"Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us…” – I Corinthians 5:7
At this Passover time, we should all be mindful of the leaven that must be removed from our lives. The Apostle Paul didn’t need to explain this typology in his letter to the Corinthian church. Though the congregation was largely Gentile, they had been taught by Jewish Christians and well understood the meaning of what Paul said. They knew the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish tradition referred to leaven as a symbol of sin. They recognized he was teaching them that they must regularly rid themselves of accumulated sin in order to restore fellowship with the Almighty. Only then could they find meaning in worship and joy in Christian living.
The typology of leaven as a symbol of sin presents a very clear picture of the sin problem.
Sin is inherited and infects all humanity . The sourdough method, familiar to us here in San Francisco and used in ancient breadmaking, graphically illustrates this point. They had no yeast in Bible times. In order to leaven their bread, the ancients removed a small gob of raw dough from the previous batch, wrapped it in a damp cloth and set it aside until the next time they wanted to bake bread. Then they brought out the old gob of leavened dough and mixed it into the fresh batch of dough as "starter." After a short time, the entire new mixture was leavened, and again they reserved a small lump of that dough for the following batch of bread. As each batch of leavened dough was organically related to the batch before it, so the sin of our first father, Adam, is passed on and permeates each generation of humanity. Galatians 5:9 teaches that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Just a little sin is enough to infect an entire life. Sin, like leaven, grows and grows until it takes over and changes the whole nature of that which it permeates . Christ breaks the power of sin in the believer’s life. At Passover, the cycle of leaven was broken as the Israelites purged the old leaven from their homes. At Calvary , the sacrifice of God’s perfect Lamb broke the cycle of sin in the human race. Because Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, we can purge out the old leaven from our lives and be a new lump. Still, we must constantly be on guard against sin’s return. The Israelites didn’t worry how they would get their leaven started after Passover. All they had to do was mix a batch of flour and water and wait. The yeast spores were airborne, and in a few days anything that came in contact with the air became leavened. Though we are cleansed by Christ, there is still the danger of becoming infected again with the disease of sin. Once we are born again, the sin disease no longer has the power to kill, but it can make us spiritually weak and ineffective. But God provides the remedy. The Scriptures teach that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The key, then, to purging the leaven of sin from our lives is confession.
Recently, a brother-in-faith told me he no longer enjoyed church or celebrating communion. I told him bluntly that he had made an understatement. He looked puzzled, and I added, "What you really mean is that you no longer enjoy the Lord." He didn’t shrug off the accusation or take offense. "I never thought of it that way, but you’re right," he said. What was happening was, whenever he came into a worship service, he became acutely aware of the fact that he was not experiencing the presence of the Almighty. That’s one reason why backsliders not only avoid church (in fact, church avoidance is one of the first signals of backsliding), but they avoid fellowship with Christians because they are unable to enter into the joy of the Lord. "How do I begin to change that?" this brother asked me. "Well," I told him , "usually others will tell you to start with more Bible reading because faith comes from reading the Bible, and more prayer because a sense of the Holy Presence comes from prayer. But I’m not going to give you that advice because I know you’re not by nature inclined to follow it yet. The beginning point is to purge out the leaven of sin that has accumulated in your soul. Have you made it a regular practice to confess sin according to I John 1:9?" This brother had not stopped going to church. It had just become a meaningless experience to him. "Yes," he said. "Every Lord’s day before the service, I bow my head to pray, but to tell you the truth, I can’t think of any particular sin to confess." “Ahah!" I exclaimed. "That’s your problem. The first sin you should confess is your mindless attitude toward sin. After you’ve confessed that, the Lord will remove that besetting sin, and the rest of your confession will be appropriate." I saw that brother a couple of weeks later, and he told me with obvious joy, "I tried it, and it worked!" When he started to think of sinful attitudes instead of merely listing events and actions, my friend came to realize that the expulsion of sin was more than just a checklist to run through. He said , "I hope you won’t mind if I don’t give you the credit for the help, because I really believe it was God, not you, who showed me." I told him I didn’t mind, because it was something God had shown me, too, in I Corinthians 5:7. A believer doesn’t have to go out and search for sin. It will find him. Like the leaven spores, it’s in the atmosphere where we live. All we have to do is be ourselves, and soon the attitudes and actions of the old sin nature will become pervasive in our lives again. But thank God, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. And we can celebrate by first purging out the old leaven!