Beware Of Leaven

… When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” … Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

– Matthew 16:1-12 (ESV)

The Pharisees and Sadducees are no longer with us, but their leaven is. You can’t see it, but you can see its effect.

Most bread today is leavened with plain yeast. But yeast in packets or jars was not available until relatively recently. Leavening in Bible times was accomplished by using a bit of dough from the previous batch to seed the next batch. We know this today as sour-dough. Chametz is the Hebrew word for bread made this way, which means sour, fermented.

Sourdough starterBread dough is inflated through the action of yeast and bacterial spores which produce carbon dioxide by converting the sugars in the flour to alcohols. Yeast is a living organism, and as it reproduces, it takes over the whole lump of dough (1 Corinthians 5:6 “a little leaven leaves the whole lump”).

In the Bible, leaven is first mentioned in connection with the Passover. God told the Hebrews to bake unleavened bread, because in the rush to leave Egypt, there would not be enough time to let the bread rise. 1

Once a year at Passover, the Jews got rid of the old sour-dough. God had commanded Israel to do this, but He gave no such command to the Gentiles. Today there are some famous sour-dough cultures that have been alive for tens or hundreds of years. The most famous is probably the one used to make San Francisco sour-dough bread. There are also well-known cultures from Naples that upscale pizzerias use.

In Matthew 16, Jesus was not condemning physical leaven. He was using leaven to represent teachings that ‘infect’ our thoughts – that start out small but eventually take over our whole mindset. The leaven of the Pharisees was one of hyper-legalism. It probably began hundreds of years before Christ with a few small commands intended to help people avoid sin, but it quickly expanded to the point where it virtually replaced the Law. Similarly, even today with our secular law, we see it is very easy to add more and more laws and regulations to the system, but very hard to remove them. (And the laws we add seem powerless to reduce crime.)

Natural leaven comes from the air. You can make leavened dough by mixing equal parts of flour and water, then leaving it out in the open for a while. The air is full of yeast, and eventually some will take residence in the dough, causing it to ferment. (For this reason, today’s Jewish dietary regulations consider dough to be leavened 18 minutes after it comes in contact with water.) But bread made with this dough might not taste good, depending on what variety of yeast takes up residence. Not all ‘wild’ yeast is the same. Some is good for baking and some is not.

Jesus compared the growth of the kingdom of heaven to leaven in Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:21. But most of the time leaven is used in the Bible to symbolize sin. I think there’s an interesting analogy of yeast coming from the air. Satan is called the prince of the power of the air. In a spiritual sense, his bad “yeast” is all around us, and if we’re not careful, it will readily take over our hearts and minds. We must not let it do so. We need to remain unleavened…

Your boasting is not good. 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. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

– 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)

Christians have a Passover to remember. When we share in the Lord’s Supper, we remember what it cost for Jesus Christ to free us from our sins. But we should also examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28) for the leaven of malice and evil, hypocrisy and fleshly regulations, and so on. Let’s cast out the old leaven of sin, and not follow the Pharisee’s example of adding to what God has said.

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

– Colossians 2:16-23

Notes:

  1. You can also see this as a picture of separation from life in Egypt.

Be Holy

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts in your ignorance; But as He who called you is holy, you also become holy in all conduct, because it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.

1 Peter 1:15-16

The command to be holy is one God always gives to His people. In the Old Testament it was given to Israel. In the New Testament it is given to us believers. We are a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), God’s people, and we are to be like Him in this way. To understand the call to holiness, we must first define what holy means.

Many people have a vague idea of what holiness means. In art, it is portrayed by a halo or glow around a person’s head, and sometimes a particular pose. (Whenever I see a painting of Jesus, I have this silly mind picture of Jesus posing for the artist as he paints the picture… perhaps two fingers pointing on his upraised hand… eyes focused upward… holding this supposedly “holy” pose for an hour or two until the painting is finished.) But this is man’s idea. Holiness is not about appearances. You can’t sense it physically.

There are various definitions of the word ‘holy’. Among the more well known are to be set apart to God, and to be morally perfect. These are good definitions, but neither one of them applies to all usages of the word. It is somewhat meaningless to say that, because God is holy, He is ‘set apart’ to Himself. And moral perfection can only apply to people, not to inanimate objects like the holy anointing oil used in the Old Testament temple.

While these two different definitions are adequate in their proper contexts, I think there is another way to understand holiness using a single all-inclusive definition, summed up by the phrase “No compromise.” We can see how this applies to the holiness of God, His people, and objects.

God is holy. He has absolute integrity. He will not compromise His character in any way. “Holy” describes the degree to which God is who He is. God is 100% righteous. He is 100% just. He is 100% loving. We think of the holiness of God as something to be afraid of, but it is also a source of great comfort. Because God is holy, we can trust Him to be 100% faithful to His promises. He will not deny Himself (Malachi 3:6).

The Old Testament tabernacle was made up entirely of holy things. Not only were the prominent items like the ark and the altar holy, so were the accoutrements such as the wash basin and various utensils used in the service. Every item was to be used only for the worship of Yahweh, and only in the way that was prescribed to do so. You could not borrow a pan from the temple to make a cake for your friends. That would have treated the item as common, compromising its purpose.

As Christians, we are God’s people, set apart for Him. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), and we must not compromise ourselves, living for the world, our friends, or ourselves – even the slightest. We have been bought with a price, and we are no longer our own. We are no longer common. Let us not compromise ourselves.

Titanic

The world is like the Titanic. When Adam disobeyed God, we struck the iceberg. At that point the ship was doomed, even though things didn’t look too bad on the surface. But now the end is near. The ship is up-end and sinking fast. The opportunities to get into the lifeboat are drawing to a close.

But even with the world falling apart, people are still trying to enjoy the cruise. They’re ignoring the danger and refusing the warnings of those who really care for their well-being.

Satan has this world convinced that Christians hate sinners. But we don’t hate sinners. We love sinners. If we really hated them, we wouldn’t warn them of the consequences of their sin. We wouldn’t tell them about Jesus. We’d let them go to hell.

It is every believer’s responsibility to warn the lost in love, directing them to the Lifeboat (Jesus) with humility, gentleness, and urgency. Most will not listen (Revelation 9:20-21). They prefer to listen to the one who really does hate them (Satan). But a few will listen, repent, and turn to Jesus.

Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.

– Acts 17:30-31 HCSB

I don’t judge anyone because I am not qualified to do so, but soon it will be time for the One who is. Be ready!

Second-Hand Faith

“…I am left, I alone…”

– 1 Kings 19:10

Hypothetical questions: If the person who led you to Christ suddenly told you, “I’m sorry. I misled you. I was wrong. There is no heaven or hell. Jesus is a fairy tale. God does not exist. … I have proof, and here it is…,” how would your faith fare?

What if all of the great Christian preachers, teachers, authors, apologists, radio and TV personalities, etc. you look up to suddenly said the same thing? What if everyone in the world abandoned Jesus and urged you to do so… what would you do?

I’ve thought about questions like these off and on for many years as a way of identifying whether my faith is real or not. It’s somewhat hypothetical: there will always be true believers. But there may come a time when it seems everyone around me has abandoned the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It has happened to some degree before and will happen again.

Since the early church, there have been those who appeared to be saved, and even had leadership roles in the church, but who fell away (2 Timothy 4:10). John tells us they left because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19), meaning they were not really saved. These are somewhat isolated examples, but 2 Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of ‘the apostasy’ of the last days. There will come a time when there is a mass defection from the faith. I believe this speaks of people in the church that we would identify as believers, maybe even strong believers, because you can’t fall away from the truth unless you first have the truth. Some will fall away completely, while others will be seduced by a different gospel. I think we’re seeing this happen in America today. 1

I think one reason people fall away is because they have a second-hand faith. They believe in the doctrines of the Bible, and they say they believe in Jesus, but they don’t really trust in Him. They think they are saved because they agree with what the Bible says, but God hasn’t given them new birth. They don’t have the internal Witness, the Holy Spirit, who convicts of sin and helps them become more like Christ. They’ve heard or read inspiring stories of other people’s faith, but they haven’t stepped out in trusting obedience to the Lord and seen Him work in their lives. Then, when someone comes up with a convincing-sounding argument, or when difficulties arise, they easily fall away. Their faith is built on sand, not the Rock.

Do you believe in Jesus only because you’ve been taught to? Do you have a second-hand faith? Or have you stepped out in obedient faith and seen God prove Himself to be true?

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, supply with your faith virtue, with virtue knowledge, with knowledge self-control, with self-control perseverance, with perseverance godliness, with godliness brotherly affection, and with brotherly affection love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the full true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his sins of the past. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make sure of your calling and election, for if you do these things you will not ever stumble; for so an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.

– 1 Peter 1:5-11 (VW)

Notes:

  1. I don’t believe this has anything to do with losing salvation. Salvation cannot be truly lost if you have it. But there are many in the church who think because they did this or that at some time in their lives they are saved. Although repentance and faith are necessary prerequisites, salvation is not based on something we do. It is entirely the work of God, and what He does, He carries on to completion.

I See Dead People

In the movie The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis’ character meets a boy who is ‘gifted’ with the ability to see ghosts – dead people. But these dead people don’t realize they are dead. They go on with their ‘lives’, moving around their old haunts, talking to those they knew… all in ignorance of their condition, until they suddenly realize what has happened. The movie is fiction, but the concept is real on a different level.

I see dead people every day. I pass them on the highway. I work with them. I talk with them. But they don’t realize they’re dead. They see the stars in the night sky, they hear the birds sing, and the feel the wind on their face. They talk among themselves. They have physical life in them, but they’re dead all the same.

They are cut off from the living God because of their sin.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

– Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)

Do you see dead people, too? …or are you dead yourself – dead in your sins? A dead person is not aware that he is dead. He has no idea that his sins have separated him from God. He thinks he is okay and sin is okay. But a living person is aware that he is alive. He remembers the time when God forgave his sins in Christ and gave him new birth. He perceives the life of God in him. It is not just a doctrine he believes, but God actively assures him of it through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16, 1 John 4:13, 5:10). And he seeks to avoid being in that sinful state he was in before because he values his new relationship with God.

Has God given you new life in His Son? Do you have the internal Witness?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

– John 3:16 (KJV)

Cerebro Consciousness Argument

(The following is another approach to my argument for the necessity of the human spirit given in More Than Matter, and Independently Conscious.

Imagine you are an X-Man like Charles Xavier, but with much more extreme capabilities. You also have a Cerebro-like machine that allows you to see every human being in the world and know everything there is to know about them. With your superhuman powers, you look at Cerebro’s screen and see billions of human beings at once in infinite detail. You know each person’s exact physical makeup. You can see their every neuron firing. And you fully comprehend what you see.

You also know virtually every human being on the screen is self-aware. Each has an independent conscious that allows them to experience the world around them from their own unique perspective. Virtually every one of those billions of bodies is not yours, but you could in theory experience reality through any one of them, because they are all capable of consciousness – because they are conscious. However, one of those bodies is yours, and you experience the world through it for the lifetime of that body. What is it about your particular body that allows you to perceive reality through it and no other?

You see that the neural activity in your brain is different from, say, Body A. It is also different from Body B, and different from all other the bodies. But the same thing can be said of Body A: It is also different from Body B, Body C, and all other bodies. Every body has this thing in common: they all have neural activity that is different from each other, yet not in any fundamentally unique way. This is to be expected, as each brain is thinking different things and working in different ways. But what a brain is thinking or doing has nothing to do with which body you are self-aware through or which body your neighbor is self-aware through. Neural activity differences can explain various mental processes going on in different brains, but they don’t explain why your self-awareness is tied to your particular body. If you could somehow force Body B’s neural connections and activity to exactly match yours, you wouldn’t suddenly start perceiving reality through both bodies!

Your self-awareness remains bound to your body for as long as your body lives. It does not change, even though the material that makes up your body changes over time. Most of the atoms and molecules that make up your body as a newborn child are gone when you reach old age. Your neural connections also change as you learn and age – your brain processes information differently over time. The firing of your neurons also constantly varies. You are different than you were as a child, or even a day ago. But your awareness stays the same. It doesn’t occasionally leave your body and maybe move to someone else’s.

If you believe the physical universe is all there is, can you give any scientific reason for why you are aware through your particular body, other than pulling groundless theories out of the air?

How can you prove that your particular consciousness is a product of neural activity, and not (at least to some degree) the other way around. I’m not talking about mentally processing information such as doing a math problem in your head, remembering something from the past, telling a story, and so on. A brain can theoretically do these things without requiring self-awareness – just like a computer. But self-awareness goes beyond this. How do you explain your personal self-awareness, as distinct from others’ self-awareness, purely as the result of physical processes?

I’m not asking for proof. There are many things that we can’t prove because of the limitations of time, money, energy, etc. But if the only things that are true are things that can be proven scientifically, then there must be a scientific way to prove your self-awareness is purely a physical phenomenon.

I do not think self-awareness is a purely physical phenomenon. I believe it is due to the interaction of body and spirit. Without a spirit, you would be no more self-aware through your body than you are self-aware through anyone else’s body.

The reason we are self-aware is a very important thing to find out, because if consciousness requires more than what is physical, the whole foundation of Godless scientific materialism falls apart.

Knowing God Through The Psalms

The path to greater faith is to know God better, for how can you trust someone you don’t know, and how can you trust someone more if you don’t know him more?

For the last 9 years I’ve kept a journal of my Bible readings. I keep track of each date, passage, and thing I’ve discovered. My primary focus is to know God better, so when I find something in my reading that directly or indirectly describes who God is, what He does, why He does it, to whom He does it, and so on, I write it down so I can remember for the benefit of my relationship with Him.

Psalm 18 is one of those psalms that contains much of who God is and what He does. It begins with David saying, “I love You”, and then continues with his reasons why. Here’s what the first verse tells me about my God…

He is to be served. David, the king of Israel willingly served God. But Yahweh is a kind and loving master who does more for us than we can do for Him, as the rest of the psalm shows. He is worthy to be served…

God saves us from our enemies. This is not to say that we will not be persecuted, but that we can trust that He will bring us through those trials. David was persecuted by Saul, but God delivered him. God delivers us from Satan, our enemy.

God is our strength. He doesn’t just give us strength – He is our strength. Rather than taking matters into his own hands, David relied on God for deliverance. He proved God through trust, and God came through. Ultimately, this is also the experience of those who also trust in God.

What else does this psalm tell you about God?

God Is Good

God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

– Genesis 1:31a

Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

– Acts 14:17

Paul said that everyone can see God’s power and deity through what He has created (Romans 1:20). I believe you can also add God’s goodness to that. What are some of the practical, everyday things you see and experience that let you know that God is good?

For myself I see incredible beauty in what God has created, from the galaxies down to the sub-microscopic details. But more than that, I see that God gave us the capacity to enjoy what He has created, to get pleasure from these things.

Imagine a world in which we can see, but not in color, where we can eat, but it all tastes bland or awful, and where we can hear, but we can’t appreciate vibrations in the air as music and singing. God could have made the world that way if He wanted to. We would have to eat to survive, but we would avoid it otherwise. I’m so thankful that God made the world enjoyable. It tells me that God is a good, loving God.

Whenever I eat a cherry, I marvel as I think about how different it is from foods we make on assembly lines. There’s no comparison between our candy and God’s. A cherry looks and tastes better, and is better for you. There’s no wrapper to throw away (the skin is edible), and the throw-away part (the pit) is good to toss since it can grown into a cherry tree. A cherry is incredibly complex, and yet God makes trillions of them every year with no effort at all, along with strawberries, bananas, kiwis, etc. … yes, and even okra :P.

I believe that God has the wisdom and power to created the world instantly, in less than nano-second, but I think He took time to make it beautiful and enjoyable, a thing of glory, a piece of art.

And all this in a world affected by the curse. I can’t image what things were like before the fall, of what the new heavens and new earth will be like.

Praying For Patience

Take thy share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

– 2 Timothy 2:3 (JND)

It is not our purpose to seek out suffering, but neither is it to avoid it.

It is jokingly said that one thing you should not pray for is patience, because if you do, God is going to send all sorts of calamity to try what little patience you do have. However, patience is a virtue that we need to have. It is a fruit of the Spirit. Patience is a good, godly thing, and the only way to acquire it is to have it tried. To say, even jokingly, that you should not pray for patience focuses on the suffering rather than the goal. It cheats you out of Christ-likeness.

It is good to pray for patience, for that leads us to a greater to our Master. To live as a Christian means we will suffer for Christ, and to suffer for Christ is to know Him better. Does our desire to avoid suffering exceed our desire to know Christ?

…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, …

– Philippians 3:10 (JND)