Is Your Yeast Alive or Dead?

The great English poet Robert Browning once said “If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” While Jesus teaches us that “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Matt. 4:4a), great homemade bread is one of this life’s rare pleasures, which is odd for something usually only composed of flour, water, salt, and yeast. Yeast (or as the Bible describes it, leaven) is the most unusual item on this ingredient list, for it is alive, unlike flour, water, and salt which are all quite lifeless. That is, unless there are weevils in the flour, which raises another issue altogether.

Baking leavened bread depends entirely upon yeast. The living yeast cells convert sugars from flour into gasses, which “leavens” the bread, giving it the characteristic pattern of air bubbles, resulting in a light, yet chewy texture. However, the yeast cells must be alive to do so: if the yeast is dead the resulting block of salted flour paste is nearly inedible unless spread very thin before baking (i.e. unleavened bread). This “bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:3) eaten during the Jewish Passover feast was also used during the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19).  

Part of the baking process is a period of time known as “proofing”, wherein the ingredients are all integrated into one mass and then left unattended for a short while. If the yeast is alive the dough will rise, “proving” that the yeast is yet alive, often growing 2-3 times its original size. If the yeast is dead, the dough ball will be unchanged no matter how long it is left there. Our faith as a Christian can be thought of as undergoing a proofing process. All of the necessary ingredients might be present to create a spiritual life that has a “sweet-smelling aroma” to our Father in Heaven, but if our spiritual yeast is dead, we will forever remain the same, fully composed but showing no signs of life.

We have been given all things required to “rise” as Christians. God has given us His Word that we might feed on it daily, living on “every word that comes from the mouth of God”. (Matt. 4:4b) There is no spiritual food that we require that God has not given us in abundance! “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). The Living Water has already been provided! 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14) Jesus even called his followers to be the “salt of the earth” in Matthew 5:13. The only question is, is there life yet in your faith? Does your life show the results of your spiritual leavening?

Too often, our spiritual lives bear more resemblance to the “leaven of the Pharisees” described by Jesus in Luke 12:1: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.It wasn’t that the Pharisees lacked spiritual yeast. The problem was their spiritual yeast was dead! Their faith, once shaped into a promising form and left to “proof”, has not produced the appropriate changes necessary! Note the following verses: “2Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.3Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3) Just like a dough ball that has been left to rise and hasn’t, their lack of spiritual growth and development has become quite obvious! The Pharisees had all of the spiritual ingredients necessary to be pleasing to God. And yet they had not born “fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

We as Christians cannot continue to believe that we are pleasing to God as long as we are composed of the proper spiritual ingredients! Those spiritual ingredients must come together, and begin producing results! So this begs the question: what do you do if your spiritual dough is dead? Luckily, Earthly bakers answered this long ago:

1.Create an environment for growth.
If your spiritual life is languishing or seems to be dead, perhaps the environment needs to change. With yeast this involves putting the dough in a warm, damp place. With your spiritual life, it could mean a change in your associations or activities. It could mean changing your daily schedule or your job situation to be more conducive to spiritual growth. It could mean engaging more with your spiritual family, attending meetings and bible studies, or just devoting yourself to prayer. The proper environment is crucial for growth: The Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13 is evidence of this.

2.Feed the yeast!
A stranger phrase for engaging in serious consumption of the Bible will be hard to find, but it works. Yeast demonstrate whether they are alive by giving off of gasses, which evidences their consumption of flour and sugar. Christians in the same way will begin giving off noticeable signs of spiritual life when they consume and are consumed by Bible study. This goes way beyond a daily Bible reading, which in and of itself is not a “bad” thing: but one that is looking to truly provide “fuel for the fire” is going to accumulate as much fuel as possible, and people that claim to live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” need to start consuming what they claim.

3.Eliminate any extra ingredients.  
Certain additional ingredients can be harmful to yeast, such as cinnamon or honey. Anything that stands in the way of spiritual growth, no matter how much we love them or have grown accustomed to them, must be eliminated! “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. (Matt. 18:8) Perhaps your life has become corrupted by all of the additional things you have added to it, perhaps innocently or unawares. If they are hindering your spiritual growth, cut them out!

Lastly, a word of encouragement. Your fire may just be smoldering, your energy diminished and your zeal for God all but gone. However, there is always hope! Even if your faith is as dry and lifeless as the bones of Ezekiel 37, new life can be breathed into you as well! In his teaching against the dangers of false doctrine, Paul makes reference to what an active, living yeast can do if it is given the right environment to grow. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (Gal. 5:9) While we understand Paul’s admonition both here and in 1 Cor. 5 (even a small corrupting influence can spoil an entire group of Christians), I would use this to encourage all of us to nurture and grow your righteous spiritual yeast until your entire life is consumed by it. Then and only then will you begin to produce the works of righteousness and “prove” yourself as a true servant of God.