that set us apart from others.  It becomes a practice of new spiritual patterns rather than a desire to be like HIM.  We are preoccupied with the shadows – the two dimensional appearances – we have lost the link with the Head

The REALITY is simple and direct – and it is ALL IN JESUS CHRIST.

But turn aside from these SHADOWS and consider in closing the MARKS OF THE REALITY THAT IS IN CHRIST:

There are many aspects we could dwell on – but I commend to you these THREE:





They mirror our Lord’s own claim:  “ I am the Way and the Truth and the Life…”


A. For He is the source of SATISFACTION       “the Way”

Against a background of other claims to be the answer to the world’s needs Christ claims unambiguously to be THE way.   In Paul’s words He is THE REALITY.

Following a system however persuasive, or a philosophy however well structured, or a world view or mind set however plausible always carries a risk – you MIGHT BE WRONG…

When Christ claims to be the WAY – He gives a single path for the pilgrim, and steady aim for the believer, a single focus for the worker.   In short He who has gone before – and who knows our weaknesses and the shadows that dog our path better than we do – OFFERS A SATISFACTION THAN NONE CAN MATCH.

Flee the shadows ….. THE REALITY IS IN CHRIST

Perhaps I speak to someone who has been trying for years to FIND THE WAY – trying to find a system of rules, or a pattern of worship, or a singular vision that will answer the deepest yearnings of their heart …?


For only Jesus shares our humanity – has paid the price for our redemption – and has risen to guarantee our salvation.


Jesus is the complete answer – the whole WAY – the true satisfaction – satisfying the Law of God’s demands, and satisfying my heart’s need for cleansing from sin and all uncleanness.

B. He is the TRUTH – “the real thing” if you will

Examine the teachings of other religions, or even of other Christian leaders who offer a different way than His and you will find them lacking.  

Subject them to scrutiny – test their claims against the claims of Jesus.

Only Jesus reveals the Nature of God to me – for He is God in Human flesh

“In Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily”

Where others offer a faint hope – “if you do this , and if you do that” – my Lord offers Himself  and certainty – because it is not what I do or try or earn – BUT WHAT HE IS.

FLEE THE SHADOWS of self help and attempts to meet God’s law – and find In Christ the only complete answer – and TRUST HIM FOR WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE HAS ACHIEVED in His death and resurrection.

C. He is the LIFE – He overcomes – He offers Victory

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the Uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Let such a ONE “rule in your hearts”  (3:15a)

No One else takes upon Himself the sins of the world and nails them to His cross.

No One else disarms the powers and authorities and RISES VICTORIOUS.

Satan is busily trying to keep us in THE SHADOWS  -

They seem – like the brilliant colourful shadows cast upon the silver or plasma screen by brilliant technology and amazing skill – attractive and hypnotic:

“Live for the here and now

 Enjoy the present

 Abandon ideas of commitment to a distant and irrelevant God”


They do not stand the test of daylight, or everyday, or difficulty, or guilt, or sin – their aim is to keep us in the SHADOWS and away from the Light that shines from the Lord Himself.


And whatever my own poor weak discipleship and attempt to reflect Him in what I do – the REALITY IS NOT ME – BUT CHRIST.


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