“‘No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved’” (Matthew 9:16–17).
Whenever repairing clothing or attaching a new patch to an old garment, the tailor or seamstress must be careful to follow particular guidelines and avoid certain mistakes. In like manner, believers cannot combine outmoded and external traditions of self-righteousness and ritual with the gospel of grace and forgiveness.
With these words, Jesus illustrates the truth that the old way cannot contain His new way: “Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined.” Old wineskins eventually dry up and crack, and if you try to pour new wine into them, they will burst and spill the wine. Fresh wine requires a fresh skin. By analogy, the only life that can contain genuine holiness is the regenerate life granted by God when the Spirit draws a person to faith and repentance, when he or she trusts Christ as Lord and Savior.
The old wineskins refer not to God’s law and the Old Testament but to the rabbinical traditions that supplanted and contradicted God’s truth. Thus Jesus’ bringing in His new teachings in place of some old or unbiblical teachings does not mean He sets aside the divine law for some kind of ill-defined, licentious, anything-goes form of grace. The Lord unmistakably declares that He came to fulfill the Father’s law, not destroy it. Law and grace, rightly understood, have always been compatible with the believer’s benefit and blessing.
The subtext for this passage is that the self-righteous are focused on the value of their “wineskins,” while the true believer places his worth in the value of the “new wine.” What’s the difference?