In the gospel of Luke, in chapter 5, Jesus answers some very important questions about fasting, and about his ministry, specifically, about the old and new covenant.
Starting in verses 33 and 35, we’ll look over the issue of fasting first.
“And they said to him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.'”
So, what does that mean for us? The wedding guests, which are Christians, and in this specific example, the apostles, are spending time with the bridegroom, that is, Jesus. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that while he is on Earth, it is not necessary for the apostles to fast, for he is with them.
Fasting, for the Pharisees wasn’t about growing closer to God, or offering up prayers. It was a religious ritual, and rituals, as God says in Psalms, are abhorrent to the Lord. Jesus says in Matthew 6 to not fast in public to bring attention to yourself, but to God in secret, and the Father will reward you.
For the believer, there is now a new worship, not out of ritual or sacrifice, but to the glory of God, through Jesus Christ, and our worship is of who he is and what he has done for us. Fasting is to be a part of that, where we can focus on God alone, and can grow and mature in our walk with Christ.
That takes care of the first couple of verses. The main meat of this post will be centered around the issue of old covenant vs. the new covenant.
Starting in verse 36 of Luke 5: “He (Jesus) also told them a parable: ‘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.'”
Here we have this image of an old garment with a piece from a new garment on it. There’s a problem. They don’t match. They cannot co-exist. They are not meant to be mixed. In this case, the old garment, and the old wine, refer to the Mosaic law, the old covenant, with the new garment, the new wine, being the new covenant, found in Christ.
Jesus’ point is simple: You cannot mix the old covenant with the new covenant. You cannot mix the old covenant, the Mosaic law with the new covenant and grace found in Christ. It’s not that the Mosaic law was inherently bad, but, as we know, we cannot live up to it. We will fail every attempt at doing and having “religion”, because religion is nothing more than a list of laws and regulations that, as sinful humans, we cannot live up to. It is not possible. Furthermore, the old covenant looks only at the external, whereas the new covenant requires regeneration, a heart change, an inward change that can come only through the grace of God in Jesus.
As I’ve written before, I despise the concept of a “good” Christian. Actually, it’s more than despise. It’s disbelief. It doesn’t exist. How do I know this? Because I’m a Christian, but I’m not “good.” Not by my works, certainly. It’s something that needs to change about the way we talk to future generations about God. We should tell them, once they’re old enough to understand the concept of sin and what it means to be “good or bad,” that they will never be good enough to enter heaven, to earn salvation. It’s a fundamental truth that, probably inadvertently, gets lost somewhere between the left ear and the right ear. Not that they will never be good, and Mom and Dad hate them, or that they’re a “bad” child, but that, without Jesus, there is no way to heaven. There is no forgiveness from sin, and no other name by which we are saved, than that of Jesus.
We are under grace. Grace, meaning undeserved. We deserve hell. This is a doctrinal truth, a fundamental fact, a biblical teaching, that cannot afford to be ignored, because when we fail to recognize that we are deserving of eternal damnation, we shrink God’s mercy, his grace, and his love, down to a human scale. We make salvation equal to me bending over to pick up a pencil I dropped on the ground. When we fail to recognize who we are as sinners, we fail to recognize who God is as redeemer. It makes him look small. Our sinful state is so hideous and so depraved, and we are so unable to save ourselves. But God saved us. God saved us. That’s worth two sentences. Heck, it’s worth a lot more. We did not earn it, nor can we ever earn it, which we’ll talk about in just a few paragraphs. God’s incredible, saving, gracious love towards us is understood more when we realize that we are totally lost without him.
Look again at verses 37-38: “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.”
When we try to mix the saving grace of Christ, this new covenant given by God, with the old covenant, which cannot save, together, all we do is create an image of faith, a false idea of what it means to be a Christian, and it will ultimately destroy us if we let it go on. It is not the whole gospel. I know from experience. I lived for several years, thinking it was about being a “good” Christian. I wanted to think I could do it on my own. So when I failed, I turned to the rest of my life to see if I had done enough good to make up for that sin. That sin became a cycle, a cycle of anger, lust, foul language, anxiety, and etc. And I could not lift myself up, and didn’t know that Christ was there all along, waiting for me to give it up, and to rest in what he had already done for me on the cross. I had shoved my salvation so far down into a box, but God reached down and turned me around. He changed me again, and continues to do so by breaking down these false ideas of what it means to be a Christian. He assured me of my salvation, but also convicted me where I needed to be convicted.
Being a Christian isn’t about being good. God does not want you to be good. Period. That isn’t misquoted. I didn’t mean anything else besides what it says. God does not desire for us to be good. God desires us to be like Christ. Christ wasn’t good. He was perfect. We will never be perfect in this life, though, which is why we rest and trust in the righteousness of Christ, and on the grace found through him by God, to give us right standing and a relationship with the Lord. It’s not about being good, it’s about trusting in Christ for your salvation, your righteousness, and sanctification, in that we cannot make ourselves more holy, only God can. We seek to grow and mature in our faith, all the while realizing it is God’s hand at work in our life.
This is not an excuse for cheap grace. If you are taking the grace of God and applying it to your life with the idea of “I can do whatever I want, because Jesus loves me,” that’s crap. And it’s not what the Bible says. 1 John says that those who keep on sinning have not known God. That also means exactly what it says. It isn’t an exaggeration. If your life is marked by continuous, unrepentant, intentional, habitual sin, you most likely do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
We should be so compelled by the love of Christ on the cross that it stirs in us a desire to serve him in all that we do, no matter what the cost. But this brings me to another point. This work, our personal ministry, if you will, is not to be boasted about. I do not boast in anything except in Christ, says Paul. We should follow that example. We don’t get brownie points for being a deacon, or being on leadership team. We don’t get extra sugar cookies at God’s table because we went and spent a summer doing missions. We do these things as a response to the new covenant, to Christ, not to gain it. That’s what the covenant is all about. We cannot earn it, it can only be given by God in his love for us. It is Christ who makes us who we are.
Resting on Christ’s righteousness as it pertains to sin: When we screw up, when we sin, we can trust that if we are faithful to repent, God is faithful to forgive, not because of anything in us, but because of Christ’s willingness to die for our sins, and because of Christ’s perfect ability to take the punishment for our sins. Again, this is not freedom to go into cheap grace. It is freedom, to give up our desires and our slavery to sin, and become, as the Bible says, slaves to righteousness. We should desire to serve Christ and to make him known.
Does this mean believers cannot struggle with sin? Absolutely not. We’re human, and we’re weak. But the great thing about God is that he is at work in our lives, continually renewing us and making us more like Christ. We will not be perfect on Earth, and God doesn’t need us to be…he needs us to be obedient and follow Christ.
I want to ask every reader a question: Are you unintentionally or unconsciously legalistic? Do you desire to do more and more to feel better about yourself, or are you resting on what Christ has already done? Are you more concerned with seeking and following the religious traditions set forth by your church than you are about seeking and following the Messiah who saved you? Am I this way sometimes? Yes. I can still go back to that mindset of comparing what I’ve done with my sin to make me feel better. It never makes me feel better, because I’m not good enough. Legalism, the law, religion, the old covenant…it’s not enough to save us. Salvation comes through Christ alone. If you don’t remember anything else from this post, remember that. It is through Jesus that we are saved, and by him alone.
Look at verse 39: “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.'”
Jesus is speaking directly to the Pharisees. Why? Because they believe that their laundry list religion, their legalistic views, with their additions to the laws, will save them. They think that’s good enough. I pray for us, as Christians, and for our churches, that we do not succumb to this mindset. That we trust in the saving power of Christ, and not our pastors, not our laws, not our denominations…but Christ. And him alone.
May his grace compel us to live lives that point back to Christ and the cross, and the grace found in it. In other words, let grace point to grace. May we live our lives in such a way that Christ is magnified, and our own works, and our own lives, is not visible. For it will always be about him. Thanks be to God for the new covenant, for grace, and for Jesus our Lord and Savior.
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