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    by Jim Bullington

The Substance is of Christ (Colossians 2.17)
Date Posted: April 20, 2021

“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (Colossians 2.16-17). This passage, though extremely technical in some aspects is also extraordinarily practical in application. Let me show you what I mean.

It is technical in that it contrasts two great theological systems. These systems are: 1) The system that prevailed from Moses to the coming of Christ's kingdom, and 2) The Christian system. The first was known for mundane ordinances regarding what one ate and drank, as well as multiple monthly and weekly festivals. The keeping of these ordinances was easily seen in as much as they were observable by others. For instance, it was easy to see whether or not a person was observing the Feast of Tabernacles merely by noting whether or not the person was in Jerusalem (see John 7.1-5). The second system, the Christian system, is of an entirely different sort. It, by contrast, does not consist of such mundane ordinances. Paul wrote, “...for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14.17).

It is practical in that it provides the framework around which all of Christianity revolves. “The substance,” Paul says, “is of Christ.” The substance exists apart from, and I might hasten to add, because of Christ. There is shadow and there is substance. The shadow is not the substance and the substance is not the shadow. They are two separate realities. The shadow is real – real shadow. And the substance is real – real substance. The substance is greater than the shadow in that the shadow is cast by the substance. Take the substance away, and the shadow ceases to exist!

Therefore, the practical aspects of this passage are multiple. Jesus Christ provides the substance of which Christianity is composed. It is not made up of human ordinances or rituals that commemorate mundane events. The deliverance for Egypt was a mundane event, albeit a mighty important one. However, in the greater scheme of things, deliverance from Egyptian bondage was merely a shadow of the deliverance from sin which occurred through the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. From a practical perspective, why would we celebrate the lesser event when the greatest event has eclipsed it?

There are ordinances which are decidedly Christian, but they are that because Christ declared them to be such. He did this either in person or through one of His spokespersons (apostles or prophets). For instance, the Lord's Supper (note the name of the ordinance) is of and about Jesus Christ. He instituted it and He gave commandment to perpetuate it. Although it involves mundane elements (bread and wine), it is not mundane; it is wholly of a spiritual nature. Any actions which detract from its beauty and simplicity are contrary to our Lord's intent. It is, in every respect, a Christian ordinance.

Baptism is another Christian ordinance. Although various washings had been practiced under the system of Moses (just as the yearly Passover had been observed), the immersion which Jesus commanded of all believers (Mark 16.15-16) was of a different sort. Previous washings had anticipated a greater cleaning that was to come; the baptism which Christ commands looks backward to the only cleansing that is of any spiritual significance, namely the forgiveness of sins that was made possible by His death, burial, and resurrection. This is the ordinance depicted by Paul in Romans 6.1-4.

As believers, we are to see shadows for what they are but promote substance to its rightful place.


1. In today's focus text, what is the relationship of shadow to substance?

2. In Paul's figure, what is the shadow and what is the substance? Which is greater? Explain.

3. By what authority does anything become “substance” in the Christian system? If I declare that a thing or a practice is “substance,” does that make it so? Why or why not?

4. What is my obligation to those things which Christ has declared to be substance? How am I to see and observe them? How can I enhance them?

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Biography Information:
Jim Bullington - A Christian writer whose insight into the scriptures is reflected in practical application lessons in every article. The reader will find that the Bible speaks directly to him/her through these articles. God is always exalted and His word is treated with the utmost respect in this column.
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