Christians are often tempted to search for beliefs and practices that will give them a “deeper experience” of their faith. And, as Qoheleth said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Colossians 2 reminded me of this reality today. According to Colossians 2:16-23, first-century Christians were tempted to add Jewish rituals to Jesus. Consider the passage for yourself,
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Read those last few verses again. Strong language, right? These Christians at Colossae apparently felt that certain Jewish practices and regulations helped them in their Christian life. Paul rejected such feelings, and we should too.
The Christians at Colossae were falling prey to “self-made religion.” Instead of “stopping the indulgence of the flesh” by trusting Christ, they felt it was easier to supplement Jesus’ saving power with their own rituals. Tragically, instead of getting closer to Jesus, they were actually moving farther from Him. Instead of “putting on Christ,” they were putting on religious practices that made them feel better about their own spiritual activity. Instead of trusting in Christ, they were finding hope and comfort in their rituals.
Some of the Christians at Colossae believed their actions made them closer to God, which is the saddest aspect of the passage. These Christians were sincere in their beliefs and practices, but they were sincerely wrong. Instead of setting their affection upon the substance that these rituals were ordained to point under the Old Covenant, they were devoting themselves to the shadows. They were like a husband who insisted on being infatuated with the shadow of his wife while ignoring her as she stood right in front of him. We would call such actions absurd, and we would be right. The same goes for Christians who insist on practicing the shadowy rituals of self-made religion while neglecting to pursue true righteousness by putting on Christ (Colossians 3:12-17).
Of course, the reason people do this is because it is easier and more acceptable to be religious than it is to pursue righteousness. It is easier to practice self-made religion than self-denial. As Paul wrote, these practices look good to some, but they are essentially useless, regardless of how they make someone feel about their relationship with God.
If Colossians 2 teaches us anything, it teaches us that the cross of Christ will not be supplemented by our preferential and self-made religious practices that are useless in combating the flesh. Our flesh needs to be crucified, not ceremonialized. We must not settle for the shadows. We must fall deeper in love with the Unsupplementable Savior of the world!