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Colossians 2: 16-23 : Shadow and reality

To be able to understand this important paragraph, we should keep in mind that the apostle Paul is writing this letter to the church in Colosse against the background of the influence that certain false preachers had in the church.

These false preachers were Jews – who became Christians in a way, but did not correctly understand the Gospel and therefore preached a mixture of truth and error.

The Apostle therefore has to warn and correct, and teach the plain truth.

The truth is centred in a Person – Jesus Christ and the Christian-believer’s faith-unity with Him. The person who is in unity with Him is automatically set free of obedience to all sorts of orthodox rules in order to impress God, win His favor or live a holy life by it.

THAT is in a nutshell what Paul is saying in this paragraph. Let us now focus in on the detail.

Paul clearly says that SOMEONE had given the church certain false directives – things they had to do and not do – in order to grow spiritually, strive for sanctification and make “spiritual breakthroughs”. And most of these directives came (in a distorted way) out of the OT. The false preachers were obviously “converted” Jews. Judaists we call them.

To obey directives to get into or remain in God’s good books OR to “make progress” OR obtain spiritual breakthroughs is legalism and can not in any way be associated with the true Gospel message. It is a false religion. The true religion is to live through faith-trust in unity with Jesus Christ. And one does that by faith-trust in His Word/promises.

In unity with Christ Jesus all Christian-believers are 100% holy and acceptable before God the Father. That is OUT OF that position of ALREADY being – in Christ – acceptable and holy before God, that a Christian desires to live in obedience. The Christian does not live according to legalistic directives TO BECOME acceptable to God or to GAIN spiritual breakthroughs. The person who does that is disconnected from Christ! In Christ the believer is already in possession of the fullness of blessings and breakthroughs! It is one or the other. Not both!

It is unbelievable how many workshops and courses are presented these days to help people to do this-or-that to obtain breakthroughs. The idea is always that the person is in Christ, but that something is still lacking! Oh yes, faith-trust rooted in Christ Jesus’s death on the cross is enough to START with, but you need something more and extra and that is why this-and-that is needed – and then the directives follow. It is Christ PLUS something more needed. From TB Joshua one can even order “anointed” water that supposedly will give you breakthroughs in all areas of your life. It is an extreme example but it shows how relevant Colossians 2:16-23 is for today. It is the Holy Spirit’s answer to all the efforts of Christians to OBTAIN something that they already HAVE in Christ!

In the true gospel everything is about JESUS, and in false religion it is about MAN that has to do this and that as a PLUS to JESUS.

What exactly was it that the Judaists directed the Colossians to do and not to do?

The Apostle lists them:
1 Regulations about what believers may eat/drink and what they may not eat/drink. “Do not taste this, do not touch that, do not take that over your lips”. Most probably based on Leviticus 11. While Jesus clearly taught that the avoidance of certain foods does not apply to Christians any longer (Mark 7:14-19).
2 Festivals. The annual celebration of some of the Jewish feasts such as the Passover, Firstfruits, Shelters (Lev 23). Think of the present day so called Hebrew Roots movement. These people celebrate these Jewish feasts and blow the Ram’s horn again!
3 New moon. Numbers 10 and 28 talks about the monthly sacrifices that had to be brought on the first day of the month of the Jewish calendar.
4 Sabbaths. The rule to keep the seventh day (Saturday) as Sabbath.
5 Ascesis. That means human efforts to reach higher levels of holiness by extreme/external forms of self-denial (abstinence) and fasting and even by punishing oneself physically with self-inflicted torture. We know how the unconverted Martin Luther crawled up the stairway in Rome and rubbed his nose on the ground until the blood ran – in an effort to gain God’s favour.

About all these things the Holy Spirit gives – through Paul’s pen – a good number of very important principles:
1 The OT feasts and ceremonies and rituals were only shadows of Christ who was to come. They were only silhouettes of the truth. The truth (reality) is Christ. After He appeared, the time of shadows were passed. Therefore Christians do not have to keep them. The same way you don’t not have to look at someone’s photo once that person is present with you in person.
2 The false preachers always give the impression of humility and subservience, but in reality they are full of self-exaltation and self-conceit. Christians must discern and be conscious of this and absolutely avoid these people.
3 False preachers many times base their teaching on some or other dream or vision or revelation or enlightenment that they have received and which in a subtle way carries more authority than the Word of God. The content of the visions and dreams and revelations becomes the new Word of God. Most leaders of sects and cults had visions or dreams or saw an apparition of some kind. In that way they received greater knowledge, which others don’t have. The false preachers of that time had – based on their visions – worshipped and honoured angels – which is an abomination in God’s eyes. Be aware of people who make much of angels and heavenly beings, the Bible does not do it.
4 The religion of the false preacher has the appearance of wisdom and spirituality and misleads lots of people, but in reality it is a man-made and human-invented religion. Stay away from it as far as you can.
5 The religion of the false preacher does not have any power or ability to let the Christian live in victory over sin. It pretends to help the Christian to gain a higher spiritual level, but instead does exactly the opposite. From 3:1 onward we will see what the real solution is for victory over sin.
6 The Christian is included in Christ’s death and resurrection and therefore already dead to false teaching and orthodoxy. In Christ’s death, the believer already died for that. Therefore the believer CAN discern and reject it. Included with Christ, there is no obligation for the Christian to keep certain legalistic directives to gain a deeper spiritual life, because Christ himself is the fullness! The believer can never receive more than what he/she already has in Christ.
7 In the place of the directives of the false preachers, Paul places Christ Jesus Himself! In the place of the directives, is a living Person! He is the Head of the church and out of Him, believers grow! According to Paul it is not Jesus PLUS something. It is ONLY Jesus! You grow as Christian in the same way that you have become a Christian: By turning away from sin and to trust in Christ’s death and resurrection. That’s how you start, but also how you grow. Turn and trust, turn and trust, turn and trust, turn and trust. Calvin once said the Christian life is a life of repentance.

This is how we grow spiritually: By turning away from sin and putting our trust in Christ’s death and resurrection. He Himself is the breakthrough we long for.

Translated by Marthie Wilson


Category Colossians Series

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