THE DANGER OF LEAVEN

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 old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  (II Corinthians 5:6-8)

Paul in this passage is addressing another sin which was among the church at Corinth — sexual immorality.  Paul says to the Corinthians that they must not ignore the sin of the man who had taken his father’s wife.  He says, “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (5:5).  These are strong words, but they point out the seriousness of unrepentant sin.  Paul is calling for loving but serious discipline in order that the man may see the danger of sin, repent and be spared the judgment of God.

Then Paul warns about the danger of leaven — even a little of it.  He is saying that a “little” sin that slips in the loaf of our lives can destroy us — not to final damnation, but to a life full of painful consequences.  He makes it clear that sin is destructive and it affects the whole of our lives and those around us — even our church family.

We are clearly commanded to “cleanse out the old leaven,” which is characterized by malice and evil.  I understand this as the remnant of our old sinful nature — those sins that creep back into our lives, usually slowly, which we consciously or unconsciously  allow to overtake us.

From my experience in life and ministry, I have observed that we all have character flaws which are the result of the Fall.  We believe in total depravity, that is the whole of our being has been deeply affected  by our sinful nature which we call “original sin.”  This means we all have character faults, deeply imbedded, latent tendencies toward particular sins.

The possible list of such tendencies in one’s life is enormous.  There can be such faults as:  alcoholism, sexual addictions (demonstrated by the use of pornography, homosexuality, immoral behaviors of all kinds), anger, pride, selfishness and “the works of the flesh” found in Galatians 5:19-21.

What is Paul telling us here?  “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump.”  He goes on to say to believers, “You really are unleavened.  For Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.”  In other words we have been cleansed through the atoning work of Jesus Christ.  God has removed the leaven, the old sinful nature from us.

The problem is that we allow some of this leaven to creep back into our lives.  Paul says, “Cleanse it out,”  get rid of it, don’t allow it, crucify it.  What is the leaven that has crept back into your life?  I have identified some of mine.  Now I have to deal with it.

Here is what I am learning about cleansing out the old leaven.  First, I have to consciously identify it and make the choice to remove it.  But there is more to it:

To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

It takes more than this first step, to identify the sins and to make the personal choice (someone else cannot make the choice for you) to remove it.  This, however, must be the first step — a decisive decision.

But notice what comes next.  We have to be “renewed in the spirit of our minds.”  What does this mean?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 1:1-2)

Let’s work this out.  I am to present my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.  Paul is dealing with the physical here.  There is to be a definite sacrifice.  I have to put something to death.  This is what is meant by putting off the old self.  I have to sacrifice those things that may bring pleasure to me but are sinful none the less.  Yes, sacrifice them.  Put them to death.  And I do this as an act of worship, which is my spiritual worship to God.  I put it on the altar.  I give it to God.

But now notice that this alone will never bring true change in my behaviors.  I will always be tempted to go back to it, to steal what I have offered to God and to reclaim it for myself.

So there must be more.  The middle step in the process of cleaning the unleaven in my life is to have my mind renewed.  A renewed mind gives me the desire and the framework to discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.   Without a renewed mind, my putting off, cleansing the leaven won’t last.  You see, the flesh may be willing but the spirit is weak — extremely weak!  I will revert.  My determination will not last.  It can’t unless I have a change of mind, a new belief from which I will determine my behaviors.  I simply don’t make a decision to remove the leaven but I have a newly developed belief because my mind has been renewed.

But there is one more important step in the removal of the leaven — I must “put on the new self, which is created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  I chose to put off the old, be renewed in my mind, and now I must substitute something that will replace what I have put off.  Removing the unleaven is not complete until I do all three of these things.

What is the new self?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:15-18)

We are to look carefully in order not to be conformed to this world.  We have to focus on what is wise for us.  We must beware because the days are evil and are getting more evil each day.  Now comes the renewal part.  We must understand what the will of the Lord is.

Paul then gives an illustration, “Do not get drunk with wine.”  He says it is “debauchery” which is the excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.  According to some, the synonyms  include — degeneracy, corruption, vice, depravity.  He says that is what drunkenness is.

So he says, put it off, remove it, don’t do it — it is unwise, destructive, corrupting.  Then we get the words, instead ‘be filled with the Spirit.”  We are not only to put the Spirit on, but to be filled with the Spirit, which means permit the Spirit of God to dominate you, control you.  The result of the filling of the Spirit is worship, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with all your (renewed) heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:20-21).  What we put on it the Spirit of God.  And when we are filled by the Spirit, we will begin to see the fruit of the Spirit developing abundantly in our lives — love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  When we put on the Spirit and are filled with the Spirit, look at what we get — blessings beyond imagination!

Now we can celebrate the festival, to use Paul’s words, “Let us celebrate the festival not with old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  Obviously Paul has in mind the Passover Feast which commemorated the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery and bondage in Egypt.  Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Now we can celebrate the festival with unleavened bread — sincerity and truth.

Let me summarize.  1)  I have chosen to remove the unleaven of a particular sin or sins, to put off the old self.  2)  I have been renewed in my mind.  God has revealed the subtle dangers of these sins to me, some of which I have been enslaved to for many years.  3)  I have chosen to put on the new life in the Spirit.  I desire to substitute meditation, worship and service in the place of these sins.  In my case I have committed to write down the lessons God has been teaching me and to share them with others.  I can celebrate the festival in true worship and service for my King.

What freedom!  What relief!  I feel again that I am a new creature in Christ.  I have regained my first love which was lost for a season.  Now I am able to be used more effectively in whatever ministry God leads me to next!

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