When Jesus warned his disciples about “yeast,” he wasn’t only talking about the danger of legalism in the Pharisees’ teaching. In the same breath, he also mentioned another group – the Sadducees: “Take care; be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6 TEV)

Who were the Sadducees? They were among the Jewish aristocrats of their day, the political power brokers. The Sadducees ran the temple and owned the priesthood. Like the Pharisees, they were strict about applying the Law of Moses, but they rejected all the ticky little rules the Pharisees had made up to dictate proper behavior in every detail of daily life.

The Sadducees were wise in the ways of the world. They rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful Romans who held ultimate power over Israel, and they moved easily in cultured society. They were “enlightened” enough to understand that sophisticated people don’t believe the myths common people naïvely accept – superstitions like angels and life after death.

The Sadducees were the religious skeptics of their day. Some would compare them to today’s ‘liberals,’ but that word has almost as many meanings as ‘fundamentalist.’

Let’s say they were disbelievers.

We know about disbelievers. We find them everywhere we look – even when we look inward. We all have a tendency toward disbelief. We have a high opinion of our own opinion. It’s easy to disbelieve what doesn’t fit with your opinion, even when it’s the word of God you are rejecting.

When it comes to personal behavior, the disbeliever is a libertine – someone who rejects the Judeo-Christian values on which civilized society has been built in favor of doing what he wants. He has no use for what any deity expects of him.

Legalism is a real danger, but it’s not as attractive as disbelief. That’s because legalists, for the most part, are unpleasant company, and the life they offer attracts mostly masochists and people with inferiority complexes.

Libertinism, on the other hand, appeals to the animal nature of every person on the planet. It’s an easy sell: “If it feels good, do it.” We all would rather go with our glands than tackle the hard work of doing what’s right and best for others.

Moral libertinism is physical self-indulgence, and it eats away at civilized society like a venereal disease. Intellectual libertinism is just as deadly to the soul, telling us that whatever we believe is true, simply because we believe it. By the same token, whatever we disbelieve is not true, simply because we disbelieve it. We can always rationalize our way to beliefs that allow us to behave the way we want.

For the Christian libertine – the disbeliever – quaint “myths” like miracles and the virgin birth are laid aside, along with “rigid” moralisms about matters like adultery and homosexuality. After all, “science tells us such things are impossible” and “intelligent people know better.” The disbeliever is satisfied with the idea that God loves us and encourages us to be good people. The Kingdom of God isn’t waiting until God’s judgment is poured out on earth; enlightened souls build it here and now.

That’s all well and good. We’re all free to believe what we choose (or we ought to be), but don’t call that faith “Christianity.”

Authentic Christianity teaches that all of us are sinners, that we can’t be anything else except for the power of God, that only God’s love and Jesus’ death make it possible for us to experience an amazing new life. Christianity teaches that God gave us the Scripture so we would know how he expects us to live. There aren’t any provisions for picking and choosing which parts are God’s Word.

And if your religion teaches that miracles are impossible, why would you want to call it Christianity anyway? The Christian faith stands or falls on whether Jesus was raised from the dead. He said he would come back to life, but if miracles are impossible, Jesus is still dead – just another charlatan who suckered gullible people into forking over their money. Who wants to be identified with someone like that?

Disbelievers think they are free of small-minded religion that oppresses people with stupid rules. But they have traded one slavery for another, indenturing themselves to mere opinion or to whatever thoughts are acceptable and fashionable at the moment. We’ve “progressed” beyond the slavery of motherhood, heterosexual marriage, and homophobia; who knows what gift popular opinion has in store for us tomorrow?

Whatever it is – “anti-Zionism,” “man-boy love” or brother-sister marriage – a disbeliever can’t object, because to them right and wrong is whatever people think it is.

It isn’t hard to understand why an unbeliever refuses to accept Jesus. That would require him to give up his self-centeredness.

It’s harder to understand why a believer would disbelieve, but it happens. A young man raised in a strict Christian household goes off to college and for the first time hears skeptical challenges to his faith from people of great intellect. Professors overwhelm him with arguments that seems to disprove what his parents and church taught him. He turns his back on authentic Christian faith and follows a path of disbelief, an inoffensive religion that will win him acceptance in sophisticated society – and cut him off from the Only One who can save his life.

John 3:18 tells us that those who believe in the only Son of God – miraculously conceived, executed in our place, raised to life by the power of God – escape judgment, but those who do not believe have already been judged.

Jesus said the road to Destruction is broad, and it leads to a gate that has to be wide to receive the large crowds headed there. On the other hand, he said, the road that leads to Life is narrow, and the gate can be small because there aren’t so many people choosing that destination. (Matthew 7:13-14)

On either side of that narrow road is a ditch. On the right is legalism; on the left, libertinism – disbelief. As tragic as it is to fall into one, it is no better to overcorrect and fall into the other.

As the saying goes: “Don’t believe everything you think.”

Next installment

Chapter 16
Turning traitor

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