16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 

17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

In Colossians, Paul explained that Christ’s coming was a fulfillment of the Law. 

The mention of food and drink, festivals, the Sabbath, and a new moon are references to rituals performed by Jews who followed the Mosiac Law. Apparently, many Colossian believers pressured those in the church to observe Jewish dietary laws, customs, and holy days. 

But Paul reminded the Colossians that because God has completely reconciled believers to Himself, they are free from condemnation and from practicing customs required for God’s covenant people in the past (Rom. 8:1). Indeed, “no one is to act as your judge” (v. 16) because Christ has taken on judgment for you on the cross. 

Christ fulfilled the Law for you; He also suffered the consequences for your disobedience of it. In this way, you are accountable to no one but your Savior.

Paul contrasted the words “shadow” and “substance” to reveal the incomplete nature of the Law. Indeed, the purpose of the Law was to show the Israelites their need for a Savior—their incompleteness without God. The Law was perfect in that it perfectly revealed the imperfection of man. The Law existed for us to see that we are completely helpless without the atonement of Jesus.

God instituted the dietary laws and holy days as a means to foreshadow the coming reconciliation in the Messiah. 

Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law: “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near” (Heb. 10:1). 

While the Law is the shadow that points to Christ, Christ Himself is the substance. We live to obey Christ, not the Law—this was revolutionary thinking in Paul’s day. Paul’s letter challenged Jewish believers to move their loyalty from out of the shadows, and into the light of the substance of Christ.

  • What was Paul referring to when he mentioned festivals and new moons? How did these function in the life of an observant Jew?
  • Legalism is the belief that we can earn God’s acceptance or love by doing certain things or keeping certain rules. How is this toxic to the Christian life? What is the antidote to legalism?
  • Pray that you would honor Christ’s sacrifice by relying on His work instead of your own. Acknowledge that nothing you do could ever add to the finished work of Christ, and pray that you would continue to turn to Christ for your spiritual growth.