Let’s talk about righteousness. Should we Christians be keeping the Law to avoid guilt? Aren’t we supposed to be righteous? Shouldn’t Christians be better than other folks? (The expectations are certainly out there, and of course, so is the hypocrisy.) Paul mentions circumcision in the context of being righteous, how does THAT apply to us?
When Paul speaks about circumcision, he is referring to keeping the law, which he says has no real value under grace. To those of us who feel that we are somehow more worthy, or more satisfied because we keep the rules, he reminds us that “a little yeast leavens the whole loaf.” I used to think that obviously meant a little sin contaminated the whole body, but I think that if you look closer, it may mean something else. Something righteous folks need to keep in mind…
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast [leavens] works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:6-9 NIV)
The Yeast of the Law
In the early church, many of the recently converted Hebrew Christians felt like Gentile believers from outside the Jewish faith should have to follow the law (like circumcision). In the Jewish system, following the law was so ingrained into their lifestyle that it became pervasive. Folks like the Pharisees had already replaced God’s love with the law, and when they became Christians they felt like everyone else should, too.
Cultures who worship following the rules in order to gain salvation elevate punishment over compassion, and legalism over love. In Romans 4:13, Paul reminded them, “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” Paul did not nullify the law, but said in Romans 6:1 that right living should be a result of salvation, not the author of it. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!”
Paul warned the Galatians against replacing grace with deadly, soul-killing legalism. Keeping the law is not the end game, even though most religion is focused on that. Tell me, if YOU were the devil, wouldn’t you rather have everyone equating God to keeping rules rather than loving each other? Wouldn’t you rather involve people in self-righteousness and recrimination rather than Grace?
The Yeast of Offenses
We live in a culture that selfishly grasps at offenses, that holds others in judgment for things they haven’t even done; if I think you’ve offended me, then you have. If I feel offended, then I’m right no matter what. Holding onto wrongs real and imagined, present or past, is just another expression of legalism. It nullifies forgiveness and grace by wallowing in feelings and perceived wrongs. Just like yeast, a little bit of offense goes a long way.
Paul says that keeping the law can NOT provide our salvation. Legalism doesn’t save. He does say, however that our only hope of attaining the righteousness required by the law is a result of being saved. Here in Galatians he unpacks the notion that Christ died so that we can express faith in love, not so we can get caught in the chains of legalism and pompous self-righteousness. It is so easy to lose sight of that.
We get caught up in how right we are, or who we are better than, and we get swollen with the pride of self-sufficiency. And I don’t think it will be a popular thing to say, but I’ll say it: it works on both sides of the aisle. It contaminates red and blue, black and white, and both those who are insulting as well as those who have been insulted.
The Yeast of These
When I look at the tensions dividing America today, I see pompous self-righteousness among bullies who marginalize and belittle others. There is an assumption of superiority that casts insults and refuses to acknowledge real pain borne by wounded parties. It is easy to cast blame on self-righteous bullies.
But you know, Satan wants the leaven to impact the entire loaf. The yeast permeates ALL of the dough. So when I look at wounded and offended people, I see the supremacy of feelings over facts, the absence of forgiveness, and the self-righteousness of judgment: “You wounded me, so you are wrong. I must cloak myself in offense. Forgiveness will never happen. I will always remember, and you owe me.”
The whole loaf is tainted and the flour will continue rising until doomsday unless the accusing parties somehow find the means to forgive, to reconcile, and to live differently. Paul says the law provides no means to do that. Only forgiveness and grace will move us to a better place. So, forgive people. Exercise the raging power of grace!
Paul points out that (KJV) “a little leaven leavens the whole loaf.” Even a little bit of yeast can influence a whole batch of dough, making it an entirely different type of bread. In the Jewish world, where unleavened bread was the staple, a little yeast ruined the whole batch, making it puffed-up and unsuitable. Conclusion? Eat the bread of life. Don’t be self-rising flour.
A Little Bit Goes a Long Way
Paul reminded legalists who keep the rules the most
That leavened bread resulted in a different kind of toast.
He said that yeast would permeate the dough with all its power,
And puffed-up bread resulted from contaminated flour.
Run the race with love, and don’t let legalism in–
Claiming to be righteous is another kind of sin!
Just obey the truth, and keep the law within its place:
The path to righteousness is found not in the law, but Grace.
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