Colossians Part 5 // Christ, the Substance

"Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belong to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence. -Colossians 2:16-23

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The desire to be better...we all have it. To look better. Play better. Perform better. Feel better. Act better. Think better. Seem better.

If you take the search to Google, you will find dozens upon dozens of how-to's for each pursuit that you may have; hundreds of disciplines to start, training programs to begin, or diet plans to put into practice. And every single one promises to get you to that better goal.

So we start them...until (insert big life change, seasonal hiccup, stressful week, bad day, etc). And the worse is when we begin to see other people "painlessly" living out those goals.

Think about it. Their disciplined lifestyle creates in you the desire to have the same. Their fitness, diet, work ethic, solid relationships - they can all push us towards either wanting, striving, envying, or pitying.

And for those of us on this Christian journey, we cannot help but add that glorious pursuit to the list, right?

We want a stronger faith; a more disciplined prayer life; a godlier marriage; a more Christ-filled parenting style; a frugal, yet hospitable stewardship; a growing knowledge of God's Word; and an even more growing abandonment of our sin. And just like everything else, Google (and the many believer's around us) will present us with hundreds of how-to's for each.

Though the pursuit of these goals are honorable - with the hope of leading us closer to Christ-likeness, they can quickly become mixed with pressure, pride, and obsession - drawing us further from the heart of God.

This is the warning Paul is giving us in today's passage.

The Colossians were being hit hard with the weighty words of Ascetics, people who practiced the severe self-discipline towards all indulgences. They had high bars, many rituals, and even more high expectations for others.

And sadly, we can find Ascetics and minor-Ascetics everywhere in our churches (maybe even you and I at times).

The Message puts it this way: "Do not put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All of those things are mere shadows cast before what is to come; the substance is Christ. Do not tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions...He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as He nourishes us. (2:16-19)

Christian books are good. Reading plans are powerful. Scheduled prayer times are needed. Consistent and communal worship services are necessary. And times of fasting are transformational. But what Paul is saying is so vital to us.

Every discipline that we do on our journey to become "like Christ" are but shadows... Christ - He is the substance, the Head. In other words, the discipline itself will not grow you into having the attitude of Jesus - only Jesus will do that.

Only Jesus makes books good. Only He makes reading plans powerful, prayer times needed, worship necessary, and fasting transformational. And when focused mainly on the act, we skew it's purpose. In fact, spiritual disciplines, if not managed - can always become open doors for sin.

When pride steps in, we no longer focus on Christ. Instead, we focus no what we are doing and what everyone else is too weak,busy, or sinful to not do. When obsession creeps up, we fight for, honor, and even worship the discipline as our god. And when pressure bombards us from others, we experience the need to please, perform, or prove ourselves.

So what is Paul telling not do them? To not pursue being Christ-like? NO. 

Instead, he is saying - If you died to the world with Christ, then move past the ways of the world. Live with Him as your focus. Yes, read. Yes, pray. Yes, worship. Yes, fast. But never let those acts be the goal of your day. Let everyday be centered on pursuing Jesus, not the dozens of avenues to get to Him. 

Today - now that you are finishing up this devotion, set aside your need to check off the box for reading scripture. Move away from the obsession to perform. Unravel the thoughts that circle on your need to pray more, fast more, read more.

Paul promises us that Jesus is our only answer towards healthy growth. Through Him, you will develop a powerful prayer life. Through Him, you will fast with fervor. And through Him, you will fall in love with the Word of God. Though it sounds like semantics, it is not.

Therefore, let us live today through Him. Thank you for joining us. If today's devotion challenged/encouraged you please help us out by sharing it with others. We are beyond thankful for our committed readers.

Greg, Declare Glory