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How Do You Find the Yeast in a Church’s Teaching?

Jesus commands His disciples in Matthew 16:6, “Watch out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew elaborates on that command in verse 12: “Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the yeast in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

As Christians seeking to follow Jesus, how can we obey this command in our churches? 

First, we need to understand the nature of their teaching. The Pharisees had a religion based on  human traditions that they were treating as doctrines from God. Their religion was based on human effort with hearts that were far from God. That’s why Jesus says they’re merely acting like they worship God (15:8). The Sadducees denied a future resurrection. Their entire life focus was rooted in this world, and were often guilty of self-indulgence. We could summarize the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees quite simply in this way: human-centered teaching.

So while there are many ways that we could apply Matthew 16:6 and 12, one way that Christians must do this is by asking the important question: “What does this church believe?”

As consumers, we might find it most natural to ask, “How did I feel there? What do they have to offer? Did I like it?” But according to Jesus here, if we’re looking after our spiritual well-being, and trying to remain faithful to Him, then we need to beware of the teaching.

To do that, here are several other questions to be regularly asking in order to make sure that you’re growing spiritually.

  1. Is the Bible doing most of the talking? In other words, am I walking away with a better understanding of the Bible, or of the preacher? I’ve heard Christians talk about how good the sermon was at their church only to hear next about how engaging or funny the speaker was. For them, a good sermon was actually just a way of saying the preacher is a good speaker.
  2. Who is the teaching mostly about?  Do you walk away thinking most about yourself and your life goals, or do you walk away thinking about a great God and how you can live for Him? God-centered teaching makes you walk away with a bigger view of the world and of God that has you forgetting about the preacher and yourself.
  3. Am I being convicted of sin and my need to repent? The Bible speaks to our fallen condition. Unlike God, we’re sinners, and the Bible confronts us with that truth. Human-centered teaching, however, tends to make us feel good and motivate us with change that we can handle.
  4. Am I hearing of how my sin can be forgiven? Not only does the Bible confront us, but it also points us to the grace we need for forgiveness. Human-centered teaching minimizes the work of Jesus by emphasizing what I can do to earn God’s forgiveness. The Bible lifts up Jesus as my only hope.
  5. Am I being motivated to by the gospel to live for Christ for my good and God’s glory? Human-centered teaching either motivates me with success and happiness to live for this world, or it motivates me with things like guilt and shame to add to my righteousness through rule-keeping. The gospel motivates us with the joy and beauty of knowing God through Christ, and holds out life with Him as the ultimate motivation for obedience.

Now, you need to do your best and try to answer those questions objectively. Because if you try to answer them based on how you feel, then your assessment of a church can be completely wrong. Feelings of conviction, or of forgiveness, or God-glorifying affections, or self-focused attention — can easily be the result of your own weekly habits, and what you did the night before. Help yourself by trying to cultivate a pattern of living and thinking that will put God at the center of your mind and heart. Do it with the goal of knowing Jesus more. That, more than anything else, is what you need to obey Matthew 16:6 and 12.

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