Luke 12:1-12. You might think of leaven as leftovers. It’s not like the leftovers you put in your refrigerator after a meal. It’s not leftovers like a doggie bag. It’s uncooked leftovers. It’s leftover dough that is used to kickstart the next batch of dough. It’s used to make the dough rise. But that’s not what usually makes it a great biblical image. That’s part of it, but the real heart of the imagery goes back to Exodus 12, the passover. It’s the great redemptive event of the Old Testament. And in that chapter, we’re given instructions for commemorating that event year after year. The Jews were not to eat bread with leaven in it during the passover. Why not? We’re told in Deuteronomy 16:3. God delivered the Israelites so decisively that they had to leave in haste, and could take no ‘bread starter’ with them. Leaven, then, became a symbol of that which is held over from our time in bondage. In redemption, we make a clean break with sin. We are, in the language of Romans, dead to sin, even though sin is not dead in us. All our lives as Christians, we are to be cleaning our cupboards of the leaven in our lives … those leftover sin patterns or ways of thinking or priorities. Our allegiance has changed … radically — i.e., at the root … and so have our priorities. But, since we will not arrive at perfection in this life, we strive to crucify the sin that continues to exist in us. We put to death the flesh. We put off the old man and put on the new. We strive to be what God has declared us to be … holy, blameless, … unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:7)
The Leaven of Hypocrisy
The leaven the Pharisees struggled with was hypocrisy. They were so concerned with the appearance of righteousness, that they forgot all about actually becoming righteous. They had become whitewashed tombs, all pretty on the outside, but full of rotting corpses on the inside. It’s a leaven that is as old as Babel, when men sought to make a name for themselves, rather than publish the glory and wonder of the One Who’s image they bore, rather than glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, men have sought to bring themselves glory and honor. It’s a foolish sort of leaven, since at the judgment your pretense will be unveiled. And it’s also foolish because men cannot do more than take your life. But God has the power to make your suffering go on and on without relief or respite for all eternity. So it’s foolish leaven. But it’s a dangerous sort of leaven because it pretends all is well. And to pretend all is well is to stiff arm the Holy Spirit who brings conviction.
Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
Toy with sin long enough and you will so offend the Spirit that He will finally leave you to your own sinfulness. That’s the picture we get in Romans 1, where God gave sinful men over to their sinful desires. It’s a terrifying warning that our Lord gives. No amount of caution would be overkill in preventing that from happening. If you are worried that you might have blasphemed the Spirit, take heart. Had you actually done so, you wouldn’t be worried. It is the Spirit who brings that conviction and concern. But if you aren’t actually actively putting to death the old man, or striving to … we are all on our faces more than we are on our feet … then beware, the danger is real. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” (1 Corinthians 5:6–7 ESV)
Getting Rid of Leaven
The Christian life is a long struggle to become what God has declared us to be. God the Father planned our redemption. He sent his Son to live perfectly for us. And then He laid down his life to pay the penalty for our failures. The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ through repentance and faith. The Christian life is a life-long struggle to live up to the high calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1), but the struggle itself does not gain God’s favor. Jesus did that for us. But the struggle isn’t optional either. It’s not just for the super saints or above-average Christians. All of us must be on guard against all leaven, but especially the leaven of hypocrisy.
But the Spirit who brings conviction and faith also brings guidance. Not only do we need to fear God not men, we can rest confident that the Spirit will sustain us, encourage us and instruct us when we find ourselves fighting the temptation to deny Christ, whether to save face or save our lives. But we must be “all in”. That’s what getting rid of leaven really means. Just as the Israelites left Egypt in haste, and the “bread of affliction” with it, so we must abandon all of our old commitments, whether to our time, our money, our health, our families, our lives … God has purchased all of you. Are you all in?