He tried to warn His disciples. He knew they would be the ones who would lead His church, and He wanted them to be aware of the danger. He said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.” His disciples thought he was talking about bread. He wasn’t discussing baking techniques. He was talking about hypocrisy.
Jesus created us, and he knows how we operate. He knew the tendency of His followers would be just the same as the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were the “enforcers of righteousness,” holding others to a standard of law they could not keep themselves. That’s pretty much the definition of hypocrisy.
He knew we would be tempted to start feeling pretty good about ourselves, then feeling superior to others. He knew that dreaded disease of hypocrisy would try to invade His church like yeast invades bread. I think Jesus used the metaphor of yeast on purpose. He wanted His followers to know how invasive it really is. It’s a living organism that, once introduced into the lump of dough, grows, multiplies, and consumes.
I got a good question from a reader the other day:
I have found all too often that the more spiritual-minded I am, the more likely I am to be judgmental. I mean the more time I spend in prayer and Bible reading, study & activities, the more I see wrong in other people’s lives. Why is that? Why do my spiritual practices serve to make me feel closer to God, yet more condemning of others?
I was glad to get her question. Glad because I’m relieved to know I’m not the only one to struggle with this. I too am tempted to start feeling superior; to start looking down my righteous nose at the sinners who surround me.
So what’s the answer?
How do we avoid the hypocrisy that seems so prevalent in today’s church? Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself.
So if I judge and condemn others, what does that say about how I want to be treated? I believe this is the fundamental problem most of us have. We have not fully understood grace. We give it lip service, but deep inside, we are still living under the law of sin and death. We still think, no matter how much we deny it, that salvation is at least partially works based. We still think we are going to be judged on our actions. We still think God’s grace is too good to be true. There are millions of believers still walking around with a cloud of guilt hanging over their head, thinking, “God has just about had enough of me!”
So we work hard to get “closer to God.” We work hard, thinking we can somehow improve on the perfection and righteousness he has already placed upon us in Christ. We strive to be better people, to sin less, to bring ourselves in line. And when we succeed in our own eyes, we start to feel pretty good about ourselves, and it’s hard to look around at all the miserable sinners who all of a sudden don’t measure up.
Ding Ding…we have another Pharisee!
Ever notice, when you go through a crisis in your life, how non-judgmental you become? When we become acutely aware of our own need for grace and mercy, showing the same to others suddenly becomes very natural to us. Once we quit holding ourselves to the standard of the law of works, we tend to stop holding others to that standard as well.
So here’s my suggestion. Get up every day and remind yourself of what God’s grace means in your life. Accept that you don’t measure up, and yet you are off the hook for your sins – past, present, and future. Let the knowledge that God is not judging you based on your behavior, but on the righteousness of Christ, permeate your very being. Thank Him for His sacrifice and let it once again become real to you. Become that man Jesus talked about, on his face in the back of the temple. He humbly cried out “Have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Don’t grit your teeth and “try a little harder” to stop being a Pharisee. That only contributes to more of it, because it’s still about works.
The only way to escape the hypocrisy of the Pharisees is to experience more grace.