Colossians: Day 8

Shadow vs. Substance


Today's Text: Colossians 2:16-23, Romans 14:1-23, Hebrews 8:1-6, Hebrews 10:1-10

If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

- Colossians 2:20a -

Text: Colossians 2:16-23, Romans 14:1-23, Hebrews 8:1-6, Hebrews 10:1-10

I’ve heard it takes 21 days to make a new habit stick. In theory, after three weeks of going through the paces, whatever habit you’re trying to adopt will finally stick. The shadow of who you want to be, in 21 days, will have been fully eclipsed by a new, truer you—a sugar quitter, a regular exerciser, or one of those responsible individuals who skips the Netflix binge-watching and goes to bed early. In theory.

The tricky part—which anyone attempting such goals will tell you—is getting through those 21 days without quitting. Keep in mind, this is coming from the woman who has twice caved during 30-day sugar detoxes to cookie dough ice cream and peanut butter cups (days 8 and 11, respectively).

In an effort to maintain consistency, we easily-tempted humans utilize all sorts of “self-help” tools of various rules and rituals, not to mention accountability via hashtags online, social media check-ins, wellness apps, and maybe even real live community groups. While these things can be useful in getting us closer to our goal, we also run the risk of making them our sole and supreme focus.

Though Paul certainly isn’t referring to quitting sugar in these words to the Colossians, he is speaking to the danger of being so lost in religion and ritual and how-tos that we never truly taste the goodness of God. He is preaching against asceticism, a severe, man-imposed self-discipline that serves as self-serving checkmarks rather than true submission to God (Colossians 2:22-23).

Paul feared Christians in Colossae were becoming more occupied with these acts of “merit” than with the living Christ Himself.

Friends, don’t we do our own version of these empty acts today? Take my daughter, for example, making “breakfast” in her play kitchen and then gnawing on a plastic waffle. Are we tasting the real thing or just going through the paces? Are we doing spiritual things because they’re “good,” or are we doing them out of love for Christ?

These “virtuous” disciplines, as Paul writes, are simply a shadow. The substance is Jesus (Colossians 2:7). When we buy into these practices apart from the person of Christ, we undervalue God’s grace, presuming that He needs our righteousness. He doesn’t. Christ is perfectly righteous, and we can only find our fullness in Him. In love, He calls us to live in a way that is good and holy and right—not out of fear of losing our salvation, but out of our adoration of Him.  

A full life in Jesus doesn’t mean 21 days of going through the paces, making a prideful display of spiritual acts we think will make us more holy. We can’t be satisfied with the shadow, not when we have the Savior. The gospel offers real fullness in Christ, freely given. And believe me, friends, nothing tastes sweeter (Psalm 119:103-104).


  • Michelle of LA CA

    Thank you for this reading . It hit the spot for me today .

  • I get this and I get the gospels me am a Christian but one thing I have been stumped by for awhile is what does it practically look like to find my fullness in Jesus. How do I really “taste” Him?

    • Carolina

      I think “tasting” Christ is when we begin to find all of our joy in him. We look to the word constantly for inspiration, all of our accomplishments are because of him and we thank him for it, we look to him in every situation, etc. When we find all of our joy in Christ, that is when we are able to “taste” his goodness.

  • “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” — this must have rocked their world to hear! But it’s the same for us today; no outward displays of affection or attempts to win his favor with our actions can earn our salvation, only Jesus can do that & HE ALREADY DID! Let it rattle my senses, Lord, and spur me & all my sisters on to loving you for the sake of Christ and not to check boxes off a list of faith to-do’s.

  • Now go listen to Dolorean’s “In Love with the Doubt”. So good.

  • These two verses from Hebrews 10 really brought it home for me.
    “9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
    We have been saved once and for all! We have Jesus! We don’t need to keep striving to become righteous by following the law or man-made rules. Only God makes us righteous, and this only through His perfect sacrifice.

  • Did anyone else love those last two verses in Romans 14? There is so much freedomin Christ! I needed to hear that today.

  • Jesus is our all in all. It’s so true that He’s our substance and nothing else will do.

  • And a totally unrelated question – does anybody else have trouble scrolling through the current plan options (or previous plans) when going there from the NAVIGATE icon in the top right? The bar on the side moves but the page itself doesn’t so I can only see the 5 or 6 days at the top of the list. Everything opens but I can’t see anymore than what is on the top of the list. Is it just me or am I missing something?! (Which is highly possible – techno genius that I am!!!) Thanks!

    • Jessica

      I had that issue around the time when the layout changed.
      I switched from reading on a mobile device (iphone) to my laptop.
      It looks great on a desktop, but the mobile version was off for me too.

    • She Reads Truth

      Hi Kim! Thanks for your input. So grateful for your grace as we continue to improve the user experience on our new site! Could you email me at [email protected] and let me know what devices and browsers you’re using? That would help a ton! Grateful for you!


    • Melissa

      I had to switch from my phone to my Kindle tablet also. I can’t scroll or open the verses on my iPhone.

  • “… presuming that He needs our righteousness. He doesn’t.”
    This made me think of baking/cooking with my kids. I don’t NEED their help but I ENJOY being with them. There are things for them to learn and it is about building our relationship when we “partner” together to make something.
    So it is in our spiritual walk. God doesn’t NEED us to do anything for Him but He does have things to teach us and He wants to build a relationship with us and for us to build relationships with others; to point them to Him. He wants us to trust in Him and His righteousness. Which is more than enough!

  • I haven’t read in the Word for a few days. This was such a good way to get back in- to evaluate my pursuit of Christ alone. To follow after Him with genuine love for Him, rather than creating a checklist to make myself feel better. I really love the Colossians passage today, and also the reminder to not buy into shadows when you can enjoy the real substance Himself.

    • She Reads Truth

      Love this, Naomi! Thanks for joining us today, friend!


  • A literal gut check! Thank you for this truth today. Seeking follow only the Savior today. <3

  • Idk why but verse 13 really stuck out to me today. 13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Paul gives us an alternative solution instead of judging others who’s beliefs are different from ours. We shouldn’t focus on the other person’s sin. we shouldn’t even focus on the other person’s notion of what is “right”. we should focus on not being a stumbling block to those whose faith is weak. we should love that person so much that we put them before ourselves. even if we think we’re right or find their belief on something wrong or ridiculous. If what we’re doing causes them to stumble, then we need to set that thing aside out of love for the other person. No judgement. Just love. I love it.

    • Kayla

      Lottie! That is such a good word!

    • Barbara, aka "Babs"

      Lottie, I’m with you all the way on this one!! In my little corner of the universe, it seems that there are so many ‘points of pride’ that creep in, some due to the denominational variety we have in this modern era… and those cause some judgmental attitudes to occasionally creep in. An example would be (and this is a generality here) when a church teaches that “we abstain from (fill in the blank)”, and that becomes “we are just a little bit better in our walk, because we don’t (fill in the blank)”. Last I checked, none of us is righteous, no, not one! (Romans 3:10). All of our righteousness comes from Jesus. All of it! We have no room to judge; the only judge is God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

      If we are truly following hard after Jesus, we will be seeking the reality that the shadow is pointing to. And if we truly seek Him, we won’t be so concerned over which church’s theology is correct – instead we will be looking to model ourselves after Jesus, and celebrating that we ALL – regardless of denomination – are worshipping THE SAME JESUS! Let us celebrate when we meet a brother or sister in Christ, and refuse to allow any differences of style and theological belief get in the way. Let us do our very best to help a brother or sister who may be ‘a little freaked out’ by what we consume, watch, listen to, do. It seems to me that Paul was intent on conveying this: it is so much more crucial to help a kindred in the faith to remain in Christ and grow in Him – and matters NOT that the specifics of their beliefs may vary from ours.

      We don’t need to bring anyone over to ‘our way of thinking’. We DO need to introduce others to the Lover of Our Souls.

      A few years ago, a contemporary musician did a song called “My Jesus”, and one of the lines went something like this:
      “My Jesus wouldn’t be welcome in my church, His blood might stain the carpet…” (paraphrased! I don’t remember the exact words. But you get the picture!)

      Let’s make sure we welcome our Jesus into our church, our home, our hearts – and cease to even consider any differences between ‘us believers’…

      Oops! I did get on a soap box… didn’t I? Yikes. Please forgive me if I offended anyone. That’s not my intention. Just passionate about the topic – and I in NO WAY have all these things ‘down pat’ – I ‘preach’ to myself as much to anyone else.

      (So, essentially… I agree with you, Lottie :) God bless you and have a beautiful day! :))

  • One of my favorite Bethel worship songs right now says “there is no striving, there is no striving in your love, freely you have given to us”.
    We can’t earn something that is free and all our efforts fall short and exhaust us when we aren’t plugged into the source, Jesus!

  • “These “virtuous” disciplines, as Paul writes, are simply a shadow. The substance is Jesus (Colossians 2:7). When we buy into these practices apart from the person of Christ, we undervalue God’s grace, presuming that He needs our righteousness. He doesn’t. Christ is perfectly righteous, and we can only find our fullness in Him. In love, He calls us to live in a way that is good and holy and right—not out of fear of losing our salvation, but out of our adoration of Him.”

    I often learn from looking from the other side. Seeing from the angle of presuming he needs out righteousness is so pointed! Of course he doesn’t. He is righteousness and through Him I am made right. Thank you, Lord!

  • SarahMarieT

    “For the Kingdom of God . . . is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” – Romans 14:17 That is sticking to my heart this morning as I go into what will be a very busy week. May I above everything else lock my eyes on Jesus and pray through every task and frustration — knowing and REJOICING that He who began a good work in Us is powerful and mighty and Sovereign over all. Just as God gave direction and instructions to the craftsmen of the Temple, may He give us guidance to our tasks today. Nothing is too big for our God!

  • Caroline

    Such a good reminder to seek Him! So good!

  • Such a good reminder…doing things for the good is all act without substance. When our love of Christ spills out into loving others – the “act” is merely a reflection of that love. Thank you for putting these studies together.

  • Just what I needed to start this week off.

    • She Reads Truth

      Happy Monday, Sally! Hope you have a wonderful week!


  • Churchmouse

    Whenever I find myself tending to want to hand out a bit of judgment on others, I take myself back to the foot of the Cross. It is there that I found forgiveness, grace and mercy. And I was so undeserving. The Cross keeps my pride in check and my heart full of gratitude. As I walk back from Golgotha, there’s no more judgment to be done by me. Not in my job description. They will know we are Christians by our Love.

  • This is so good and perfectly timed as I am beginning a 21 Day Fix today. My inner love for Christ is the real substance and it is easily replaced with so many other things.

  • “The danger of being so lost in religion and ritual and how-tos is that we never truly taste the goodness of God.”

  • Heather C

    One of the most beautiful things to me about the gospel is the fact that God meets us right where we are… He LOVES us right where we are. We don’t need to clean up our act so that we become worthy of Him. Instead, He comes to us and invites us – just as we are, with all our hang-ups and ugliness – to experience all of His goodness. All we have to do is trust that His death paid the price for our sin, and that His resurrection means we can live too, now and forever – in spite of the ugliness of our sin. He took care of it… He nailed it to the cross so that we could be free of it. That, my friends, is amazing stuff.

    I know it. I believe it. Yet often, I find myself acting as though my salvation depended on ME, instead of Him. If we’re honest, I think we all probably do that sometimes. We’d never describe it that way, but in essence, when we focus on being rule followers instead of resting in His grace, that’s exactly what we’re doing, isn’t it? We get so caught up in the doing, that before we know it, we’re filled with self-righteousness, pride and even hypocrisy.

    “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.” (Col. 2:20-23)

    Here’s the thing… Legalism needlessly alienates non-Christians. It misrepresents God as a Cosmic Killjoy instead of the Giver of Abundant Life. It implies that we have to clean ourselves up morally before we can come to Christ, instead of coming to him as we are and allowing him to change us from the inside out. It creates ghettos of finger-pointers instead of people like Jesus, who never compromised morally, but loved lost people and became known as “the friend of sinners.”

    I had a friend once who used the phrase “he needs Jesus” of anyone who rubbed her the wrong way. It was an attempt to put a spiritual spin on her dislike for them, and it was really a tongue in cheek comment that I grew to despise. If her heart was really for them to know Christ, she’d be loving them and sharing Him with them, instead of gossiping about them.

    That’s who I want to be. I don’t want to be a white-washed tomb that looks good on the outside but is filled with hate and ugliness on the inside…. I want to be the one who points to her Savior and brings her friends along, not because “they need Jesus”, but because she can’t bear for them to live without Him.

    Father, help me to rest in You and in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Remind me that no amount of rule-following (or rule-breaking) is going to make You love me any more or less than You already do. Let my joy be found in You, and use that to draw others to Yourself. I want others to look at me and see Jesus… to crave Jesus. Amen.

  • When my middle daughter was a newborn and finally came home from the NICU I was determined to nurse her. She was still really small and nursing took a lot out of her, so it was an ongoing exercise to wake her while nursing, help her remember to eat and because she would get so little, I had to pump after to keep the supply up only to be up again and nursing an hour later. My husband was in a new city already with his new job and I had my eldest home full-time. No family in the same state and only working friends, I was one really, really dreadfully worn Momma. After about 6 weeks of it, my body just couldn’t do it anymore. My recovery from my pregnancy illness was coming along too slowly because of the lack of rest and the stress and guilt I was feeling wasn’t healthy. After conversation with my physicians I opted to stop nursing. I returned the rented pump to the hospital and when I walked into the nursing center the only woman on hand came over to help me. When she saw my wee little babe, she just said, “So you have your own pump now right?”, to which I replied, “No. I don’t”. She went on to say that it was such a shame that I was quitting and I should remember that my little girl needed all the help she could get. Guilt anvil on top of me. I walked out of there crying, feeling like such a horrible mother, which in truth, she said a few other things that indicated she thought this. When I could have used a hug of support, I felt labeled and judged, even more than I was already labeling myself. When I needed to be reminded that Jesus was in control and that He could bring sustenance to my daughter without nursing, I went un-ministered too.

    We can sit back and judge a situation or sister for her walk or we can step out and walk with them whether we know all the facts or not. Arguing doesn’t bring others to Christ, condemnation doesn’t bring others to Christ and judgment doesn’t bring others to Christ. We may think we have the right in our knowledge to assess and assume that our relationship with Christ is better than someone else’s, but we don’t. Each relationship with Christ is unique and how He speaks to one, moves on one or works in the life of one may be very different than His way in our own life. Prayerful that as I move through the day, weeks, months, I abstain from judging another’s walk, that I remember my walk personal, and their walk very personal.

    • Heather (MNmomma)

      Huge, huge hugs….what a horrible experience…..brought tears to my eyes….

      Also prayerful that I remember our walks are so very personal <3

    • tina

      Ahh B, I’m sorry you had to go through that…after your sweet girl was born, and when you were in a place of vulnerability…But God, Praise God…He loves us…and He covers us even when we are perhaps too sad or overwhelmed to see or feel him…
      Praise God that He is not a shadow on what we believe we need, but the real deal…the substance of our lives…
      Also thankful that hugs can be sent on the wire….Sending you a very BIG Tina hug and love….dear friend…xxx

      • ~ B ~

        Amen T, that God is the real deal, the substance! Love you friend! ~ B

    • Christy

      Oh gosh, I am so sorry to hear of that experience! My oldest wouldn’t nurse for two weeks – the two longest weeks of my life – and thankfully he finally did, but that experience convinced me that although I’m “pro-breastfeeding” I am SO GRATEFUL that God gave us formula to feed our babies! Good for you for listening to your baby and your heart – that’s exactly what a “good mother” does!

      • ~ B ~

        Thank you, Christy. With my first two babies, nursing didn’t work out as I’d hoped and it hurt. The burden of Mommy guilt played out several times in those days, but thankfully with my third, though it took a solid two weeks as well, I got to experience for a solid two years. So thankful and prayerful for the sweet mommas that may have difficulty with this. ~ B

  • My church has been studying Luke’s gospel, and the past three weeks we’ve been in Luke 15 – the story of the prodigal son. Today’s devotional matches so well with what we talked about yesterday – the older brother being just as lost as the younger, but lost because he thinks all his good works and righteousness save him instead of being lost because he’s in rebellion. (Sorry if that doesn’t make sense…super short summary of three weeks of teaching). Anyway, this is just another good reminder of that. What we do has no bearing on our salvation; we are only redeemed because of who Christ is and what He has done. Yes, it is good to be disciplined and to ensure that we’re not pulling others down, but our works, our self-made “righteousness” doesn’t save us.

  • If righteousness could be attained through rituals, there would be no need for a Savior. I know that in my head, but I often struggle to release my dependence on behavior to make me right. A heart aligned with God will affect a change in behavior. I must keep my focus on what is going on inside of me; the change on the outside will be an overflow of that sanctification.

    • Janie

      I went through a year of eating and drinking lifestyle changes cause I believe it was His timing for me. This proved to be true, since I keep trying this strict plan again and fail, He speaks the word “discipline”. For my walk is following Him not the plan without His lead. The spread is before me and the call is discipline.
      This was my comment..sorry for flaw ;)

      • Christy

        I really like your statement to follow Him not the plan without His lead. I think of fasting, which is a spiritual discipline I enjoy – because in it I feel closer to God and more easily able to see His providence. Not to be legalistic, but rather to strip away the desires of the world so that I am left desiring Him alone. It is all about the posture of our hearts, not the actions reflected by our own wills.

  • Brandie L.

    …..The reality, however, is found in Christ.
    So very thankful for this truth. I can’t keep up with judgements of MY ability to follow rules. I can focus on adoration of Christ with a pure motive.
    Charles Spurgeon said it best- “My hope arises from the freedom of grace, and not from the freedom of will.”

  • I think the problem with following the rules and keeping certain practices is that they focus on the outward behaviour and, as v23 says, they don’t deal with our heart and our desires. If we focus on these things we can become proud if we manage to achieve them and forget how much we need God’s grace.
    Also, we can’t always judge by someone’s behaviour what is really happening in their heart. I was talking with someone yesterday about how we both felt there were points in our lives when people looking at our outward behaviour would think we were drifting far from God but, while it didn’t look good on the surface, God was with us and working in us the whole time.
    “We can’t be satisfied with the shadow, not when we have the Saviour.”

    • Beverly

      Carly, I can absolutely relate. I am really good at ‘going through the motions’ sometimes to the point that I don’t even realize it. I believe this year God has been after my heart, my *whole* heart. And it’s been a fight. Not only do I feel frustrated at myself, but I feel God is urging me to face myself. This is not something I want to do. Because the motions are easy. Comfortable. They look good on the outside for all to see. But, oh how God is so much more concerned with our inside, with our heart and soul.
      Thank you for writing such truth filled with grace. I am sure on the outside I look like a mess these days. But I have to trust God is working within. Grateful I’m not alone in these messy-like processes.

      • Andrea

        Beverly, I so relate to you! I also feel like this has been a year of God refining me, and cause me to face the ugliness beneath my surface. It is a season of learning and growing, and my gosh, it has been a process. It has not come without growing pains, that is for sure, but GOD… He is SO. GOOD. I am so undeserving of his patience & kindness towards me. I am learning that WE are His greatest desire, for us to be His people & Him to be our God… and that quickens my heart & fills me with such gratitude & awe that I long to obey His desires. You are not alone. We are all on this growth journey with God, together! Hugs <3

        • Beverly

          Grateful for your encouragement, Andrea! Thank you for sharing your refining process. These reminders are full of goodness and offer such hope on the hard days.

  • Having read the verses given to go with this devotion, my thoughts are such…
    The relationship I have with the Lord is MY relationship, and mine alone…the relationship you have with Him may or may not be different to mine…AND THAT IS OKAY….
    The fact to me, that I like orange carrots, and think they are the best thing ..ever, does not mean that the purple carrot( yes, there are purple carrots..) is any less delicious.. to you….what it means, is that, God made them both for us to enjoy, but that one to each of us is more tasty…The walk you walk with God is yours, but all the while God walk a with you in your ‘allotment’, just as He walks with me in mine…
    My God is not a shadow of yours nor is yours a shadow of mine…He is the substance of our lives…though different from each others…He still means the same to each of us…
    Though my brother and I shared the same dad, and most of our mannerisms and life ethics are similar…we have different ways of dealing, living and being in Christ…this is not to say that he is right and I am wrong, or vise versa..this just means we walk with the same God, in different ways, all the while God still walks with us both…
    I am not in my brothers shadow, and he is not in mine…but the substance of faith in and our God in our lives is the same…
    We believe in God the father…we believe in Jesus Christ the son, we believe in the Holy Spirit…… Our God is three in one..we believe in the name of Jesus ….
    There is nothing that will ever come close to that for us….without a shadow of a doubt….nothing…

    Long winded…but I hope there is a message in there for someone today…

    Blessings and love to ALL…xxx

    • tina

      Just found Hillsong s’ I believe….for those who find themselves humming it…
      Be Blessed..

      • Lynne

        My children love purple carrots. We get them at Wegmans. Tina, is this the same song that the Newsboys sing that was in “God’s Not Dead?” I love that song. It has a lot of good biblical doctrine.

    • candacejo

      Haven’t seen a purple carrot but will be on the lookout :) Such wonderful thoughts today, we are all different but we make up the BODY of CHRIST, each one very important in his own way. ♥

    • Heather (MNmomma)

      love this Tina!!! (and we are fans of all different carrots here :) We plant “Carnival Carrots” – purple, yellow, orange and white)… love them!

    • Shelley

      Amen!!! Perfectly said!!

    • Lindy

      Beautifully written Tina.

    • Rachel Marie

      Tina, you couldn’t have said it better! I’m struggling to show my mother that my converting to Protestantism from Catholicism is not a “bad/sad/evil” thing. It’s painful for me to hear that she thinks that she is responsible for my soul which is untrue, my soul belongs to Jesus! No matter which denomination I choose to worship through, I believe in God the father, I believe in His son Jesus Christ who came to this earth to die for my sins, I believe in the Holy Spirit who lives in me and helps me grow in Christ everyday, I believe in our God, three in one and that is what is most important! No other human will ever be responsible for my relationship with God, and I will never be responsible for anyone else’s- that’s unfair! Please pray for me and my mother that we will be able to see the most important thing in each other: belief and love in and of the same God ❤️ God bless you Tina!

  • Kylene Bak

    Some wonderful thoughts verse 17 really stuck out to me today that all these religious rituals and disciplines are a shadow of the things to come but the substance belongs to Christ. The heart of who we are really longing for and desiring is the heart of Christ and just being in His presence. These disciplines can help us get there but being together with Jesus is really what our hearts long for He is the substance of all we desire and long for.

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