“Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both in heaven and on earth; and he who would be blessed and happy should be from the first a partaker of truth.” – Plato
Ever seen movies that depict a drinking game? Usually, a word or phrase or an event happens, and then everyone must take a drink. Many times participants get drunk, pass out, regret the game in the morning, but will be glad to rejoin. Drinking games turn into a cycle that ends with regret, a hangover, and maybe a bad tattoo.
Every day, Christians participate in their own drinking game. In fact, Jesus talks about this drinking game.
garments and wineskins
In this passage, Jesus introduces an illustration I have been confused over. He talks about old garments, new patches, new wine, old wineskins, the need for new wineskins, and the ruin that comes from attempting to mix the old and the new.
What is the old and what is the new? What is the point of this passage?
The Pharisees question Jesus why his disciples are eating and drinking when their followers and the followers of John the Baptist fast regularly. Jesus then talks about when the groom is around people do not fast; instead, they celebrate. Then he goes into this illustration about old garments, new patches, new wine, and old wineskins.
This illustration deals with the question of the Pharisees. Jesus compares an old way of living and thinking to a new way of living he is introducing. The old garment and the old wineskin represent an old way of thinking and living. The new patch, new wine, and new wineskin represent a new way of thinking and living.
The old way is living by the laws and traditions based on the law. The new way is a celebratory way of living based on Christ. These two ways are in conflict with each other, and they cannot be apart of the same garment or work together like new wine in an old wineskin.
The Old wineskin drinking game
This old way of thinking and living is using laws, standards, and traditions to bring about approval, blessings, or any affirmation from God. The followers of the Pharisees meticulously followed lists of what to wear, what to do on certain days, what prayers to say, what foods to eat, and anything else told to them to do. Their obedience was the means to God’s blessing and approval.
Jesus condemns this and proclaims this old way of thinking is against Scripture (Matthew 15:2-3; 7-9). He says the holding up of traditions and laws to the point of ignoring God’s word is an old way of thinking, and it takes hearts away from the heart of God.
In Luke 5, Jesus said drinking from old wineskins could not allow a new way of living that was celebratory and free. The Pharisees and their followers played a drinking game with God. The must drink at the law, they must drink when standards are mentioned, they must drink and drink and drink in order to please God. They drank to the point, where in Luke 5:39, the old seemed even better than the new. They couldn’t stomach new wine.
Today, we still play this drinking game. We keep rules, traditions, standards, and end up behaving like the Galatians. We believe that our salvation is by grace. Yet, our Christian living says works make us perfect. Paul condemns this attitude throughout the book of Galatians (Galatians 3:3; 3:11). He even goes to point out Christ’s death is meaningless if we continue to keep laws and rules in order to be seen good in the sight of God (Galatians 2:21).
I have woken up in with a “hangover” playing this drinking game. My drinking list consisted of going to the right church, having all the “correct” theological labels, listening to the correct Christian music, associating myself with the right people, making sure unbelievers knew what I was against, daily completing the spiritual disciplines, managing my sin in order for God to use me and move me to a more mature Christian, etc. I woke up hating myself as I vomited this spiritual gunk out of my stomach. I couldn’t get anywhere playing this drinking game. It was a vicious cycle of gaining the approval of churches, institutions, and other Christians in order to gain approval from God. Participating in this cycle only leaves you nauseous, a splitting headache, and lost in the motions of religion. I only saw this way of living as good because it became a means to a good life. But, it never came.
How many times do we play the drinking game found in the old wineskins?
new wine changed to living water
Yet, we see another element in this illustration – new wine and new wineskins.
The new wine represents a new mindset and way of living Jesus brings. It is one of freedom. In the book of Galatians, the term “freedom” appears over and over. Paul says that since we have faith in Jesus, we are free (Galatians 4:5; 4:12). In order to drink of this new wine, we must be willing to adopt a new wineskin or mindset.
Yet, this new wine isn’t a drinking game cycle. Instead, drinking the new wine Jesus gives is actually to drink of the living water where we will never thirst again (John 4:13-14). No longer are we thirsty for which rule or standard we need to keep. Instead, we are satisfied, because our thirst is quenched in the love of Jesus and the freedom he gives. Our lives are no longer bound to endless commandments. Instead, we show the love of Jesus in our hearts by doing two things: believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and love one another (1 John 3:23). This is not burdensome to do. When we believe and love, then everything else falls into place. This is because the kingdom of God is not a matter of what we do or not do, but it is about living in the Spirit (Romans 14:17).
To live in the Spirit is to give up the drinking game of works and drink from the living water and the new wine given to us by Jesus. He didn’t die so we could be slaves to a cycle of rules, rule breaking, and self-hatred. Instead, when we see the truth of the freedom of Christ apart from the law, works, rules, and standards, we will truly be free and satisfied with the new wine given to us by the one who gives living water (John 8:32).
Desiring new wine
It is so difficult to give up the Christian drinking game of laws, rules, and standards. I’ve been there, done that, and even have the t-shirt for participating. I only ended up with self-hatred and a pattern of walking up a descending escalator attempting to reach approval.
It wasn’t until I heard these lyrics from the song Champion by Bethel Worship I began to question the Christian drinking game-
I’ve tried so hard to see it
Took me so long to believe it
That You’d choose someone like me
To carry Your victory
Perfection could never earn it
You give what we don’t deserve and
You take the broken things
And raise them to glory
How many years did I live and breathe in this legalistic mindset? How many times did I focus on lists in Scripture; rather than the heart of Jesus? When I saw how I was deceived by today’s Pharisees in the church, I began seeing the truth. Jesus saved me by grace, he saved me to love like he has loved me, and that is it. That is what true freedom is.
We don’t have to be stuck in a vicious drinking game cycle anymore. We have been set free to live in the celebratory love of the groom: Jesus Christ.
Which wine are we going to drink each day? The old wine leading to cycles of hangovers? or the new wine which is changed into living water quenching our thirst and freeing us to walk in the Spirit?
The choice is ours. But, we need to make sure we change our wineskin in order to fully live in Christ’s new wine and living water.
A slave is only loved according to his performance. But, a son is loved unconditionally.
Now I can finally see it
You’re teaching me how to receive it
So let all the striving cease, oh
This is my victory