So now what?
Let’s say you’ve been forgiven—let’s say you’ve repented, you’ve been baptized and the blood of Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for your sins. What happens next? Or is that the end goal of Christianity—to be forgiven and then to carry on with business as usual?
Far from it. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, English Standard Version). Baptism changes things. You’re not who you were before. You’re a new creation; you were crucified with Christ and things can never be the way they used to be.
The forgiveness made available to us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is only the first step in God’s plan for us. Granted, it’s a vital first step—the step that makes everything else possible—but still just a first step. We learned yesterday that Passover commemorates that sacrifice and marks the beginning of God’s annual festivals—festivals that spell out God’s plan and teach us about our role in it. The next festival, the Days of Unleavened Bread, keeps us focused on what we need to be doing with the forgiveness we’ve been given.
In preparation for one week of the year, God commands His people to put leavening—the ingredients that cause bread and bread products to rise—out of their home and out of their lives. “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters” (Exodus 13:6-7).
As with most of the festivals celebrated by ancient Israel, many modern-day theologians are quick to write off the Days of Unleavened Bread as either “Jewish,” “done away with” or “fulfilled.”
But writing off these days would mean turning a blind eye to an important message from God—a message the apostle Paul wasn’t prepared to ignore. He urged the New Testament Church to “purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8, emphasis added throughout).
If Paul believed God’s festivals were strictly Jewish, done away with or fulfilled, why was he using these days as an illustration for an audience largely filled with non-Jewish converts? It doesn’t make any sense.
Here’s what does make sense: Paul was talking about something the Corinthians knew and understood. The New Testament Church knew that these holy feast days belong to God, not to the Jews or any other group. When God commanded these days to be kept, He told His people, “The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts” (Leviticus 23:2).
Since the day they were revealed to the ancient nation of Israel, the holy days have been God’s days, each of them pointing toward some aspect of His grand master plan. And, as we saw in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul revealed that the Days of Unleavened Bread are heavily focused on what we need to be doing about sin.
Being forgiven of our sins doesn’t change the fact that sin still exists. It doesn’t prevent us from sinning a second time or a third time. The human nature that made it tempting the first time is still there, still tempting us, still fabricating excuses and inventing justifications.
That’s why the lessons of Unleavened Bread are so important. Once Paul ties leaven in with sin, the message becomes extremely clear:
Put it out.
Put it out of your home. Put it out of your life. Get rid of it. Passover reminds us of the destructive power of sin, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds us that it cannot have any place in our lives.
It was Paul again who asked, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4).
It’s not that we’re never going to mess up again. It’s not that we’re never going to have to call on the sacrifice of Christ to make us clean again. But it is a reminder that our forgiveness is not a license to continue making bad choices—a reminder that, as Christians, we must be actively committed to driving out the sinful behaviors in our lives, just as we spend one week every year driving out the leaven in our lives.
A life of sin is no longer an option for Christians. With the power of forgiveness on our side, the Days of Unleavened Bread turn our attention to walking in newness of life—putting out the leaven of malice and wickedness while taking in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Except … we’ve already run into another problem. It’s easy to say we need to pursue righteousness, but we’ve already learned the hard way that the way of God does not mesh well with our human nature: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).
What’s to be done, then? Are we doomed to fight a losing battle between the calling of God and the pull of our own human nature?
If the plan of God stopped at the Days of Unleavened Bread, the answer would be yes. Thankfully, God doesn’t stop here. Far from it! The truth is, we are engaged in a tremendous battle—but not a losing one. God has not sent us out to fight this battle empty-handed. The next holy day, Pentecost, brings into focus the tools we’ve been given that will enable us to win the most difficult war ever waged:
The war against ourselves.