Christianity 201

February 27, 2018

Danger: Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees

by Russell Young

The way leaven or yeast works is interesting. Those who make bread will note that not a lot of yeast is required to affect a large quantity of flour. Only a suitable environment is needed to nurture its growth, and it grows rapidly. The Word often equates leaven or yeast with sin and it works much the same way in people’s lives as yeast does in flour. With feeding, a little sin soon grows into great sin. The Lord cautioned his listeners, “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Lk 12:1 NIV)

God condemned the sinful practices of the Pharisees. They likely did not intend to offend him or to defy him, however they had abandoned his sovereignty and the recognition of his holiness. Changes in their institutional attitudes and practices had evolved gradually until understanding and fear of God had become lost. Their focus had turned to ritualistic religious practices. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Mt 23:27 NIV) Later in the passage he called them “snakes,” “a brood of vipers.” The teachers of the law and the Pharisees would not have seen themselves in this light. In fact, they protested vigorously and sought the Lord’s death. However, the knowledge of God had been lost. Fleshly pursuits had displaced commitment of heart even though they had appeared righteous and proper. Luke has recorded Christ’s words: “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who are entering.” (Lk 11:52 NIV) By their misrepresentation of truth and through evil practices they had become disqualified from entering the kingdom of God and were preventing others from entering because they had lost their way. How did they arrive at this state?

Leaven had been introduced by way of their sinful natures and through the hollow and deceptive philosophies of men. Through Ezekiel, the Sovereign Lord said, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!” (Eze 34:2 NIV) By position and the laws of provision, the teachers were eating the curds, clothing themselves and eating the best meat. They enjoyed their status and its benefits. Their interest had become that of satisfying their own fleshly desires, both in prominence and through substance. Division of thought and philosophy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees has been well recorded. To some extent debate on spiritual issues had highjacked relationship and God’s purposes. Separating philosophical issues were being hotly contested. When a righteous relationship with God and instruction from him get displaced by the appeasement of the flesh and the philosophies of men, truth becomes lost and with it hope.

Leaven is small and insidious. According to their own understanding people are still trying to force their way into the kingdom through disregard of God’s sovereignty, holiness (Lk 16:1617), and instruction. To what extent has leaven entered the teaching of God’s Word through the hollow and deceptive philosophies of men? The Lord has clearly emphasized that the Law must be fulfilled. How often is this truth being promoted? The Lord admonished, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, nor the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices them and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:1820 NIV) Many dismiss the need for righteous practices and through their much-debated philosophical understandings declare that Christ alone has met their need for righteousness, even though its accomplishment is being awaited through the Holy Spirit. (Gal 5:5)

The issue of the law’s fulfilment should not be debated. Paul taught, “And so [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.(Rom 8:34 NIV Italics added.) Paul affirmed the need for obedience to the Galatians, “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV) and further he revealed, “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:1314 NIV) The way the confessor lives is important if the sonship status is to be maintained and hope achieved. In the end, judgment will prevail for things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20: 1213) and, it will be based on a person’s ‘doing.’ (Mt 13:41; 2 Cor 5:10)

Like the Pharisees of old, many have introduced yeast or leaven into their lives through the hollow and deceptive philosophies of the “wise.” They have left the truths of the Word and are trying to force passage into God’s heavenly kingdom by devising strategies presumed to meet their need and which require nothing of them and give license for immorality. The failure of humankind and of teachers to recognize the holiness of God and his “righteous requirements,” along with the Lord’s provision for accomplishing them, will lead to the destruction of many and cause them to fall from their secure position. (2 Pet 3:1617; Jn 8:35) They will be condemned along with those who through indifference to the Word rest in the philosophies of others. Those who present alternative means of entry into the kingdom of God are taking away “the key of knowledge” that could make confessors fit for an eternal hope.


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.