Law and Grace Do Not Mix  - The Warrior's Journey®

Law and Grace Do Not Mix 

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

. Photo by is licensed under CC By 2.0

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22) 

The second chapter of Mark reads like an Emancipation Proclamation against religious legalism. It begins with Jesus declaring a man forgiven simply on the basis of faith (Mark 2:5) – apart from any religious ceremony or adherence to a written code.   

Then, when Jesus is criticized for accepting sinners, He very clearly states that sinners alone are His target audience. As a doctor only treats the sick, so Jesus only brings salvation to those who need it (Mark 2:17). This stood in direct contrast with Pharisaical Judaism which taught that the sinner must reform himself before God will accept him. Jesus explained that He is not a doctor that only accepts patients after they get well. Jesus accepts sinners in their terminal condition and cleanses and cures them.  

Jesus is again criticized, this time for not requiring that His disciples to fast – as the Pharisees and disciples of John the Baptist did. In response Jesus states that fasting is wholly inappropriate for the good news of the Gospel. Only during that period when Jesus is taken away (i.e. by arrest and crucifixion) would it be appropriate to fast.    

At the end of this chapter Jesus reminds His critics that the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath. Wherever human need exists, we are free to meet that need – even on the Sabbath Day (Mark 2:27). 

But before this, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter: law and grace cannot be mixed. We either place our faith in our own efforts to make ourselves righteous or we trust entirely in Jesus to make us righteous. The legalism of Pharisaical Judaism has no place in a righteousness that is based exclusively on faith in Christ’s redemption.   

It’s the same with wineskins and cloth (Mark 2:21-22). One doesn’t put new wine in old wineskins. Otherwise, as the wine ferments it will burst the old wineskins. Nor does one put a patch of unshrunk cloth on a shrunk garment. Otherwise the unshrunk patch will create a much larger hole when it shrinks. The apostle Paul put it this way. He discarded all his legalistic laurels (e.g. his status as a Jew and a Pharisee) as rubbish in order to gain the righteousness which Jesus gives freely to those who believe in Him (Philippians 3:4-9).  We place our faith in one or the other – in ourselves or in Christ. 


  • Would you agree that anything which distracts our faith from Jesus is a sin? 
  • Doesn’t legalism distract our faith from Jesus, since it’s self-focused? 
  • Let’s embrace Christ alone – trusting only in His redemption, love, and power. 

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