Recently we received a thoughtful letter from a former Adventist who had been watching a sermon online, unaware at first that the speaker was from the Hebrew Roots movement. The writer knew something was “off”, but he was confused by the preacher’s reasoning and found himself unable to answer the man’s arguments.
The confusion centered on Colossians:2:16 where Paul calls sabbath days “shadows” of the reality which is found in Christ. The Hebrew Roots argument was based on Colossians:2:8: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
By taking Colossians:2:8 out of context and using it with Colossians 2:16, the preacher was saying that the “elementary principles of the world” by which believers were not to be taken captive were ascetic practices imposed onto the festivals, new moons, and Sabbath days of verse 16. Those holy days and the food laws, his argument went, were given by God, not men. Paul could not have been saying the days were now obsolete; he must have been referring to the man-made ascetic behaviors and prohibitions being obsolete. The preacher went on to say that Paul was instructing the Colossians to KEEP the sabbath days, not ascetically but with gratitude!
The writer then said the preacher asked, “How is ‘they are a shadow of Messiah’ a reason not to observe”? Are the Colossians then better off with no holidays whatsoever, or with idolatrous or secular festivals that have no connection to the Messiah? In the first century, there was no alternative to the Jewish calendar and holiday cycle other than a pagan one. Now that the Colossians are Christians, does that mean they cannot count months by the Jewish calendar and must use the Roman one instead? Surely Paul would not advocate this.”
This confusion of attempting to explain away the words of Scripture with a philosophy that keeps followers under the law is not unique to the Hebrew Roots movement. Most of us with Adventist backgrounds know this bondage, as do a great many other people who have been trained in false religions.
The context of Colossians:2:8–23 is that false teachers will attempt to take people captive through false philosophies and religion. In Christ, however, we have been made complete. We lack NOTHING, and in verses 13-14 Paul explains that we were spiritually dead in our sins, but Christ made us alive and forgave us all our sins by canceling out the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands”. That “record of debt” is the law—the ENTIRE law including the Decalogue. The law stated clearly that there were blessings for obedience and death for sin, and the law stated the curse that is the natural consequence of humanity’s sin.
Verses 16-17 clearly declare that there is NO judgment for observing or not observing any festival, new moon or Sabbath day. Those things were all shadows. They were not eternal nor intrinsically holy. They were ceremonies established in the Old Covenant for a time; they were temporary. In fact, Galatians:3:15–17 states the period of their validity in the old covenant: 430 years after Abraham until the Seed came. When the Seed came, the law was over because Jesus was the reality to which the shadows of the law and the rituals and ceremonies and holy days pointed.
When we have been born again through faith in Jesus, we have everything we need. We have born-again spirits, brought to life from our natural depraved, dead condition. No observance in the world can give us spiritual life, only faith in the Lord Jesus and His finished work can do that. Moreover, Galatians:4:8–11 explains that if Christian gentiles pick up the law after coming to faith, they are leaving grace and turning back to weak and elemental principles and will be enslaved all over again just as surely as if they had returned to paganism.
What Paul means is that, once the shadows have been fulfilled in Jesus (and Hebrews could not be more clear that the entire law was shadows that were fulfilled in Jesus…see chapter 10), the laws are elemental principles. Observing the law when we have the REALITY is actually rejecting Jesus. Jesus IS ENOUGH, and He has fulfilled all righteousness defined in the law. When we are in Him, we have His righteousness credited to our account. If we return to the shadows, we turn away from Jesus.
In context, Colossians 2 is not remotely speaking of observing days with gratitude. The text simply doesn’t say that. What verses 6-7 do say, however, is that we are to WALK exactly as we RECEIVED Jesus. How did we receive Jesus? By faith! We do not receive Jesus by keeping the commandments, observing the Sabbath, or being “good”. We receive Jesus by believing He died for our sin according to Scripture, was buried, and was raised on the third day according to Scripture (1 Cor:15:3-4).
(Colleen Tinker, "The Danger of Clinging to the Law,” Proclamation, August 23, 2018).