The Shadow and the Reality
Last week we looked at who we are in Christ.
In Him we were...
Made complete. In Christ we are who God made us to be, connected to God (verse 10)
Circumcised in heart, that is we have died to the old nature, and are living by the Spirit (verse 11)
Buried with him in baptism (verse 12), raised with Him through faith (verse 12), and made alive with Him (verse 13).
Forgiven: our debt to God was forever canceled (verse 13 and 14).
Our scripture today starts with the word ‘therefore’. As Pastor Tim, one of my former pastors, would say, when you see therefore in the Scripture, find out what it is there for. This word points us back to what has just been said. Because of who we are in Christ, therefore…
Colossians 2:16 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. 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.
20 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: 21 "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 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. (NIV)
Have you ever heard it said that religion is man’s search for God, but Christianity is God’s search of man?
You will probably not find that distinction in most reference books. Some may even find it offensive. However, I believe it to be true.
Webster defines religion as: 1: the belief in and worship of God or gods
2: a system of religious beliefs and practices
As I understand the Bible and what it teaches, it is primarily the story of God’s reconnecting with mankind. God has come after us. God pursues us until we either give in and surrender to Him or we become so hardened in our hearts that we can no longer hear the voice of God calling out to us.
Religion as a system of religious beliefs and practices is not the same as living in a relationship with God.
When we accept Christ we are accepting God into our lives. We are surrendering to Him as Lord of our lives. We are accepting that He saves us and we cannot save ourselves.
The flesh, that is our self on the throne of our lives, can go through the motions of religion without having a relationship with God. This may be one of the enemies most effective tricks to fool us into thinking we are saved when we are not.
The practice of religious activity is no substitute for having a relationship with God. We need to ask ourselves if we are going through the motions of being a Christian, or if we are truly walking in a relationship with God.
It may be that we are actually saved, that we are trusting God to save us, but we are walking in the flesh and doing what we think God wants us to do. God wants us to obey Him, not just His rules. God wants us to listen to Him every day, not just practice our religious duties a few times a week in order to salve our conscience.
Religious practice can be a good thing if we are following those practices at the bidding of God’s Spirit living within us. However, religious practice is no substitute for a relationship with Christ. Religion is a mere shadow of the truth. The reality is knowing Christ and walking with Him every day.
God says the shadow is not effective in restraining sensual indulgence. Why is practicing religion not effective in restraining sensual indulgence? Because religious practice can be accomplished by the flesh. When we practice our religion for the wrong reasons we are not listening to God, we are listening to the old nature, the flesh. The self has climbed back up on the throne.
Our connection to the Head, to God through Jesus Christ and the work of His Holy Spirit within us, is what helps us to grow in our faith, in our relationship with God. Denying ourselves and taking up the cross of Christ, is what helps us to become what God wants us to become. Overcoming the bondage of living for myself is what God wants for each of us.
We are forgiven because of what Christ did on the cross. Forgiving others is the nature of God. When we are walking in the Spirit we submit to Him and forgive those who have wronged us.
We may give and be generous with others, but unless we are doing so for the right reason we are missing the point of what God wants for us. We do not give our tithes and offerings in order to maintain our relationship with God. We give our tithes and offerings, and are generous with others, because God leads us to these activities as we walk in fellowship with Him. God loves us and works His work in the world through us.
We may be witnessing to others about what God has done for us, but we need to be sure we are witnessing because God is leading us to witness, because we love Him and we love other people. The self, the old nature, the flesh, will witness to look good to other people.
Why do we come to church? Do we come because we love God and love others, or because we are afraid that God will not love us unless we do?
If you are doing the right and good thing for the wrong reason, what needs to change? Do we need to quit doing the right thing, or do we need to begin doing it for the right reason? God loves us and He wants us to love Him. This is God’s highest hope for mankind. This is His greatest desire for each of us.
Coming to Christ, accepting the gift of salvation, putting our trust in God instead of ourselves is what Christianity is all about. Living in a relationship with God, or as it was put in our Scripture today, being connected to the Head is what will help us to become what God wants us to be.
Learning to listen to God instead of the self is our goal as we develop as disciples. The flesh will always put itself first. The Spirit of God will lead us to put God and other people ahead of ourselves.
As we put off the flesh and put on Christ we will become the loving people God created us to be. We will begin to experience joy. We will know the peace of God that passes all understanding. We will become generous in our giving as we come to believe that our possessions do not belong to us, but we are stewards of what God has placed in our care. We will develop self-control as we follow Him. As we listen to the Spirit instead of the flesh we will become more patient with ourselves and with others. We will become known for our gentleness and goodness instead of harshness and for judging others.
The shadow may point us to Christ, but the reality of knowing Him is what will sustain us and give us what we need to restrain our sensual indulgence.
Are you having trouble eating as you should? Who are you listening to? The flesh or the Spirit? The Spirit will help you to develop the self-control you need to exercise and eat properly to maintain good health.
Do you remember any illustrations from the Seven Areas of Life Training? I am thinking of the one from the Psychological Area of Life on Where to Focus.
It starts with who we are. Our soul is the seat of our mind, will, and emotions. Before we come to Christ we are dead in our spirit, our connection to God is broken. Our physical body is our connection to other people, and the world around us.
When Christ comes in He expects to be on the throne, being our Lord. If we listen to Him instead of to our old nature, (who we are when we are not connected to God) we will be growing in our relationship with Him. If, on the other hand, we continue to think and live as people who do not have a connection to God we are walking in the flesh. We may be practicing religion, but we are not functioning as God intends us to function.
True Christianity is more than religion. True Christianity is a relationship with our Creator. That relationship is made possible by the work of Christ Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
We must ask ourselves if we are living in the shadow of the truth or if we are experiencing the reality of life through Jesus Christ. Are we practicing a religion or are we truly living in a relationship with God?