New Wine in New Wineskins
Have you ever wondered why it is that, despite our best efforts, we naturally succumb to living according to the law?
I thought we were to be people of faith.
We get going in the faith groove and life is wonderful. But then things break down. We no longer find ourselves reaching outwards into the adventurous life of faith, but instead dropping backwards to the monotonous life of the Law (the very thing we've been set freed of in the first place).
It's subtle, at first. But sooner or later we find ourselves running back to the security of the old ways, or - even worse - trying to fill the old wine skin of the law with the new wine of faith.
I tried that once. Back when I used to brew beer I decided to make some ginger ale for my kids.
"Oh, stay away from making ginger ale," the kind words of the man behind the counter cautioned me. "It's very volatile stuff."
"Now, now," I assured him in a firm yet gentle condescending tone. "I've done this sort of thing many times before. I'll be just fine."
The next day bottles were exploding like miniature bazookas all across my basement. Long story short, the bottles just couldn't handle the pressure of the champaign yeast. This is what happens when we place the new wine of faith into our old wineskins of the law in our hearts.
New wine is... well, new. It can't fit in the old container, not for long anyway. Sooner or later, something's gotta give. Many of us, falsely believing the new wine was given to help us live under the law, to be better and "gooder," if you will, wind up becoming bitter and downright pharasitical about our walks with God. And we tend to place those same expectations on others around us, too.
But the new wine Jesus is talking about just doesn't fit in the old wineskin of the law - nor was it ever meant to, despite our best efforts to make it fit. New wine, like new seed, needs a new worldview, or an entirely new plot of land, to make it work.
Jesus calls us into another level of life, high above the realms of standard and expectation and into a life of being. It has little to do with sacrificially fulfilling the letter of the law and everything to do with living a care-free life of faith, a life where we are free to flow with the impulses of the Spirit, regardless of how it looks, or how it may interface with the political correctness of the religious law. By its very description, the wineskin of the past is incapable of holding the new wine of the present.
We see this in Peter's conversation with God on the day when God was inviting him to eat non-kosher food.
"Eat it," God said. "It's good and I made it. You'll love it."
"I can't and I won't." Peter was insistent. "It's against the law."
Peter was in the shift. The shift of awareness that Jesus calls us into a new realm of life that may even seem to contradict the old established ways of the law.
"It's ok," God repeats. "It's clean. I made it myself."
The beautiful thing about the new wine of grace being poured into the new wineskins of faith is that, almost without effort (or intention, for that matter) the essential elements of the Law are incorporated therein and even fulfilled in the blink of an eye. The new wineskin of faith by it's very nature fulfills the very law that grace that we've been set free from.
We all do it, though. You know the routine. Our hearts drift a bit and we forget who we are as adopted children of God in Christ. We fall back to the precepts of the Law. We try to be better, work harder, or be more intent in being obedient to the law, sincerely believing that keeping it will somehow increase our joy or sense of well-being. And, for a while, to be true, it works. Our efforts produce a short-lived, shallow sense of self-affirmation because we've "been good" and we can pat ourselves on the back. But it won't last. Sooner or later, anxiety develops deep within. We get tense, uptight. An undefined presence of guilt or condemnation seems to loom all around us for no particular reason.
When this happens we can be sure that the old wineskin is bulging big time, and is ready to explode if some drastic shift doesn't happen in our hearts. It's a sure sign that we need to get our eyes back on the Lord and into the New Wine of grace. It's where we live, where we are redeemed to live in the first place.
Lord Jesus, forgive me for the many times I've sought your new wine in seeking to fulfill the old wineskin of the law. I am a child of faith, which is rooted in grace. Help me to remember that. Fill me with this Spirit, where I am free to be all you've created me to be. This I pray in Name of Jesus, the free-giver of grace to all who ask. Amen.