“Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 16:6
The Christian life truly lived out in the power of the Holy Spirit will discover the truth of Jesus’ words: “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28) It is the wide road which leads to destruction that is the heavy, hard way. The problem with the road to life is not that it’s hard, but that it’s narrow; in other words, easy to get off of.
In our text the Lord gives the two sides of the road to life that Christians can easily fall into. The first is the leaven of the Pharisees which is legalism. It’s easy to fall into this ditch and not realize you’re in it because outwardly you’re still doing all the stuff. I’m going to church, reading my Bible, staying away from known sin, and keeping all the rules; but that’s the problem. God’s not calling us to rules but to a relationship with Himself. Another reason it’s hard to discern legalism is that there is often a lot of passion involved. Jesus said the Pharisees were willing to travel over land and sea to make one disciple. That’s passion! But legalism’s passion isn’t really for the Lord Himself, but only for it’s version of Christianity. My church, my group, and my doctrine all become more central than Jesus.
The other side of the road Jesus says is the leaven of the Sadducees. These were religious people who made a compromise with the world’s system. They no longer really went by the Bible and saw nothing wrong with fully embracing the ways of a godless culture. When we listen to the world our passion for the Lord goes out, and it becomes all about us and what we want. Christianity and even the Lord Himself become a means to our personal happiness. Going this way you end up with a form of godliness but lose the power that changes your life.
The good news is that it’s easy to get back on the narrow road when we realize we have drifted off it. Because of what Jesus did on the cross we just need to repent and ask Him to forgive us and fill us again. The church in Ephesus had fallen into legalism and Jesus told them to repent and remember their first love. (Revelation 2:1-6) The church at Laodicea had fallen into license and the Lord told them to be zealous (wage war on compromise) and repent because He was standing at the door knocking wanting to be the center again. (Revelation 3:15-20)
Here’s how I check myself for leaven: legalism produces anxiety before God while license produces apathy before God. The fruit of truly being on the road to life is to be “awake” (spiritually alert with our lamps filled with oil), and “at rest” (confident in Christ’s love and finished work on our behalf).