Zeal Is Not Enough.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 10:2a …I can testify about them…
Paul truly loved his kinsmen. He had found his own refuge from condemnation, and wanted them to find it, also. He was trying in vain to give them the very security they were seeking.
Paul is going to “testify” on their behalf. He knows what they are feeling and seeking. Paul can speak from experience. All he has to do is remember his own attitude before conversion.
Romans 10:2b … that they have zeal for God, …
The Jews were desperately earnest about their service to God. They had much enthusiasm for religion. They were neither atheists nor libertines.
Israel esteemed God and the law. Rather than forsake their faith, Jews under Caligula died in droves on crosses and by fire. Also, rather than sin against their law, many of them died in amphitheaters at the claws of lions. The Pharisees were one of the most zealous religious sects ever to exist.
Eleazar, a priest who lived between the Old and New Testaments, was commanded by Antiochus Epiphanes to eat pork. He adamantly refused, saying he wanted his fathers to receive him “holy and pure.” He was undaunted, “No, not if you pluck out my eyes, and consume my bowels in the fire.” He was beaten until his wounds left his body as little more than pulp and blood, a mushy mass. Soldiers, moved with compassion, prepared meat that was not pork and asked him to eat it and say he had eaten pork. He refused and was finally killed. Among his dying words were this prayer, “I am dying by fiery torments for Thy law’s sake.”
The Jews burned with passion for God. Josephus said a Jew knew the law better than he knew his own name. It is an indisputable fact; the Jews had a fanatic zeal for God.
Romans 10:2c …but not according to knowledge.Unfortunately, Israel’s zeal was not conditioned by proper knowledge. The Jews serve as the classic example of the fact that sincerity has never been enough to please God. A person can be as lost by following a wrong way with sincerity as by following no way at all. What is the object of our sincerity? To what is our zeal directed? The focus of our efforts matters.
The road to Hell is paved with many good intentions. People often use as an excuse for error, “Well, at least my intentions were good.” Accepting this as a viable excuse, they are sincerely trying to do the best they can, hoping all will work out in the end.
However, zeal and sincerity are of no use to God unless regulated by truth. The only true spirituality is one that is connected to the Word of God.
The Jews knew the Law, but knew little about it. They missed its intent and spirit. They wanted to speak to it rather than let it speak to them.
Even so today many claim to have a respect for the Bible, but they do not understand its spirit and intent. The Bible is sometimes viewed as merely being stationary “authorized to be read in churches.” To them it is a dead letter. They respect it, but refuse to consider it an ultimate authority.
Nevertheless, the Bible is a living flame, a sword used by God to divide the hearts of people. If our views on salvation disagree with those of God’s word, we are wrong. We may be sincere, and probably are, but are also sincerely wrong, dead wrong; and the result will be everlasting condemnation. Learn from the tragedy of Israel. They had zeal, but funneled it down the wrong channel. Sincerity was not enough. They were lost.
Guard the spring from which our zeal flows. Make sure our thoughts agree with God’s Word. Rein in your imagination. Keep it from flying too fast. Our Pegasus – our zeal – needs a golden bridle, God’s Holy Word.
Israel’s zeal to earn God’s favor caused them to place a hyper-emphasis on external matters. The observance of proper rites and rituals become the essence of their religion. They wanted to work, work, work for their salvation. They balked at receiving a free gift based on Christ’s death.
Nothing has brought the world more grief than misguided religious zeal. It has violated humanity under the guise of doing God’s will. “The worst of madmen is a saint run mad” (Pope).
A mistaken zealot is like a lunatic with a firebrand in his hand. Religious zeal, divorced from Bible restraint, has proven proud and cruel.
People have done the vilest things out of zeal for God and religion. Think of the Crusaders, the Spanish Inquisition, terrorist bombings, wars between Arabs and Jews.
The sickening stories of religious persecution remind us how dangerous misguided religious zeal is. The persecutors have really believed they did God a service. Augustine rightly said it is better to limp down the right way than to run with all our might down the wrong way.
It is sad to ponder the pain caused in this physical world by misguided religious zeal. Its effects in the spiritual world are even worse. It sends people to Hell–the worst thing that can ever happen to people. Jesus said, “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
The worst result of misguided zeal is; it leads people away from God’s only means of salvation. In their exuberance they overlook the blood of Jesus. Excitement impels them to seek something more difficult.
What tragedy! People want God, but zeal causes them to lay out their own terms for communing with Him. Some earnest and sincere seekers miss salvation because their zeal sends them too far afield to find it.
A parable from James Hamilton well illustrates this truth. A colony once suffered a terrible plague. People began dying everywhere. Doctors declared it to be beyond their skills, and everyone was left in despair.
When the plague was at its worst, a stranger arrived and told of a plant that could heal the disorder. He also left a book he said would help them.
News spread through the colony quickly. The people decided to seek out this plant. They agreed it was probably far away and commissioned parties to find it. The search was on for the prized plant.
Their efforts proved fruitless. People continued to die. One city leader had gone on several expeditions, but now he, too, was sick. He tossed and turned on his bed, trying to relieve the severity of his anguish.
His hand accidentally touched a book on the shelf near his bed. In all the excitement he had forgotten about the stranger’s book. There it was, next to him. He desperately grabbed the book, wiped off the dust, and opened it.
On the first page, the plant they needed was precisely described. The explanations about it went on page after page. The sick man continued turning pages, seeking directions as to how to find the plant. Suddenly, he turned a page and there was a hollow place in the book. In the hollow was a plant. The plant itself had been in the book all along. He was immediately healed and carried the medicine to every member of his colony.
We also live in a plague-stricken, dying world. People are desperately seeking a cure. Zeal sends them everywhere in search of healing. Be still a moment and listen. In his book, the Bible, God reveals His method of salvation. Do not try to devise your own system. Yield to the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus.