These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Believers in Christ generally understand and agree that salvation is through Christ alone. God accepts us by faith in the virtue of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. What we struggle to grasp, however, is that just as we are saved through Christ, we are also sustained by Christ. We tend to move from grace-based salvation to works-based sanctification. We try to grow in our relationship with God by our own merit and works. In Colossians, Paul wrote to a group of believers who had lost their perspective in this area, and he urged them to rely on Christ to sustain them.

Just as we no longer need circumcision to enter a relationship with God, we no longer need the law to sustain our relationship with God. Christ has accomplished all that is necessary for us to have and continue in a relationship with God. Though false teachers would have them believe otherwise, Paul strongly discouraged the Colossian Christians against coming under the law from which Jesus had already set them free. Such things may appear spiritual, but spiritual life is a matter of relationship with Christ and the heart’s commitment to Him. To consider these matters as necessary to the Christian life would undermine the work of Jesus. These things are a shadow in that they point forward to their fulfillment in Jesus.

Jesus is the substance of our relationship with the Lord when we turn to Him in faith and throughout our lives as we follow Him. Let us not be robbed of assurance and made to feel unspiritual, unfaithful, or in need of something extra—something more and higher than the cross. Christ is central. Not rules, not experiences, but Christ.

• In what ways are shadows helpful? In what ways can they deceive you? How does the analogy of a shadow help you understand the ineffectiveness of Old Testament sacrifice compared to once and for all sacrifice of Jesus?

• In what areas of your life are you most tempted to try to “earn” your sanctification through works?

• Thank Jesus for securing and sustaining your salvation. Pray that you would honor His 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.