Jesus said: “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
When reading the Bible, one thing causes believers a great deal of confusion: reconciling the instructions contained in the Old Testament with the instructions contained in the New. Every now and then I will find some respected member of the community say we shouldn’t eat pork or we should celebrate the Sabbath on a Saturday, or more seriously, tell us we must obey the Ten Commandments or risk hellfire. So, let us talk about this today.
As you know, the Bible is divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament talks about a covenant — which means an agreement — made between God and the nation of Israel, while the New Testament talks about a new covenant God has made with all of mankind through Jesus Christ.
One of the main differences — possibly the greatest difference — between the two covenants is the focus on law versus grace. The central focus of the old covenant is the Law, often referring to the Ten Commandments, which defined what God required of his people. Now, while the Law revealed God’s standard of holiness it did not give anyone the ability to live up to the standard. Please understand this; it is key to clearing away the confusion.
Enter Jesus with the new covenant of Grace. While the Law still exists to show us how God wants us to live and make us aware of sin, Grace does what the Law cannot do. It gives us salvation. Christ opened the door to salvation by keeping the law perfectly and then dying as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. All we need to do to be saved is repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Paul summarizes this beautifully when he says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Now, much of the confusion arises from being taught that after being saved by grace, we need to follow the law to ensure our salvation! This is what Jesus was trying to warn us about when he said that no one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment or puts new wine in old wineskins because they risk destroying both. We are people of the new covenant; let us live by the new covenant, which is one of grace. This does not mean we are under no obligation to obey God — we need to, but our reliance now is on God and the power of his Holy Spirit.
The brevity of this reflection does not permit me to elaborate on the subject as much as I would like. However, in a few weeks I am launching a series titled New Wine, Old Wineskins, that will bring more clarity and deeper understanding. In the meantime, just remember this: the old covenant that God made was with the people of Israel, whereas the new covenant is made with us. If you want to know what is required of us today, listen to what Jesus tells us to do.
May the Spirit be with you.