Monday, December 10, 2012

Is Zeal For God Always Good?

If I asked you this question – “Is zeal for God always good?” – what would you say?  Without any context I think we would typically say yes, zeal for God is always good.  In fact, I wish Christians had a lot more zeal for God and a lot less for the world.  But as is always the case, the Bible has a way of correcting my opinions with truth.

In Acts 22, Paul is giving his testimony to a riotous mob (seems like riotous mobs tended to form anytime Paul went into a city and preached the gospel!):
Acts 22:
1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.
2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)
3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.
4 And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.
Paul specifically states that before he was saved he was zealous toward God.  But what did that zeal look like?  Verse 4 explains that he “persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women”.  Paul, in his zeal for God, imprisoned Christians and had them put to death.  He thought this was the kind of zeal and passion God was looking for.  Jesus warned of this misplaced zeal in John 16:2, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”

This reminds me of the crusades where supposed “Christians” went to battle against Muslims in the name of God.  This militant Christianity is a complete misunderstanding of the kingdom of God, which is spiritual not physical (Romans 14:17).  If you see a supposed Christian leader sitting on a throne and ruling over a city, you can KNOW that kind of zeal is not right!  Zeal for God is NOT always good!  Just because you have a zeal for God doesn’t mean you are in obedience to the words of God!

Another telling passage is Matthew 15:8 where Jesus preached against the religious leaders of his day “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.”  The context is clear if you look it up.  The Pharisees worshipped God with their lips, but added commandments to the Bible.  Jesus called this legalism vain worship in verse 9.  Their zeal for God resulted in adding to the Scriptures man-made rules they expected the people to obey.  I see the same wrong zeal today.  Catholics, in their zeal for the church, add tradition to the Bible and works to salvation, condemning countless thousands to an eternity without God.  Fundamentalists, in their zeal to keep young people away from the world, judge everyone else by their own personal preferences.  Many preachers in their zeal for doctrine will add or take away from the Bible in order to justify their doctrinal system.  Many Christians, in their zeal for winning souls, have people pray a quick prayer but skip the parts about repentance and true faith (compare Romans 10:14 to the previous verse).  All of these have a zeal for God, but their heart is far from the truth.

And in Romans 10, Paul specifically states that the Jews “have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge”.
Romans 10:
1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
What a great way to summarize the problem.  “They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge”.  You can talk the talk and walk the walk, but it doesn’t mean your zeal is based on knowledge – the word of God.  You’ve got to make sure your actions and beliefs line up with the Bible.  You’ve got to make sure you are Biblically based with a Biblical worldview.

You’ve got to remember that just because someone sounds like they love God and love the Bible, doesn’t mean they actually do.  If a Christian writes an article like this one - http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/5-things-fundamentalism - and says they love the Bible but then spreads doubt in the same article that Genesis chapter one is not literal, scientific truth (in spite of the clear statements from Jesus and the other prophets that Genesis 1 is literal and scientific), then that person doesn’t love the Bible, no matter how much they say the love the Bible.

Zeal for God is not always good.  Sometimes it is without knowledge.  Sometimes zeal is vain, empty, worthless, and meaningless.  The key to it all is Scripture.  Do your beliefs and actions follow the Bible, or do they not?  If there is such a thing as vain worship in Matthew 15, then there is such a thing as vain zeal.  Vain zeal is appealing but destructive and exciting but meaningless.  I desire for Christians to have a zeal for God, but it needs to be according to knowledge.

So are we to have zeal at all?  Yes …
Titus 2:14
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
But remember, “zealous of good works” needs to be defined by what the Bible calls good works, and not by what we think it means.

1 comment:

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