Outward Conformity VS Inward Transformation
Outward Conformity vs. Inward Transformation
“But 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.”
The disciples of John were troubled. This was not the first time that the disciples of John had conflicts with the disciples of Christ. While John readily and wholeheartedly supported the rising ministry of Jesus, his disciples were more reluctant. For them, John represented the maintenance and advancement of the Jewish faith, while the disciples of Jesus seemed to be undermining the rituals and practices of the Jews. In their eyes, the criticism of the Pharisees that Jesus and his disciples were not rigidly upholding the Law and Traditions of the Jews seemed valid. Even though the Old Testament law did not specifically command fasting (except on the Day of Atonement), it was a familiar ritual of the Jewish leaders. For those who upheld the traditions as part of the expression of faith, the disciples of Jesus failed in their obedience.
In response to their questions, Jesus seeks to make a corrective in their thinking. They still operated under the Old Testament covenant, which focused on ritual acts. The problem with the rituals was not with the rituals themselves but with how the people treated them. Throughout the Old Testament, God established the sacrificial system, the dietary laws, and the ways to serve as object lessons for the people regarding spiritual truths. They were designed to point to inward qualities of dedication to God. However, as time passed, the people no longer sought the inward transformation that the rituals were to represent; instead, they focused on the practices themselves. He fulfilled the ways when Christ came, so the focus shifted to the new covenant. Under the new covenant, the focus is no longer on the outward practices but the inward transformation.
In response to the question of the Disciples of John, Jesus points out that a new order is now in place. The arrival of Jesus brought a new covenant with new practices appropriate to the new covenant. Instead of external rituals, the focus shifted to the inward heart of people. We are not to live in a new way where all our actions now reflect the salvation and presence of Christ. The unique garment and the new wineskin point us to the necessity of a new way of living.
The challenge for us today is that we can easily fall into the same misguided perspective of the disciples of John that focuses on external acts rather than inward transformation. We can go to church, be active in the church, and perform all the right actions to reflect being “a good Christian.” We can understand and speak the theological jargon. We can use all the right words and do all the right things. But external actions are not enough. What Christ desires to do within us is transform our whole life. The outward actions are not the means of righteousness but are to be a reflection of our righteousness. Character and godliness motivate and determine conduct. Like the disciples of John, we can quickly reduce our Christian faith to mere external acts. However, we need a change in our hearts that comes with surrendering to God. We must continually ask ourselves, “Are we just doing religious rituals, albeit Christian rituals, or are we genuinely being changed to conform to the person of Christ.” If our faith is only external rather than transformative, we live as old wineskins and worn-out garments. We need a complete and new transformation that comes only through Christ.