As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:6–8—NKJV)

It was always a big deal for us kids when our youth group got to see a movie. Our youth director would set up the projector, thread the leader on the film through the cogs of the projector, and take up the slack. He would then turn the machine on, and the bright light blasted its path illuminating the sparkles of dust above our heads toward the screen as the projector clattered through the countdown to the movie. It was inevitable that some wiseacre would put his hands into the light and cast shadows on the screen. He should have left his shadow shenanigans to the professionals.

I have always been amazed at the ingenuity of people who are able to cast shadow silhouettes of recognizable figures with their hands. I have seen heads of rabbits, crocodiles, dogs, swans, and people shadowed with a high degree of realism. But something even professionals cannot do is turn imitation into reality. Their shadow of a duck could never be a real duck, nor is there even a duck there in the hand casting the shadow. This truth illustrates Paul’s thought when he calls the religious philosophies of men nothing more than empty deceit (verse 8).

The Greek word signifies something that is a shadow of something it is not, distinct from truth, a hollow pretence masquerading as a superior philosophy, empty deceit. The plain fact is that even brilliant men who depend purely on natural observations will cast a philosophical shadow resembling true religion, but where the light of the Gospel of Christ falls on them it will be easily apparent that their thinking is “sleight of hand.”

Paul was concerned that believers, both then and now, seriously fortify their spiritual lives because there will always be religions and cultures that will work against God’s truth. God gives the “real deal” in the person and work of His dear Son. The Colossian believers had been born again through His blood; they had been growing in their faith, as verse two states. In the knowledge of God they were being “knit together in love and attaining to all the riches of the full assurance and understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God.” Like them, we must employ the full use of our intellect to master the knowledge found in God’s Word. Verse 6 describes their discipleship as if it were a great stone building with a ponderous foundation with layers upon layers of structural integrity. “Rooted” was both an agricultural term and an architectural term in their day.

Such a theological framework is certainly a firm and secure bulwark against the intrusive and shadowy ingenuities of culture and humanistic wisdom. It must be firmly planted on faith so that it retains its stable demeanor. Yet when the voice of the Truth in the Word of God is ignored, or no longer consulted, even a believer can be beguiled by the high sounding philosophies and deceits of man and Satan.

Paul’s warning of being enamored with “shadow-casters” is quite dramatic. He says, beware, look out, in case someone intellectually plunders you and takes you captive—making you the plunder! Gill’s commentary says to beware because they will despoil you of “the rich treasure of the Gospel, strip you of your spiritual armor, take away the truths and the doctrines of Christ, and divest you of your spiritual privileges and blessings.” They can do this by their pretended religiosity. Humanism, global-mindedness, “greater good,” ecology and “political correctness” have been made to cast a religious shadow in our day.

Paul says these things all have their genesis in the tradition of men (things handed down from others) and in the rudimentary principles of the world (observed crude elements from which are built other things, here seen as finite-minded observations viewed as superior to Christ). The limitation of all this knowledge is that it is earthbound and therefore a deceiving shadow of what it pretends to be, for it is not subjected to the divine revelation of the Bible. Are you becoming enamored with the thinking of this world? Do other “religions” or religious sounding philosophies have your ear and your heart? Subject what you learn and what you believe to the scrutiny of the One who made man and all that exists. Do not let someone carry you away as spoil. The person and work of Jesus Christ is the foundation of wisdom. Trust and obey.