The Yeast of the Pharisees

As part of my recent Christian walk, I have done much research into mainstream Christianity’s attitude towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) people. Some of the fruit of my research has, of course, appeared in these pages. Much of my reading concerns the ‘clobber passages’ – the six main Scripture passages which are usually used by religious people to justify their doctrines, if not their emotional attitudes, towards LGBTQ people. The Bible is used supposedly as the Scriptural basis for these doctrines.

But to me this represents a fundamental flaw in this whole thing about reasoning from the Bible when it comes to setting today’s ‘standards’, as it were.

You see, the Bible was never intended to be a book of rules. The Law brings death; the Spirit brings life. The very fact that we argue about what’s right and wrong, what the original writers intended, the differences in culture between people 2,000 years ago and now, the differences in understanding – all these things – illustrates precisely why the Bible should not be seen as a book of rules.

This is one of the main reasons why God declares in Jer 31:33 that “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” – and not on tablets of stone. Because He knew that the readers of His Word, right down the centuries and millennia, would all be from unimaginably different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities….because of all this, He wrote it never intending that we should follow it as a set of rules to be followed to the letter. It is completely wrong to not only try to do this, but indeed to want to do this.

The ‘requirement’ to follow rules in order to be acceptable to God is part of what Jesus referred to as the ‘Yeast of the Pharisees’. In this day, the Yeast is just as strongly entrenched – worked through the whole batch of dough, if you will – as ever. The Yeast of the Pharisees is the unwritten, unspoken expectation in religious groups (of all kinds, not just Christians) that the faith’s adherents will not only believe the same thing but also follow the same rules. But you see rules never give anyone a single scrap of righteousness. In fact, to try to make ourselves pure in God’s sight by any other method than by simply accepting the complete sufficiency of the Cross, is to make out as if we don’t need the Cross at all. You can’t have it both ways. You either follow the rules – which will get you nowhere – or you accept and embrace the Cross. This is fundamental to the Christian faith, and is perhaps the main reasons why many ‘religious’ people appear to fail. They’re just not getting it.

And to be honest, many, many believers still just haven’t ‘got’ it in that way. Their need to conform to those around them, probably stemming from a fear of rejection, is what becomes for them the ‘Yeast of the Pharisees’, which has worked its way through their part of the dough as well.  This is why it is so insidious and why Jesus warned against it so strongly. The thing is that Jesus will no doubt release people into more and more freedom as their lives go on. But in the meantime the problem is that these rules are still applied to others when folks have no business doing this. Each of us stands on our own relationship with Christ, not on someone else’s, and in the end it’s our own walk with Him that matters, not on pleasing other humans by adopting their standards, which, let’s face it, can never really be met anyway no matter how hard we try.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand why it is important to point out what the original Bible writers meant in their context. It is important to grasp intellectually, also to help those who still feel they need the justification of Scripture to support their viewpoint. But at the end of the day, it’s all about Grace. Amazing Grace, full and free! And until the believer is set free, in his heart, from the need to follow the requirements of all these people, who have so many silly little rules and expectations, he will never be free to follow Christ in fulness, to let the Spirit of God work the changes in his heart that He wants to make.

However, despite this, I have recently come to realise that many of the Pharisees in the Church actually are believing Christians. They know the Lord, they have the fulness of the Spirit and they are anointed in their ministries. God loves and accepts them. In some ways I don’t get this, but of course Jesus works with us as we are and He looks on the heart. He works in and through even the Pharisees in the Church because He knows what our heart’s inclination is. I think that usually these desires to conform, to follow the ‘rules’, is actually from a genuine desire to please God, and to not let anything stand in between us and Him.

But it’s such hard work to try to follow the Rules…which is why Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 (Message), “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG translation)

The other thing is, I am actually not questioning the salvation of the people who live by the Rules. That’s not at issue; I personally believe that the majority of humanity will be saved. What is at issue is the quality of life for these people here in this life. A great preacher I used to listen to virtually every week once said, ‘It’s not Pie in the Sky When You Die, it’s Meat on a Plate while you Wait!’. Freedom of the kind I am talking about is for this life. Jesus came to give us life in all its fulness – here and now. There’s no longer any need to be under condemnation, guilt, poverty, slavery, oppression, addiction, sickness or anything else like that – including legalistic religion. Jesus came to set us free from all that.

We were made to be free. Free to follow Him in the freedom that He bought. Let’s learn to let go of Man’s requirements and instead follow His – ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

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