No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” we read in 2 Corinthians 5.17. “The old has gone, the new has come!” This directly refutes how many people approach their walk with Jesus. They view it as an added dimension to lives they led prior to following Him when, in fact, it’s a total makeover. Since faith in Christ’s sacrifice and trust in God’s love and acceptance change the very fiber of our beings, the fabric of our life also changes. Old patterns lose their appeal. The new creatures we become don’t fit the shape of old lives we once led. Textures we found pleasing feel too rough and cuts we thought becoming no longer flatter.
Out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new makes many very uncomfortable. It’s not like their wardrobe was all that shabby to begin with. They’ve worked hard to acquire taste that reflects many of the same principles Jesus espouses, like mercy, kindness, justice, tolerance, and so on. “You mean I’ve got to throw all that away and start over?” they ask. Not necessarily. When Christ enters our life, much of our basic character remains, but the addition of finer qualities gives it new life. Thinking we can hang on to shoddier habits and outdated notions is how we go wrong. Authentic Christianity isn’t a badge of honor we stitch onto old attitudes and actions that could use some sprucing up. We purge those items completely to make room for newer, better ones. As Jesus explains in Luke 5.36, trying to repair worn-out aspects of our lives with new material—hiding lingering doubts beneath swatches of faith, for instance—ruins both. It won’t work.
One or the Other
Entering new life in Christ calls for some hard decisions. Using Jesus’s metaphor, it’s like staring at faded, threadbare clothes we’ve held on to for years while holding an armful of vibrant, flawless ones we’ve been given. A lot of these new gifts are things we’ve always wanted yet could never find or afford—peace of mind, forgiveness, purpose, and hope for instance. We find room for them right away. Replacing old favorites with fresh alternatives becomes the problem. That’s when we realize it’s one or the other, because we don’t have space for both. Besides, the old stuff—dependencies, associations, petty vices, etc.—clashes with the new items we’ve received—freedom, fellowship, purity, and so forth.
Now we’ve got two “looks” going. They’re so radically different we’ll never get them to work together. Some of us try to find a clever compromise, imagining we can combine the old and new to come with a funky, retro/classic style that’s exclusively our own—Christianity by Tim, or Denise, or Jason. “Who does such a thing?” Jesus wonders. “Who rips apart a new garment to patch up an old one? All that does is destroy what’s new and make what’s wrong with the old one more obvious.” And there we have it. Believers look sharp. They don’t sport patches. They don’t affix crisp, timeless ideals to sad-sack, obsolete lifestyles. One of Isaiah’s long lists of Messianic prophecies includes the promise He will give us “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61.3) Thinking we can stitch pieces of our praise-oriented new life to our sorry old nature is silly, Jesus says. They won’t match up. It’s one or the other.
Jesus’s live audience readily got His message for another reason, however. Living in pre-industrial times, they knew no two bolts of fabric were alike. Every piece of hand-loomed cloth had its own unique weave and surface tension. It was spun from flax and cotton that varied in quality from season to season. The concept of patching an old garment with new cloth was as ludicrous in their day as running a gas engine on diesel is in ours. Cutting patches from a new garment to repair an old one was, at best, a one-time fix. The moment the garment absorbed moisture or underwent stress the difference in how both fabrics responded resulted in them pulling apart. The patch wouldn’t hold.
The same principle applies when we attempt to repair flawed former habits and thoughts with bits and pieces of newly received faith. Circumstances and stress will inevitably pull them apart. Our belief will respond in direct contradiction to our logic. Our trust will remain taut while our doubt shrivels beneath it. The patch won’t hold. In His story of the lost son who wastes his inheritance on wild living and returns home, penniless and shabby, Jesus tells us the first thing the father says is “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.” (Luke 15.22) That’s exactly what happens to us. When we’ve had enough of our misguided ways and return to Christ, He dresses us in new clothes whose style and quality befits the new life He gives. What can’t be mended gets tossed out. What’s filthy and sad goes too. Patches are for poor people, and while we live humbly, new life in Christ grants us untold wealth. In 2 Corinthians 8.9 we’re reminded: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” There’s simply no reason to patch up old clothes, when God’s grace affords us the best there is.
We may think we can salvage old habits and ideas with patches of new life. We may even think our new "look" is smart. But the patches won't hold and the look doesn't flatter.
(Tomorrow: Taking Our Temperature)