Jesus warned of the subtle enemy that we would forever encounter...religion!
"Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." Matthew 16:6&12.
The leaven of the Pharisees was the doctrinal concepts of God that had grown out of a religious system of thought that was totally controlling; built on wrong concepts of God; devoid of the love of God and rendered men powerless. The word leaven comes from a Greek word that could be translated as teaching. The leaven of the Pharisees was seen in what they believed, what they taught, how they treated people and how they represented God.
Leaven is used to describe the Kingdom of God, hypocrisy and religion. But in each case there is one constant concept. Leaven is something very small that once introduced into any environment, it works its way through the entire situation. "A little leaven leavens the whole lump." Galatians 5:9.
Religion is a deadly, subtle leaven that when left alone will work its way through every aspect of our relationship with God and leave us powerless. John Osteen used to say, "Religion is like a vaccine. It gives you just enough to make you immune to the real thing." And that’s exactly what happens. Religion looks honorable. It is always an accepted part of our culture. It isn’t too radical. It talks about God and Jesus. But in the end, it is a deadly, destructive bacteria that brings about self-destruction.
In Galatians 5:4-8, Paul woefully pointed out how those believers had fallen to a place where Christ was not effective in their life. They were powerless. They had left the realm of grace. "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."
Men have always wanted religion more than they wanted God. It started in the Garden of Eden when Adam decided he would be the God of his own world. It was sustained by Cain when he killed Abel. It was perfected by the Jews. And it reached its pinnacle when it crucified Jesus.
Paul reminded us in Galatians that the children of the flesh always have and always will persecute the children of the Spirit. That is one of the key characteristics of religion, it cannot allow you to believe what you believe. You either believe what it believes or it sets out to destroy you.
Religion is always about performance; it glorifies man and his efforts. True Christianity is about relationship. It is always emphasizing what God has done. It glorifies God and His finished work in Jesus. Religion is about doing. Christianity is about being. Religion finds its strength in performing. Christianity finds its strength in believing. Religion gets security from the groups agreement. Christianity gets its security from Jesus.
Religion has a "victims mentality." The moment it is revealed it screams and accuses you of persecuting it. Even Jesus faced this same accusation. Luke 11:45-46, in The Message Bible says, "One of the religion scholars spoke up: ‘Teacher, do you realize that in saying these things you’re insulting us?’ He said, ‘Yes, and I can be even more explicit. You’re hopeless, you religion scholars! You load people down with rules and regulations, nearly breaking their backs, but never lift even a finger to help.’"
Religion is like the politician who supports the killing of babies, take healthcare away from the sick, loads the poor with taxes, starts wars for economic or political motives then accuses you of conspiring to persecute them because you point out their track record.
Jesus said it so well in John 5:39-44, "You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want. ‘I’m not interested in crowd approval. And do you know why? Because I know you and your crowds. I know that love, especially God’s love, is not on your working agenda. I came with the authority of my Father, and you either dismiss me or avoid me. If another came, acting self-important, you would welcome him with open arms. How do you expect to get anywhere with God when you spend all your time jockeying for position with each other, ranking your rivals and ignoring God?’" TMB