A Little Leaven

By Dr. Bert Bauman

For we in the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth anything, but faith working through love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him who calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. (Galatians 5:5-9)

The Apostle Paul had a burden on his heart. His great concern was that the Gospel of Jesus Christ be preserved pure for future generations. As he warns in his letter to the Galatians, even just a little leaven leavens the whole lump. This leaven to which Paul refers is the leaven of works. When it is mixed with the Gospel it acts just as yeast does — starting very subtly, invisibly permeating the entire lump of dough. A Gospel so leavened has been perverted from Good News to Bad News.

This leaven of works — of self-attainment before the Lord — comes in various forms, but always amounts to the same thing, our "old man" seeking to boast before God about something. We try to gain merit before God, to be heard, or to he accepted by him on the basis of something we do in the physical — rather than coming before God by faith, on the basis he alone has prepared for us: the blood of Jesus Christ.

Faith itself has become leavened in the Church today, with the result that many Christians display an attitude that boasts: "I have believed, and therefore I am saved." This may seem to be a harmless boast. but declaring our salvation to be a result of our believing is an adulteration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ ... "by grace are ye saved." It is not by faith but by grace that we are saved, through Jesus Christ. Faith is simply an attitude of rest in what God has already freely given. Through the death of his son, Jesus Christ, we receive life. This life of God is given by grace and received by faith. It is not of works, lest any man should boast" — no, not even the work of faith. Yet by coming to a place where we pride ourselves in the mere fact of our faith, we allow ourselves to feel superior to others: we, at least, have believed, while those others, presumably, do not have enough sense to do the same. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Yoke of Bondage

Paul saw this leavening process at work in the church at Galatia. "Stand fast," he admonished them, "in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." This yoke of bondage consists of mixing Old Testament works of law with faith — and it destroys the efficacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For I testify again to every, man that if he is circumcised he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ has become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law: you have fallen from grace."

The only way we can fall from grace in the New Testament is by trying to add something to what God has already done. This is not what we usually hear preached, but it is nonetheless what Paul taught. Many Christians believe that they fall from grace if they fall into sin, but this is not supported by New Testament teaching. Paul says that if, by your works, you try to add to or improve on your righteousness before God, then you have fallen from grace. Grace has, in such case, become of no effect to you. You have ceased resting in what God has done.

We must be very careful not to leaven the new with the old when we take something from the Old Testament and apply it to ourselves under the New Testament. For example, circumcision was clearly commanded in the Old Testament, therefore some early believers insisted that circumcision was a prerequisite to becoming a Christian: you must become a Jew before you can become a Christian. Not so, argued Paul: "It is by grace you are saved." lie would not allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be compromised. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

"Afflict Your Souls"

Fasting, too, is a practice taken from the Old Testament which is often interpreted to be a command for New Testament Christians. However, in only one place in the Pentateuch can fasting be inferred by way of command — and then only obliquely. The words fast and fasting do not appear in verb or noun form in any of the first five books of the Bible. In Lev. 16:29 the Lord gives Moses instructions that on the Day of Atonement "Ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all."

"Afflict your souls" is a rather ambiguous term, somewhat open to speculation, The Jews observed this command by not eating on the Day of Atonement, but they also did other things besides not eating. For example, they may have worn sackcloth, as they often did on other occasions of mourning — for that is what the Day of Atonement was: a time of mourning for their sins by abusing themselves, not enjoying themselves, not doing their own pleasure.

I am not convinced that fasting was indeed a command given in the Law. However, all the Law —implied or otherwise — is fulfilled, according to Paul, in this: that you love your neighbor as yourself. This is the summation of all that God is after, and the fulfillment of every Old Testament command.

That which is brought over into the New Testament from the Old can create a hybrid of unscriptural and contradictory doctrine: saved by grace through law, or earning grace through works. "Free lunch!" we entice. "Please pay when served." Christianity, instead of being a blessing and a joy, becomes a burden and a curse—proclaiming a confusing mixture of "truth," of questionable "good" news — and all for lack of heeding the Apostle Paul’s simple warning, "a little leaven leavens the whole lump."

"Why Do Ye . . . Fast Not?"

Proponents of New Testament fasting often point to Matthew 9:14 as substantiation for their teaching. Jesus was asked why John’s disciples fast while he and his own disciples did not. Jesus’ reply was to ask, while the Bridegroom is with them, how can they fast, how can they mourn? But the time for mourning is when the Bridegroom is taken away. And certainly, during that bleak time after the crucifixion, when the high hopes of the disciples were dashed to the ground by the seeming defeat of their Lord; certainly this time was, if not a time of fasting, unarguably a time of mourning.

But we as Spirit-filled Christians know in a very real sense how much better it is that Jesus, as he declared to his disciples, "go away". For in going away, he came again, and is living today not only with a few, but in many. We have his promise that he will never leave us, that he will be with us even to the end of the age.

There is, therefore, no need for us to fast as such, no reason for us to mourn because Jesus is with us still — and we have no reason to abuse ourselves for our sins, because Christ has died for them. He has taken the full penalty for our sins upon himself. He has done our mourning for us. Over and over again we are admonished to delight ourselves in the Lord, "rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!" Jesus has done it all . . . we can add nothing. He is our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification and our redemption. Praise the Lord!

New Wine, Old Wineskins

That’s the Good News of Jesus Christ. But a little leaven leavens the whole lump. We cannot add the old to the new without destroying the new. In Matthew 9:16-17 Jesus illustrates this point vividly. In the Greek text this verse begins with a conjunction which may be translated "on the other hand. So, on the other hand, Jesus declares, you don’t put a new patch on an old garment, or put new wine into old wineskins. If you do, the result is disastrous. It is not only not helpful, it is destructive. Do not mix the old with the new.

Remember that Jesus gave this illustration in response to the question about fasting. We must conclude therefore that fasting in the New Testament sense must not he done in the same way — and most certainly not for the same reasons — as Old Testament fasting.

The Old Testament people of God believed fasting would help ensure that their words were heard on high. There is no supporting scripture for this practice in the New Testament, or for that matter in the Old Testament either. In fact in the Old Testament, God said this practice was not the way to have your voice heard on high. In Isaiah 58 he asks: "Do I have pleasure in the fact that you abuse your souls, that you afflict your souls, torment your bodies? Do I take pleasure in that? No! That is not the fast that I choose. The fast I choose is that you love your neighbors as yourselves".

It is astonishing to think of the mentality we sometimes ascribe to God: that he, a loving Father, would delight in the torment of his children. These kinds of sacrifices are the sort exacted by pagan gods from their subjects. To think that God enjoys having his children inflict themselves with pain to appease him — or worse still, to get his attention — is a blasphemy. It is wholly unjustifiable in the light of the revelation of himself in His son Jesus Christ. No, this is not the fast God chooses.

There is a New Testament fast, a fast that God approves of, but it is a fast that must be practiced in the light of the New Testament message. We must not leaven the New Testament with Old Testament bias. The New Covenant of grace and the revelation through Jesus Christ of Gods love for us are today’s new wine. We must not leaven the Gospel.

To Whom is Jesus Speaking?

Much of the confusion that arises from certain instructions and proclamations of Christ in the New Testament can be avoided by remembering that he was not addressing himself to New Testament Christians, but rather to the people of God of that day — as he himself said, "I am not sent but to the children of the house of Israel." Any application of these teachings by Christians should be approached in the understanding of New Testament teaching after the cross — not before it. Remember, the death of Jesus on the cross ushered in a New Covenant. The relationship between God and man has been utterly and eternally altered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament prefigured many things which were to come in the New Testament. Old Testament people and believers served as examples to us upon whom the end of the age has come. All Old Testament types, pictures and figures point to a consummate Reality which we know to be Jesus Christ, alive and living in the midst of a people who walk by faith in a united relationship with God. When Jesus walked the earth, this reality was still a future event; when he spoke, he addressed himself to the customs, practices and abuses of that particular day. When we study his teachings we must learn the principles of what he was saying to a literal Old Testament people, and apply the principles to our lives in the light of New Testament revelation.

For example, in Matthew 5:23 he said, "when you bring your gifts to the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go and be reconciled to your brother. Then come and present your gift at the altar". Is he telling us to bring gifts to a literal altar? Of course not, New Testament Christians have no literal altar upon which to present gifts. New Testament Christians are the temple of God. At the time of Jesus, however, it was common practice to offer gifts at the altar of the temple, so the words of Jesus were clearly understandable to the people of that day. The obvious principle is, if you are at odds with someone, first be reconciled and then come before God in a right spirit. Then come with your gifts. To interpret this teaching to mean that we must bring gifts to a literal altar would do violence to the spirit of what Jesus was trying to convey.

By the same token, when he said, ‘‘When you fast", we must not infer that he teaches us to literally abstain from food. We must remember that his teachings were to a people who lived within the dictates of Old Testament Law and practices to which we died when he was crucified. If we, as New Testament Christians, attempt a literal practice of the teachings of Jesus to Israel, we, like the foolish Galatians, will ultimately put ourselves back under the bondage of the Law from which we are set free. Our faith will be hindered, and we will have fallen from grace.

Called To Liberty

"For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty." Paul writes in Galatians 5;13, "Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself".

We find it delightful to bask in the grace of God and enjoy our liberty in the Lord, but it is easy to use our liberty for license, to fulfill fleshly desires. God has wrought for us a wonderful salvation by grace to which we can add nothing, and upon which we cannot improve. Yet there are two sides to this salvation: that which theologians call the subjective and objective sides of the Gospel. First of all, there is that which God has given and declared, and secondly, there is that in which we walk. We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The grace of God comes to us as a free gift, but we are warned to watch how we walk in this grace. We must not use grace as an excuse for fleshly conduct — for living for the pleasures of our worldly senses.

The Bible tells us that we have three enemies in our sojourn through this life. The World, the Flesh and the Devil. They work together as an unholy trinity, warring against the soul in an attempt to destroy Christian men and women. James tells us in Chapter 4, verse 4 that the friendship of the world is the enemy of God. If we align ourselves with worldly philosophies and principles we have gone over to the enemy and have become, in effect, an enemy to God. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world," advises the Apostle John, ‘‘If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

Our Flesh, is our closest enemy — it’s right with us at all times — we can always feel it. We find it much easier to believe the testimony of our feelings than the testimony of the Word of God — quick to despair when our feelings aren’t what we think they should be. Our flesh constantly cries out to be pampered, nursed, nourished and catered to. Paul lists the works of the flesh in Gal 5:19-21, but offers us this hope in verse 16: ‘‘Walk in the spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.’’ 

God’s Chosen Fast

True fasting is to afflict the soul by putting the body, its passions and appetites under subjection for a constructive purpose. This is Gods chosen fast. It is not to afflict us, but to benefit us: for as we fast from the flesh, we walk after the Spirit, denying ourselves, as Jesus says, and following after him. This New Testament fast is much more difficult than merely going without food. All of hell is behind this flesh of ours, trying to entice us away from spiritual pursuits. All this world is a siren, calling to us, distracting us to turn from righteous endeavors.

The chosen fast of God, then, is one which denies our flesh in much more than a strictly literal sense — that of abstaining from food. Fasting for purposes of having our voice heard on high, giving weight to our prayers or forcing God into answering our petitions — just as any work of the Law — avails nothing. The New Testament walk is based solely upon faith in Jesus, resting in his completed work on Calvary, asking in his name, believing his word. Whatever we ask in the name of Jesus, God says he hears. The Bible tells us all things are possible for him who believes. It does not say all things are possible for him who fasts. The blood of Christ is our only plea before God, and we have need of no other.

Our Spiritual Warfare

This purpose of God will not be accomplished unless we live in submission to his Spirit within us. How can we bring the enemies of God into subjection to God if we ourselves are not in subjection to his Spirit? And how can we be in submission to the Spirit if we lend ourselves to worldly activities, responding to the caterwauling of our flesh, and in effect, letting Satan rule over us? The blood of Jesus Christ has delivered us from the world, translated us from the worldly into the spiritual. Now the Spirit of God within us seeks to bring that world into submission to God through us. We have indeed become co-workers with him in his plan of redemption.

But although we have been drafted into an army whose battlefield encompasses the whole of creation, the front line is very close to home. It is, in fact, within us. Our immediate struggle is to overcome in ourselves the enemies of World, Flesh and Devil — to bring all things into subjection to Christ. The New Testament fast is a battle stratagem by which we take our worldly passions and nail them to the cross. When we actively trust the life of Jesus within us and walk after what he is in us so that these passions are kept subject in our bodies and souls we walk after and prosper in the Spirit. And if we walk in the Spirit, Paul assures us, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. The flesh and the spirit are at enmity with each other, they are contrary to each other, and constantly at war, keeping us from doing what we would. But if we are led by the Spirit, Paul writes, we are not under the Law.

The works of the flesh which Paul lists result from the appetites of our lower nature. The first category involves the sexual appetite, a perfectly legitimate appetite given to man by God. But when we walk after the flesh, legitimate appetites can begin to control us. When the sexual appetite has gained control over the life of a believer, the manifestations of that control are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lasciviousness.

Other works of the flesh that are listed are idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulation, wrath, strife, seditions and heresies. This present age is a day of glory for our appetites of wanting, of "amounting to something" of rebellion. Rebellion, the scriptures say, is as the sin of witchcraft. Yet our society is deep in the throes of a self-centered philosophy that denies God while repeatedly stressing "MY needs, MY wants, MY rights to MY fulfillment." In seeking to satisfy ourselves and to build ourselves up, we find ourselves in strife, jealousy, hatred, in passions of divisions, pitting one against another and in thinking evil about one another.

Spiritual Masquerade

In the Church of today we sometimes see such a work of the flesh parading in the subtle disguise of "discernment" when in reality it is simply criticism in a holy cloak. "Listen, we’d better pray together: I discern (this-or-that) in Brother so-and-so, and it’s just terrible, or in Sister so-and-so: "It’s a spirit I discern, I picked it up in the Spirit. Let’s pray about it." And then we gossip: "Oh, yes, that’s true, because you know what I saw him do?" A fellowship plagued by this sort of operation of "spiritual gifts" will soon be smashed to pieces, rife with wounded victims of this spiritual masquerade. There are many ways to deal with sin in our brothers and sisters, but to announce "I discern", is not one of them. If you discern something in someone, talk to that person privately. You may, after all, be wrong. Satan is cunning. He comes as an angel of light, using the lower appetites to tempt and test us. What seems innocent— or even spiritual can be a work of flesh disguised, and all the more deadly for its harmless appearance.

There is a Spirit of Religion in the world today. People delight in being religious it makes them feel good, so holy, so self-satisfied, so downright superior. Such a religious attitude is little but a field day for the flesh; it is a false spirit. On the other hand, the practice of the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ is by faith, and it drives into submission all kinds of feelings that have to do with the flesh. It puts the Word of God the Will of God first. We as Christians walk after the Spirit, believing the Word of God, and seeking to do his will. To accomplish this, we must subjugate feelings which are contradictory to God’s declarations and purpose. Such a walk in the Spirit is not easy: it requires our full attention, strength, devotion and energy. It is much easier to take our liberty and abuse it, then camouflage the result with a little rationalization and say we are doing the will of God. It is entirely possible to engage in religious activities and he feeding the flesh through them.

No Scriptural Basis

And it is possible to fast in the Old Testament way and absolutely be feeding the flesh. Such fasting in itself does nothing to edify us spiritually. Contrary to popular teaching, there is no scriptural basis for such belief. The volumes that have been written and taught on the subject are most often exercises of human thought, rationalization and interpretation. .

Satan, for example, is not against fasting, per se. In fact, many occult practices and heathen religions embrace abstinence from food as a dietary approach to the spirit world. It is commonly known that Spiritualist mediums often weaken their bodies through fasting to facilitate being taken over by spirit control. No, Satan is not against going without food, he teaches it. The belief that going without food deals him a severe blow is sheer deception. The only time Satan flinches and runs is when we put our faith in God, persisting in that faith, and standing in the delegated authority of Jesus’ name.

Neither is fasting a viable means of "getting power," as is so often taught. The Bible says that power comes to us through the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and is released by faith. There are many scriptures that tell us we receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon us, but no such promise is given in regards to fasting. Jesus’ wilderness fast did not empower him rather it was a weakened state in which he was tempted by Satan. There is no evidence in the scripture that Jesus ever voluntarily fasted. The only exception might he his encounter with the woman at the well, at which time he was too full of the joy of doing the will of God — too full of "food that ye know not of" — to eat.

During his life on earth Jesus walked continually in the spirit, and his flesh was in perfect subjection at all times. In Luke 4 we see him being led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where there was no food for him to eat. This does not, in my opinion, constitute a voluntary fast. He had simply given himself up to the works of his Father: he was prepared to do his Father’s will and was expecting to be provided for by him. After forty days (40 is the number of trials in the scriptures), his body was at the point of starvation, the second hunger had set in. Feed yourself, Satan tempted, God obviously isn’t going to. But Jesus wouldn’t succumb: "Man does not live by bread alone," he said. "Listen, Satan, I am walking by faith. l am trusting God to set a table in the wilderness, to meet my needs". And indeed God did so by sending a ministering angel, and vindicating Jesus’ faith.

After this experience there is nothing recorded in the scriptures to indicate that either Jesus or his disciples fasted, and in fact, Matthew 9:14 confirms this. Jesus taught the disciples a new way, a way untainted by Old Testament leaven.

A Proper Understanding

Now, I am not opposed to going without food, as long as it is done with the understanding of what function such a practice serves in bringing the flesh into subjection. Abstaining from food is a perfectly acceptable means of suppressing your flesh — and can be especially effective if you have problem eating habits. The early Church fasted at times: while waiting on the Lord, while ministering to the Lord, or as they prayed and waited on God to guide them in appointing new elders. It is a legitimate practice to set things aside periodically just to seek the Lord. At such times the focus of our concentration should be on God, and fasting from taking meals, or doing business, or participating in other everyday activities can very well be an accommodation to our faith. That’s walking in the Spirit — that’s the New Testament fast. If you fast in that manner it will be beneficial to you. But if you fast to have your voice heard on high, thinking that your human endeavors can somehow coerce God, you are leavening the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It Is By Faith

Church history is filled with the testimony of those who tried to reach God by abusing themselves, or by doing something. None of their endeavors provided peace or rest; only in Jesus did they discover that for which they sought so diligently. Every word of God — every promise of God — finds its fulfillment in the center of Jesus Christ. We lay hold of his promises by faith — not by praying five hours a day, or fasting two days a week, or climbing up St. Peters Cathedral on our knees. We stand by faith. We walk by faith. We grow by faith. We live by faith. It is senseless to mount great campaigns in which we "storm the gates of heaven" for our appeal to he heard, "Who shall ascend into heaven to bring Christ down?" the Scripture says. "The Word is nigh thee".

It is imperative for us to believe Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of every promise. And the answer to every dilemma. It is a natural inclination to seek for remedies to our quandaries, but we must be cautious to look only to Jesus to provide for us. Faith in this sense waits quietly to receive * it does not cast about in frantic quest. Any attempt on our part to apprehend the promises, favors or gifts of God through human endeavor — through works — puts us in jeopardy of losing what is already established for us. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

The New Testament Command

That we love our neighbor as ourselves is the commandment we as New Testament Christians should strive, with all our strength, to obey. The practice of such Godly love — agape love — brings our flesh into submission more efficiently than any other thing we might do. God’s love always benefits somebody, always works to bring good to somebody. To love in God’s way will cost us something. It will cost us a sacrifice of our own interests in the interests of others. It means giving your time to talk with someone when you’d rather be home watching television. It means going to church services when you don’t feel like it, because your presence is a strength to the assembly. It means encouraging the brethren in the faith, when your own spirits are at such low ebb you would like a little succor for yourself. It means looking for ways in which the goodness of God can flow through you to bless others, knowing that God may accomplish that blessing by requiring you to do something you simply would rather not do. Love, in its highest sense, always means sacrifice for the benefit of someone else.

The New Testament Fast

The New Testament fast is a fast of love. If we keep that fast — really keep it, it means putting our own desires to the cross, seeking the Lord with all our hearts, reaching out to others at the expense of our own creature comforts, and closing our minds to the hiss of the serpent that says SPARE yourself, feel SORRY for yourself. . . Oh aren’t they terrible, they don’t recognize you, nobody’s paying any attention to you... look at what it’s costing you, isn’t it terrible what they expect from you, it’s unfair that you’re expected to do this and that. The hiss of the serpent. That’s the Devil, whispering to you through your flesh, and if you’re not walking in the New Testament fast, you will listen to him.

Going without food is only an incidental part of what the Old Testament fast pictured for New Testament Christians. Food itself is not evil, and abstaining from it will not make us more righteous. Our righteousness is the life of Christ, a life into which we are led by the Spirit of God in our daily walk of faith. The great revelation of Martin Luther to the Church was just this, that the just shall live by faith. No other means is given us in this New Testament age of apprehending the promises of God but faith. No other means is given us to please God but faith. Our entire relationship with God is one of faith: our faith in Jesus, and his faithfulness to us. If we try to approach, please or serve or if we try to receive from God on any other basis than that of faith, we are enslaving ourselves in the bondage of works, we are falling from grace . . . and we are defiling the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

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