We don’t use the word zeal or zealous much anymore. Zeal is instead replaced with passion, enthusiasm, or determination. The word may be relegated to the dustbin but the drive, emotions, and persistence it describes are alive and well. Name the cause and there will be a zealot somewhere in the picture. But here we must be clear, zeal in itself is not a marker of rightness. Just like someone can be sincerely wrong, someone can be zealously misguided. That’s where faith comes in.
Often overlooked when we read Paul’s Letter to the Romans is his exploration of Jewishness and Christ. For instance, in the latter part of chapter nine and the beginning of ten Paul describes how the zeal of the Jews caused them to miss Christ.
“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,” (Romans 9:30–32, NASB95) And, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:1–3, NASB95)
Paul experienced this Zeal for the law first hand, even participated in it until he encountered Jesus. But let’s not just lay this at the feet of the Israelites. Whenever the program, the organization, the marketing, the performance, or the cause becomes more zealously followed than Jesus there is a problem. It’s easy to see that fault in others but difficult to see it when we look in the mirror.
This doesn’t mean that having zeal is wrong. Notice what Paul said – they did not pursue it with faith. Our zeal must be anchored to faith or it will ultimately fail. Zeal without faith is like building a wall to keep out the ocean. An endless struggle that seems to have no end. Zeal with faith forgets the wall and goes for a swim; trusting God to keep the oceans in their place.
Let me put this in more concrete terms. I don’t turn away from folks because of their sin although I desire that they would find repentance, victory, and healing. I am zealous that they would choose to go a different way and follow Jesus. But I have faith in the Holy Spirit to work in their heart with His perfect timing. I may see ugly sin in their lives. They may still pursue harmful habits, say wounding words, or are caught in a web of addiction. Those are the things I can see. The Holy Spirit sees far more and may be working and wooing them to give something far deeper to Him. My kind of zealous faith is to encourage no matter where someone is at on the journey towards Christ. What’s yours?
Zeal keeps us moving; faith keeps us moving in the right direction.
Faith from A to Z. Thank you for coming along on this journey. I trust and pray that in some way the Lord showed you something new. Plowed new ground and confirmed seeds planted long ago. Thanks also to those that contributed articles, comments, and prayers. Let’s all – “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2, NASB95)