A Little Leaven
“You were making splendid progress; who put you off the course you had set for the truth? That sort of “persuasion” does not come from the one who is calling you. Alas, it takes only a little leaven to affect the whole lump!” Galatians 5:7-10 JB Phillips
If you’ve been saved five minutes, you’ve probably heard some grouchy pastor tell their congregation that a little leaven affects the whole lump. They point to these verses with long shaky fingers and exclaim that you were once doing so well, but now you’ve sinned and fallen short of God’s favor. This is usually when they start in on how maybe you’ve backslidden and you need to repent.
Sometimes they even get creative and use the ol’ poop in the brownie analogy. They equate your life as a brownie that has been baked with just a little poop cooked in. “Would you eat it if there was only a little poop in the whole batch?”
Although this isn’t untrue, a little leaven does, in fact, affect the whole lump of dough, and even a little sin in your life will, in fact, affect your whole life. These aren’t negotiable concepts. However, it’s always good to look at ALL of scripture rather than picking a few pet verses and basing entire theologies on them.
In all my years in the church, I’ve never heard this particular selection of scripture taught in its full and glorious context. Paul is not talking about personal sin here. He’s not talking about getting yourself back on track with the Lord and following the straight and narrow path (which is always taught by holding the Bible sideways and telling congregants that the straight and narrow path is that wide).
There’s a reason many church leaders aren’t teaching these verses in context. It’s because Paul is talking about the people who were once making progress, but they’d allowed the law and religiosity to infringe upon their fun in Christ! It’s possible that when it comes to some church leaders, Paul is talking about them!
The point I’m making here is that Galatians 5 is not talking about sinning or backsliding or walking the straight and narrow. Paul is talking about stepping back into the law from your place in grace to try and save yourself.
The very beginning of chapter 5 says this: “Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery.”
What Paul is trying to make clear to the Galatians here is that they had once accepted and lived in the glory of grace, but something happened and they went back to the law to try and work out their salvation. “If you try to be justified by the Law you automatically cut yourself off from the power of Christ, you put yourself outside the range of his grace (Galatians 5:6).” In the middle of that passage, Paul is warning about allowing themselves to be circumcised (ouch!). The Galatians had gone back to the law in order to show their salvation.
Paul is telling them that if they try to achieve their justification through the law, they actually cut themselves off from Christ and His grace!
It’s all about Grace!
Romans 8 makes this grace clear: “The Law never succeeded in producing righteousness—the failure was always the weakness of human nature. But God has met this by sending his own Son Jesus Christ to live in that human nature which causes the trouble. And, while Christ was actually taking upon himself the sins of men, God condemned that sinful nature. So that we are able to meet the Law’s requirements, so long as we are living no longer by the dictates of our sinful nature, but in obedience to the promptings of the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4 JB Phillips).”
While the law made sin abound (Romans 6), Jesus, Mr. Grace, came and set us free from the power of the sinful nature! We are free from that old sinful nature. Romans 6 lays it all out clearly. Paul teaches that we have died with Christ and were raised up without a sinful nature!
“Have you forgotten that all of us who were baptised into Jesus Christ were, by that very action, sharing in his death? We were dead and buried with him in baptism, so that just as he was raised from the dead by that splendid Revelation of the Father’s power so we too might rise to life on a new plane altogether. If we have, as it were, shared his death, let us rise and live our new lives with him! Let us never forget that our old selves died with him on the cross that the tyranny of sin over us might be broken—for a dead man can safely be said to be immune to the power of sin. (Romans 6).
This is not to say that you’ll never sin. This is to say that you no longer have to struggle with sin any longer. By all means, if you find yourself doing something that’s not quite right, don’t stick around there! What Paul is saying is that we were baptised into Jesus’ death and since we died with Him, we can no longer be tormented by the power of sin–“A dead man can safely be said to be immune to the power of sin.”
You are NOT a sinner. You were once a sinner. But you were saved by grace. Your identity is now a saint!
Stop telling people that you are a sinner saved by grace.
Tell people that you were saved by grace and you’ve become a co-crucified and co-resurrected lover of Jesus!
You’re identity is a lover of God.
Your identity is a friend of Jesus.
Your identity is not a sinner or someone who has to struggle with sin.
Your sinful nature was put to death. You’re a new person. In fact, in his book Mystical Union John Crowder argues that we are actually no longer us. We’ve been consumed by Jesus. “Christ has replaced you,” Crowder writes. “As a new creation, we have been crucified and replaced.” He says also that “[God] saved you so you could be dead and He could work through you…” “I no longer have an independent self that is capable of pleasing God. It is no longer I but Christ (Mystical Union, location 627 & 636 Kindle).”
Paul, in Galatians 5, is pleading with the Galatians to stop trying to please God through the law. It’s not going to work. Jesus removed sin by becoming the requirement of the law for you. Your faith didn’t even save you. Jesus saved you! All you need to do is sit back and relax and accept this free and glorious gift of eternal life with Him. This isn’t to say that you don’t act like a Christian. Be generous, smile, love people, stay out of the whore houses…be Christ-like! However, you’re not doing or not doing anything to work out your salvation or pleasing God. You please God by being you! You please God in your worship! There is nothing you can do in order to please Him anymore!
Here’s a secret: God was in love with you, enamored by you, even when you were still a worm of a sinner! (Romans 5:8).
He’s so happy with you! Jesus was anointed with the oil of gladness (Hebrews 1:9). Our God is a happy-go-lucky God!
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