These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:17, ESV)

Ritualistic, habitual religion is but a shadow; Jesus Christ is the reality. Religion never satisfies; Jesus is the fulfillment of all deepest longings.

Remember the scene from the “Peter Pan” movie where his shadow somehow detaches itself from him? Though impossible, it emphasizes the difference between a shadow and a real object. A shadow is simply a superficial representation, not the substantive reality.

The Colossians struggled between the burdensome “rules” of the Mosaic Law and the new freedom they had in Christ. The Law, with its ceremonial rituals, sacrifices, and observances, was but a binding “shadow” of things to come.

Religion Versus Relationship

When Christ paid sin’s penalty with His death, He cancelled our sin debt “by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).  Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). The Law required obligatory participation. Jesus brings true freedom. He frees from sin’s penalty and controlling power while granting the freedom to willingly follow and obey Him.

Unfortunately, even after appropriating salvation’s freedom, we’re sometimes imprisoned by the religion of our self-made rituals. “You must read the Bible, must attend every church service, must teach a Bible study class, must tithe….” Though these are all important, how much sweeter it is to perform them out of heartfelt love and gratitude than from a “religion” filled with obligatory religious expectations.

I recently read a provoking statement. “The world needs fewer people gossiping about Jesus and more people witnessing about Him.” Gossips usually share what they don’t personally know to be true; witnesses speak only the truth about what they personally know. I suspect the gossips are chasing “shadows” while the witnesses are freely following the Savior.

It is foolish and unfulfilling to focus on the superficial “shadow” of religiosity instead of being enamored with the reality of Christ. If Christ has set us free (John 8:36) by His atoning salvation, why would anyone ever want to be “entangled in the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1) that religious legalism brings?

Let’s keep away from the shadows and bondage of religion and abundantly enjoy the freedom of God’s light.

Discussion Questions
  1. In what ways has your personal relationship with Jesus given you freedom?
  2. Do you perform your Christian service from a heart full of love and gratitude or from a sense of routine responsibility and expected obligation?
  3. How can we overcome complacency in our Christian service?
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