Lucille’s sourdough starter is older than the Wright brothers’ airplane. Sitting in her fridge is a sourdough starter that Lucille’s family has traced all the way back to 1889. Lucille’s sourdough starter is a survivor. It has lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, and the War on Terror. It has lived in an American refrigerator under the leadership of twenty-four United States presidents. Lucille got the starter from her momma. Her momma got it from a student at the University of Wyoming. That student traced the origin of the starter all the way back to 1889, to a Wyoming sheepherder’s wagon. What does Lucille do with her ancient dough? Mostly, she makes killer pancakes.1
Was I buttering you up with all of that pancake talk? Maybe. Because today we’re talking about sin and specifically, our responsibility when it comes to cleansing the sin from our lives. While sin makes us uncomfortable, God’s clear desire is to expose sin so that we might live free.
Don’t you love how the Bible uses what we know in the flesh to help us understand what we struggle to understand in the spirit? We understand Lucille’s sourdough. In the back of a wagon, leaven transformed flour to dough, and there was no going back. There’s no way to extract the leaven and start over with pure flour again.
We also understand that the dough got passed from generation to generation. The Bible helps us transfer our knowledge of the world around us to what we need to know about our true spiritual condition. Way back in the Garden of Eden, pure humanity was tainted by sin. There’s no going back. Just like Lucille’s dough, sin and its consequences get passed from generation to generation.
Exodus 34:6–7 shows us the devastating reality of generational sin.
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
The consequences of sin can be passed, like a bad gene code, from generation to generation. Maybe your mom struggled with bitterness, and now you do too. Maybe your grandfather was an addict and so are your cousins. Maybe you see your ugly sin patterns starting to repeat in the lives of your children.
Because we share a sin nature inherited from Adam and Eve, we’re all sinners. Sometimes that leads to patterns of sin, passed down the line like Lucille’s lump of dough.
Getting Separated from the Inseparable
As followers of Christ who desire to live holy and upright lives, we must watch for and be willing to rid ourselves of all sin. But how? Our sin nature is superglued to us. We cannot separate ourselves from it.
We can only become “new lumps” (1 Cor. 5:7), free from the destructive power of sin in our lives, because Christ lived a sinless life and then died as our Passover Lamb. Focusing on your sin and your powerlessness over sin can never make you new. But shift your gaze to Jesus, your sinless Savior, and see that He is more than able to transform you completely and make you brand new.
Read Paul’s words found in Romans 7:15–20.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Surely you also feel the tension of this spiritual tug of war. Likely you have areas of your life where you repeatedly do what you do not want to do—or you do not do something you desperately want to do.
Maybe you’re eager and ready to rid your life of the leaven of sin. But there’s a problem—you can’t—at least not on your own. So how do sinners go to war against sin? The hope-filled answer is found in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We confess. Christ cleanses. We adopt a zero tolerance policy toward sin in our own lives, acknowledging that even a little sin will eventually work its way into the nooks and crannies of our hearts, and we repent and believe the gospel to cleanse us and make us new.
Notice how John describes God in the verse above: just and faithful. Because God is just, He will deal with your sin. Because He is faithful, He will stick with you in your sanctification, carefully cleansing you of everything that separates you from Him.
Moving beyond Private Confession to God
While 1 John 1:9 asks us to confess our sin to God, the book of James encourages us to keep confessing: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5:16).
Christ’s forgiveness is sufficient to cover our sins, but God’s Word teaches us to confess to each other. Why? Nothing causes spiritual amnesia quite like sin does. Sin warps our hearts and minds, causing us to forget the promises and plans of God. When that happens, we need the encouragement, prayers, and support of other Christ-followers.
When you confess your sin to another Christian, you are opening up a pipeline of blessing by which you can be both held accountable for your sin and reminded of the gospel hope that is yours in Jesus. You cannot cleanse your own life of sin.
Your friends can’t do it for you. But you can look each other in the eyes, humbly confess your need for Jesus, and then remind each other of this bedrock truth: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
As you’ve read this post, has the Lord brought to mind an area of sin that needs to be cleansed? Is there sin in your life you need to quickly get out of? Are you waiting for the “yeast” to rise, thinking there will be a better, easier time to choose holiness instead? There isn’t. No time to waste. The need to turn from sin is urgent.
Adding yeast or leaven to a loaf of bread is a long process. It takes time for bread to rise. Unleavened bread, on the other hand, symbolizes a quickness to get out of sin. Rather than allowing the debt of sin to pile up in our lives, we respond quickly and eagerly when God calls us to repentance through His Spirit. Understanding the corrosive and pervasive power of sin means we don’t let sin sit in the “dough,” convinced that it won’t spread.
Instead, we run! Flee! First, confess your sin to Him. Right now. Hurry! Then, confess your sin to another Christian, asking them to pray for you to run away from your sin and rest in gospel hope.
God is graciously inviting us into a new rhythm in which sin doesn’t have the final say, and we are free to live as new, unleavened lumps, cleansed by His resurrection power.
1 Margaret Matray, “Newcastle Woman Maintains 122-year-old Sourdough Starter,” Casper Star Tribune, December 4, 2011, https://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/newcastle-woman-maintains--year-old-sourdough-starter/article_000fcb17-5a5a-5590-84c2-3b55bb1d80fa.html.