When We Try to Put New Wine into Old Wine Skins

Originally published Wednesday, 14 January 2015.

Do you ever read Scripture and move right through something because it doesn't seem to relate to your life in the present day? Perhaps you read the words but don't soak in its meaning. Sometimes I push through a passage that is filled with agrarian details that a city girl like myself can't relate to or quickly glance over a list of unpronounceable names of people from long ago.

But one morning, as I was reading to my boys from the book of Luke, my son stopped me and asked "What is a wineskin?"

I was reading this passage: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good'" (Luke 5:36-39).

I stopped my reading to research and explain the passage to my curious son. And as we studied what happens to new wine put into old wine skins, I was struck by how significant this passage is for us today.

For those of us who always have a bottle of water in our bag, it's hard to imagine what it would have been like to carry a goat skin filled with water or wine. But since the invention of plastic was still centuries out, people in ancient times used the skin of a goat instead, with its edges sewn to make it watertight. When new wine was put in these skins, as it fermented, it would expand, stretching the wineskin. A brand new wineskin would be flexible and able to stretch but an old one that had already been stretched, could stretch no further. To put new wine into an old wineskin would only be asking for it to burst.

This talk about wineskins comes right after a discussion about patching garments. Both parables are directed to the Pharisees who were openly criticizing Jesus. They were angry with him for associating with sinners and tax collectors and for breaking all their rules.

Jesus was telling them that what he came to bring them was something completely new. He wasn't something they could simply tack on to what they already believed, like a patch on a garment. He came to turn everything inside out and upside down. All that the Pharisees believed, that they could obey the law through their good works and win God's affection through their upstanding ways, was wrong. Jesus' teaching couldn't be added to their old wineskins. What they needed was to get rid of their legalistic and self-righteous theology and start with a fresh wineskin--to start anew with the gospel of grace.

In our own lives, we try to add Jesus to what we already believe. Our culture loves its cafeteria, buffet style religion, where people pick and choose from an array of beliefs and plop them all together on one plate, merging together into one tasteless mass. Jesus is something completely new that can't be merged together with the old. He has opened a new dining establishment. This one is different from the worldly fare we are used to; it's a feast our taste buds have waited for our entire lives. Because once we take that first bite of grace, we'll never want to go back.

The question for us as we consider putting new wine into old wine skins and patching old garments with new patches, is how often do we try to tack Jesus on to our lives? How often do we try to maintain the old ways of this world while still including Jesus on the side? How often do we sing Amazing Grace yet still live as though it's all up to us?

Jesus didn't come to simply patch up our tattered lives; he came to give us completely new ones. As it says in Ezekiel, we don't just need band-aids to fix our hearts, we need brand new hearts altogether. "And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh" (11:19).

We can't just add the gospel of grace to our lives, like putting on a jacket. Instead, Jesus has given us a brand new garment, his own righteous robes. Trying to add grace to legalism or self-worship or whatever idols we bow down to will only make the old wine skin burst. As Tullian Tchividjian rightly puts it, we cannot add anything to Jesus; Jesus plus nothing equals everything.

Until we realize how we are trying to add Jesus to our lives, we'll be in the same place as the Pharisees, confused and unmoved by the life-altering, upside down and inside out, all transforming grace of Christ Jesus. He has come not as a patch, but as something brand new, to make all things new, starting with our very selves. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

How about you? Are you trying to put new wine into old wineskins?