St. Paul is fond of saying that we must take off the old man and put on the new. He meant by this, of course, that if we are united to Jesus Christ then we are new creatures. As a new creature in Christ, you are to mortify (put to death) the Old Man and the works of the flesh and to put on the New Man, Jesus Christ, who is your sanctification.
St. Ambrose said, with reference to Luke 5, that we should “Strip ourselves of the old man with his deeds so that we may put on the new man, which is renewed by the sanctification of baptism. . . . The inner man, which is reborn, should not have the varied appearance of old and new actions but be the same color as Christ. With zeal of mind, it should imitate him for whom he was cleansed by baptism.”
But what if, instead of hearing the language of St. Paul we hear the language of our Lord Himself? He says to you, “Take off your old wineskins and put on My new wineskins, because I am about to fill you with new wine.”
There are four possibilities for wine and wineskins, and I wonder which one you are today. I’m not so much speaking about the ultimate state of salvation, though you could apply Jesus’ words in this way. Someone could be seeking the Lord (the new wine) through the Old Covenant (the old wineskins), but I’m talking to those who are already Christians. Are you old wine in an old wineskin? You may be, if you are simply following your old time religion, whatever tradition of Christianity you may have, even if it’s only your own personal tradition. In this old wineskin, you have old wine which is stale and vinegary and has lost its life.
Are you old wine in new wineskins? In this case, you may be desperately trying to find a new way of worshiping and perhaps a new church that will bring you life. Maybe you’re even working on your own personal devotions. But if you seek these new wineskins while still filling them with old wine, the new wineskins won’t do much good. The new wineskins could be of great spiritual benefit, but if you have not had your spirit renewed by the Holy Spirit, and if you’re seeking to change your habits without first seeking to have your heart changed, then your intentions will be frustrated.
God is offering you the new wine of His Holy Spirit – a new life in Jesus Christ. But maybe you prefer the taste of vinegary, leathery old wine. Maybe you’ve gotten used to little flakes and chunks of dregs in your wine, and you’re afraid you won’t like the taste of God’s new wine. You may be right: it may be an acquired taste. But I guarantee you that if you will but try it, you’ll never want to go back to your old wine!
Maybe you’re the new wine in the old wineskins. Maybe God has begun a joyful, exuberant new work in your life, but you are clinging to your old ways. It might be your church tradition, though often I find that it’s not so much the church tradition itself that is squelching the Spirit as much as it is the particular way that an individual Christian is receiving and living within that tradition. Any church tradition can become an old wineskin. But the worst old wineskins are the ones we make for ourselves. What I mean is that every one of us, whether we worship according to a Prayer Book with set words or are listening to others make up prayers as they go along; whether we sing stately hymns or wave our hands in contemporary praise choruses; and whether our worship is 30 minutes of songs and 30 minutes of a sermon or it is one of the historic liturgies, we’re all in danger of just “going through the motions.”
It’s easy to blame our church traditions for being the old wineskin in our lives. But I find that in our daily walk with God the old wineskins that we make for ourselves are the real cause of our difficulties and lifelessness, and not our church at all! How often do we get into ruts and just go through the motions of a life with God? How often do we have almost no life with God, except for that one hour at church, where at least we have the opportunity to truly turn our hearts to God? If God pours His new wine into these old wineskins, His wonderful, living breathing wine, will tear them apart and both will be lost.
The best place to be is to accept the new wine that God offers and to allow Him to renew your wineskins at the same time. This does not require that you change church traditions (though sometimes this may be necessary): it requires, simply, that you truly seek God and respond to the wonderful grace He offers you each and every day. If you are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, we may make an analogy. The Blood of Jesus Christ (remembering that the life is in the Blood) is the new wine that God wants to pour into your life. He wants to give you life and to give it to you more abundantly because what He is really offering you is Himself. But you must be part of a new Body of Christ, the Temple of God, to receive this new life. And this is the Church, and not just yourself.
I believe that God is actually inviting you to a perpetual banquet, the Marriage Feast of His Son. He has opened the new wine and is pouring it out for all who will receive it, and His bottle is a never-ending bottle. But you must be willing to be transformed into the new wineskins that will be a fit vessel for this new wine. You must allow God to change you. In reality, the new wine and the new wineskins come together, as does the Blood and the Body.
God is constantly offering to renew your life, but you must give up the old, which is yourself, and accept the new, which is Jesus Christ.
I know what I’m going to do. I’ve just received my invitation, and I’m off to go to God’s party! I’m going for a refill of God’s new wine, and I hope to see you there.
Prayer: Lord of the Banquet, I come to Your feast asking that You receive me as Your guest. I confess that too often I feel old and tired and tasteless and joyless and ask that You would renew my heart today by Your Holy Spirit. Help me to take off myself and to put on Your Son, Jesus Christ, that I may be a fit vessel for Your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Do you feel like old wine in old wineskins? What have you done lately to approach God more faithfully and joyfully? Consider one practical step you might take to put yourself in a position to be able to receive God’s new wine.
Resolution: I resolve to meditate on where I am today in my life with Christ. I further resolve to ask God to pour His new wine into me and to make me His new wineskin.
Wine Skins – By Ardo Beltz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0