Live by the Leading of the Spirit. Old Wineskins Cannot Accept New Wine.
Why do so many notable professing Christians consistently not listen to us as we try to explain how evil hides in the churches? We believe it is because their religion, their system of handling the Bible, is the product of dead letter hermeneutics (Bible interpretation). They are old wineskins and cannot accept new wine.
We have set the Ecclesiastes series aside for today, but will resume next Sunday. Today we want to draw your attention to the sermon that Ps. Crippen preached last Sunday at Christ Reformation Church. The audio can be found here. Below is the PDF. Barb Roberts has made a few additions to the text, which are indicated by square brackets.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:7-11
Peter’s words here sound rather different than the commands of the Old Testament, do they not? Under the Old Covenant, instruction was given that sounded more like this:
Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying,
“Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the LORD your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God. And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”
Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of the LORD your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.”
Do you hear the difference? Peter, here in the New Testament in Christ says things like:
- Keep loving one another earnestly
- Show hospitality to one another
- Serve one another
- As each has received a gift, use it
That is quite different than “and you shall write on the stones all the words of this law…you shall obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
[addit from Barb:] The apostle James gave teaching similar to Peter’s —
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood [the blood of slaughtered animals] and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.
Acts 15:28-29 ]
The Apostle Paul knew this essential difference between the Old and New Covenants. He put it like this:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”
You also see this vital difference between the Old and New Covenants made very plain by Paul here:
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
See it? The Old Covenant is external, does not change the heart, while the New is by the Spirit, not by the letter.
Last week during the Sunday School hour we considered the Spirit and the Word. We said that the handling, or rather “mis-handling” of the Bible without the Spirit will inevitably lead to the religion of the Pharisees. And I think it is very important that we spend some more time on this same subject this morning so that we all get a very firm understanding on this vital subject. Because if you do not get this, you are going to be a vulnerable target for false, enslaving, Scripture-perverting religion and teachers that are so widespread today in the churches.
We had it here in our church in years gone by. I am finally sorting even more of it out. Why was I always so uneasy around certain individuals who used to be here? I thought it was me, but it wasn’t. Now I know. They were people devoid of the Spirit, parading as Christians. But they were Pharisees and therefore their religion was one of condemnation.
God’s Word Written on Stone
Let’s listen once again to Jeremiah’s words from our earlier Scripture reading:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,” declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The Old Covenant was written on stone and then unregenerate men and women were commanded to obey it. All of it. They had to have someone constantly reminding them “obey the law.” Sins were not and are not forgiven under the old covenant. The old covenant could only condemn and curse, just as Paul told the Galatians.
And yet Jesus said of His covenant:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
It is my proposal to you this morning that Old Covenant religion, produced by people who claim the name of Christ but who in fact are not of Him, constructed by the Spirit-less handling of the Scriptures, is a pervasive and perhaps even dominating infection in the visible church today. Down through the entire history of the church, even in the time of the New Testament Apostles and before, spirit-less religion has been present. And, like the Galatians, there are Christians today who have become enslaved to it.
Do you remember that Martin Luther spoke and wrote of the Babylonian Captivity of the church?
The Babylonian Captivity of the Church appeared in print less than a week before the papal bull against Luther reached Wittenberg in October, 1520. Both works were being prepared at the same time: while Rome was working to prosecute Luther’s heresy trail, Luther was putting the Roman sacramental system on trial.
In the book Luther accuses the Roman church and the papacy of holding the church in captivity. As Babylon held Israel captive, now the papacy was holding Christians in bondage by Rome’s theology and use of the sacramental system. Rome’s sacramental system had (and still has) seven sacraments. Luther considers each one in turn. He maintains that only three of the seven are sacraments: baptism, penance, and the bread [that is, communion]. These three remaining sacraments, Luther writes, are held captive by the Roman church.
[Reverend Aaron Moldenhauer @ lutheranreformation.org]
If you do not understand these things clearly, all of the promises of freedom and peace and joy given us in the New Testament will ring hollow with you because the religion laid on you is not Christ, but dead letter Pharisaism which will lead you, in moments of honesty, to tell yourself “who needs this?” You also will not understand much of the Bible.
So let’s consider the Spirit and the Word a bit more.
Listen again to Ezekiel –
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
It really is the very same promise given through Jeremiah which we read. A promise to do a new thing in the very hearts of His people, by His Spirit. And that is the heart of the difference between the Old and New Covenants. Between the religion of the Pharisees and the religion of Christ. The new birth, you see.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?
Notice carefully that of all the things Jesus could have said to this Pharisee, it is the new birth He speaks of. And Jesus is emphatic. Here is this man whose life is immersed in the Old Covenant, yet who is dead in his sins, devoid of the Spirit, even though the New Covenant and Spirit were the very object the Old Covenant was directing the Jews to.
Also take close care to notice — This is not only about Nicodemus getting saved and getting to heaven. It is about Nicodemus as a teacher of Israel being blind to the real truth of the Scriptures and his desperate need of the Spirit to open his eyes to it.
The only religion Nicodemus knew was a dead letter, enslaving, “do-this-and-live” religion that put heavy burdens on people and never put them right with God. A religion that was blind to the real spirit and message of the Scriptures.
This is what Jesus meant in this statement:
And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Understand? A scribe, a professional handler of the Law, if he once comes into a true understanding of the nature of God’s kingdom has, by the Spirit, his eyes opened to the real meaning of the Scriptures he thought he knew so well. The “new” treasure he brings out of the Scriptures is Christ and the nature of His kingdom.
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
The Spirit and the Word. The Old and the New Covenants contrasted you see. The Pharisees in their Spirit-less religion constructed from the dead letters of the Law carved in stone, do not know nor do they teach mercy. They are the old garment that cannot accept the new cloth, the old wineskin that will burst if the new wine of the new covenant is put in them.
[this paragraph added by Barb] When they are challenged by Spirit-indwelt believers, the old wineskins often burst out with annoyance and indignation. Their attitude is “How dare you say such things about me! How dare you question me! How dare you challenge me!” And they put on the poor me act too – “You’ve been so harsh towards me! So cruel!” And they tell others, “Look at how these harsh people are hurting me!” For example: Gary Thomas. And so they win allies among their fellow old-wineskins. Therefore, be prepared to be spattered with spit and bile when these old wineskins burst!
I am convinced that THE fundamental reason so many pastors, church leaders and notable professing Christians consistently will not listen to us as we try our best to explain how evil hides in the churches is that their religion, their system of handling the Bible, is the product of dead letter hermeneutics (Bible interpretation). They are old wineskins and cannot accept new wine.
You see the incredible danger of Pharisaism. Of this dead letter, Spirit-less religion constructed by men using the Word without the Spirit? It eventually makes people unable to see Christ. Their allegiance to their traditions and laws so binds them that they cannot and will not accept anything that threatens it.
Therefore, Christ sidesteps Pharisees and takes the gospel to new wineskins.
There are exceptions, like Nicodemus and Paul, but by and large Christ sidesteps Pharisees and takes the gospel to new wineskins.
[this and the next three paragraphs are by Barb] And God creates those new wineskins. Every single Christian is a new creation, made alive by God, brought from death to life. Dead in sins before, but now made alive in Christ by the Spirit.
Apart from Paul, there is no mention in book of Acts of a Pharisee who came to faith. The priests and Pharisees mounted a campaign against the gospel. They tried to silence it. They tried to adulterate it with legalism (gospel plus works). They tried to stamp it out. They spread false rumours about those who preached the gospel. They plotted against them. They utilized every underhanded tactic they could to try to crush the gospel and send it off the rails.
And note what John 12:42 says: “many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.” The leaders believed in Jesus but were too cowardly to come out and stand for truth because they were afraid of the Pharisees.
We see so many leaders doing that today. For example, we know that R C Sproul believes abuse is grounds for divorce but he won’t come out and say so publicly. We have many other examples of influential people who tell us privately that we are saying the right thing, and “I shared your post with my wife,” or “I shared you book with a woman I know who is a victim of abuse.” Or “Jeff, I know you are right about the bullies in ARBCA, but please don’t tell anyone that I think this.” [link] But they won’t come out and stand on the front line with us. They won’t share our work with the pastors and leaders in their sphere of influence. And quite often they urge us to be ‘less harsh’.
How many people do you know who have grown up in a typical Spirit-less church, learned all the Spirit-less laws of that church (disguised as Christianity), and are now so bound to that religion that they absolutely will never, ever hear the real words of Christ?
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Listen to Paul summarize it once more —
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
I repeat — many, many, many if not most local churches today are in this Babylonian captivity of Spirit-less religion produced by the handling of Scripture without the Spirit. They are “bewitched” by false teachers and are growing harder and harder in their refusal to hear Christ.
In our Wednesday group we are reading through the great biography of George Whitefield. The Church of England in Whitefield’s day was a classic example of Spirit-less religion. The clerics and scholars were completely ignorant, just like Nicodemus, of the new birth. Clueless.
Furthermore, it was THIS work of the Spirit in the heart of the sinner that Whitefield and eventually the Wesleys experienced and began to preach, AND it was this preaching of the necessity of the new birth that particularly incensed most all of the clergy. They called it fanaticism or enthusiasm and did all they could to get rid of Whitefield.
So what happened? The very same thing that happened in New Testament times — Christ grew His real church outside the temple. Forbidden to preach in the church buildings, Whitefield preached in the fields. Thousands and thousands came.
Let me give you a very real example of what Sprit-less religion and its Spirit-less handling of the Scriptures ends up doing to people. Here is what it looks like in action as told by a lady whose abuser husband is exceedingly wicked and cruel, and who claims to be a Christian:
I’d appreciate some prayer. I just returned from a meeting with my pastors and I feel like I’ve been in a battle and am shell-shocked and can hardly stand up.
They agree with me that 1 Cor. 7 means that if an unbelieving spouse separates, then the believing spouse is free and can remarry. At first I thought, that’s great! Praise God who’s been working on their consciences and doing my battle for me! But then I learned that they don’t believe I qualify, as they can’t say with “100% certainty” that my abuser is not a Christian, and they don’t believe that he separated, but I did.
I didn’t expect that response at all, considering all the testimony I’ve given to them. I am at a loss. They have no ears to hear why he is obviously not a Christian or why he clearly caused the separation.
Apparently the only way they could be sure he was not a Christian is if he says the words, “I don’t believe in Jesus anymore” or something to that effect. Which of course, the wolf is unlikely to do, especially if he realizes that would free me. Or if HE was to commit adultery (and I find out about it), or divorce me and also remarry, then at that point I would be free.
I can’t help but feel like the only way out of this is to go back to my abuser and let him kill me so they will know. But even then they would probably say he was a Christian. I don’t know. I know this is not a new story for the readers and ACFJ team. But boy it hurts when it finally happens to you in turn.
THAT is the Spirit-less, wooden, cruel mishandling of God’s Word that ALWAYS results when men devoid of the Spirit apply Scripture. It kills, sometimes literally.
It is the very same thing as this which Jesus roundly exposed as wicked –
And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Matthew 23: 18-24
I conclude that this kind of gnat-straining and camel-swallowing handling of God’s Word is being taught in the seminaries widely as the minutia of the letter is emphasized and the Spirit ignored. Never ever once in my seminary years did anyone ever even speak of the Spirit of the Word as vital to the handling of the Word. I never, ever heard anything like the following which is taken from a very early Protestant Reformation confession of faith called the Bern Synod of 1532-
Chapter 37: How the minister should study and read the Scripture
‘The holy Scripture ‘makes wise to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given from God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be lacking nothing, equipped unto all good works.’
We must of necessity consider the duty we have industriously to read the Scriptures. The order to be followed is that before we take up the Bible we should begin with a prayer that is sincere and spiritual. This prayer from the heart is of such a nature that he who prays is impelled by the Holy Spirit, so that first with increased love he thanks God for blessings received. From this will spring consolation and a stronger faith.
Next, the Holy Spirit urges him to request that the Lord might further removed from us the destitution, shortcoming, and folly, which are yet holding us in wicked oppression. This gives rise to a longing and ardor which the Lord has called a hunger and thirst after righteousness, and which in turn is always followed by satisfaction and true bliss.
Thus it is evident that prayer is an emptying and preparation of the heart, so that the intention and counsel of God, which lie hidden in the letter, may be comprehended and retained.
Otherwise, omitting prayer, one is accustomed to read holy Scripture as though it were a mundane history, for the perusal of which one need employ only reason. That brings forth nothing less than a conceited, fleshly wisdom, which afterwards is presented to the poor congregation as coming from God and from the Word of God. [Boldface added by JeffC]
Accordingly, it is well said in the Epistle of James, ‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, and he will give with simplicity, etc.’ (James 1)”
So take care. Beware.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For further reading:
I believe in the Holy Spirit, a recent post by Ps Sam Powell. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED especially if you have been affected by Bill Gothard’s teaching.
The Religion of the Pharisees (a series of 8 posts). Click here to read Part One and from there you will find links to the rest of the series.