Monday, March 10, 2008
A Little Leaven From My Friends (Transcript)
I want to begin by reading from Galatians Chapter 5, beginning at verse 1.
"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
"Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
"And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.
"You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
"For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
"You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
"This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you."
And our key verse, verse 9:
"A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough."
Legalism Even From Our Friends
Legalism comes at us from every direction. We read it in books, we see it online, we hear it from pulpits (of our own churches, or other churches we may visit or hear recordings of, or watch on TV).
And even if we have our antennae up to watch out for legalism, it seems to slip in.
Many times it comes from simple peer pressure, or what we would call our friends. And because they are our friends, we don't want to make a big deal out of it.
And it's true, we sure don't want to be Grace Pharisees, looking for a legalism demon behind every bush, and pouncing on anyone who encourages us to be obedient to the Lord, or to grow in holy behavior.
We want to be obedient and grow in holy behavior, if we're born again, don't we?
But I want to ask a question.
How much legalism is okay?
How much legalism should we entertain in our minds?
Not a lot, you may say, but how about just a little? Just a little legalism to keep us in line. Just a little legalism to remind us that we don't want to be like the world, or be too loose with our Christian faith.
But what does the word of God say? “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.”
What Is Leaven?
Now in this day of store-bought Wonder Bread, you might not know what leaven is. When bread is made, it's made from dough, which is some combination of flour, water, and whatever.
But before you bake it, if you want it to “rise”, as the term goes, in other words to develop pockets of air, in other words, so that it's tender, and not just hard and flat, you put yeast, which the Bible calls leaven here, into the dough.
The yeast, or leaven, causes little gas pockets to form in the dough while it's being kneaded and baked, and you end up with bread with thousands of little air pockets in it.
But the interesting thing is that when you put leaven into the dough, it sort of multiplies. It “infects” the whole lump of dough. So a little leaven becomes a lot of leaven, and ends up completely dominating the lump of dough.
And so elsewhere in the Bible, sin is spoken of as leaven, because a little sin in our lives, if unchecked, can result in a lot of sin. Hence the leaven illustration.
But in our passage in Galatians, the leaven is referring to Legalism, that awful false teaching which says one way or another that God's love and favor, or even salvation, is dependent on our works, not grace alone.
What It's All About - The New Covenant
So back to our question, “how much legalism is okay?”
To answer that question, let's go back to the very foundation of what the Christian life is primarily about. When God promised the New Covenant, through the prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, for example, when He promised the New Covenant He said that He would cause His people, that’s us, to walk in His statutes, to walk in His ways. (Ezek 36:27)
Now He has fulfilled that promise of the New Covenant by what the Bible calls being born again. Or what Theology calls regeneration.
In the New Birth, we are given a new heart, a new spirit, and the Holy Spirit of God Himself comes into us, and we becomes one spirit with Him. We are not God and He is not us, but we become one spirit with Him, and through His Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ, we are to live our Christian lives.
And so we see that the real purpose of our Christian life is to manifest, or exhibit, or live out the very life of Jesus Christ. We see in Gal 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and delivered himself up for me.”
You see, it’s Christ living through you and me. The bible even say that Christ is our life (Col 3:4)
Is this actually happening, though? Is Christ really living His life through the believer?
Well, let’s look at Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” See, God does work in us to do good works or to show forth fruit, we may say.
Now I haven’t forgotten our subject today, a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. But first, let’s clarify something.
Rom 8:28 says that God is working all things together for good to those who love Him. If you love Him, there is a sense in which even when your life is not all it should be, even when you mess up, even when you quench the Holy Spirit, or grieve the Holy Spirit, even when you don’t manifest the life of Christ as you would like to --- God works it together for good.
That is so important to understand, as we discuss this next part. And here’s the next part:
Walking By The Spirit
You and I have a choice, in our day to day life, to walk by the Spirit, or to walk by the flesh. The world, the flesh and the devil are always trying to deceive us and to pull us in the direction of the flesh, and away from the Spirit.
And when we are deceived and walk by the flesh, even when we do something that LOOKS good, or loving or helpful, or whatever, it is not the life of Christ being manifested through us, it is our flesh.
And remember what our purpose is? To manifest the life of Christ, to live out the very life of Jesus Christ.
So, back to the Legalism.
When God instituted the New Covenant through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, He did it all by grace. He gave us new life, a new spirit, the faith to believe in Him, the faith to repent or change our minds about Christ and our sin; He gave us the Holy Spirit. He did it all.
He even paid for and forgave all of our sins that we ever committed, and even forgave us all of our sins that we will ever commit in the future. All by grace. He even put his laws in our minds and on our hearts, and He even causes us to walk in His ways, to will and do His good pleasure. All by grace.
In other words, His covenant with us is Unilateral, or unconditional. It’s all of Him.
And it’s a good thing that it is. The Old Covenant fell short, why? Because the people couldn’t keep their end of the covenant. And so God instituted the glorious New Covenant, and promised to keep it Himself.
Legalism messes everything up.
Now not utimately. God still works everything together for good to those who love Him. But in our heart of hearts, we want His ways. We want to express His life thorough us. We want to manifest His life, don’t we?
And that’s where the evil of Legalism comes in.
We want to walk by the Spirit, but legalism comes in and quenches the Spirit. In our heart of hearts, we want to avoid sin, but the Law as our rule of life inflames sin. “Thou shalt not” as our rule of life works in our flesh to make us want to do that which thou shalt not.
Even if we DO follow some law or rule outwardly, if done through the flesh, it’s sin. Why? Because that which is not of faith is sin. (Rom 14:23)
But the bible declares that sin shall no longer be master over us, because we are not under law, but under grace.
Falling From Grace
And when we compromise with legalism, we fall from grace, as Paul told the Galatians. Now that doesn't mean we lose our salvation, as some who don't understand grace teach.
When Paul says the Galatians had fallen from grace, he simply meant that they had gotten off of the ground of grace, and on to the ground of law, which quenches the Holy Spirit, and inflames sin, and thus we don’t manifest the life of Christ as we wish.
That was Paul’s problem in Rom 7, when he did the things he didn’t want to do, and couldn’t do the things he wanted to do, and was in a wretched state that all of us can identify with.
Don’t let people put condemnation on you. You are free. You are forgiven. As we just read in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.”
Don’t let even your friends tell you that God is angry with you, that He withholds His love based on your performance.
Don’t let even your friends tell you that you should live in misery because you don’t measure up to some standard that they set, and can’t even meet themselves.
Rest in Christ’s grace. Commune with Him. Love Him and let him love you. Surrender to this lover of your soul. Walk in His spirit.
When we compromise with Legalism it messes us up. And just a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. When we are nice to Legalism, it is not nice back to us. It may make us feel superior for a while, puff us up with self-righteousness. But that’s a miserable way for a believer to live. How much better to manifest the life of Jesus.
How much better to live free in Christ. How much better to walk by the Spirit, and not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
We won’t do it perfectly. This isn’t a lesson in sinlessness or perfection. But try to recognize the little leaven when you see it creeping into your thinking. When it puts condemnation on you or some uneasy doubting of the love of God. Reject it.
Carpe Gratiam, seize the grace of God again. Seize the wonderful truth that He loves and accepts you in Christ, that He has given you His righteousness as a gift. That nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. That you are His forever, and that He lives in you, and that you can express His very life through your life.
Remember that just a little leaven of legalism leavens the whole lump of dough in your life. Walk in grace, free, to the glory of the Lord.
[Who knows, it might even rub off on your friends.]