It can be easy to be led astray by people’s passion and sincerity. When we see people who have a lot of zeal for their faith and their religion, we naturally want to applaud that kind of heartfelt devotion.
Paul saw this heartfelt devotion when he looked at the Jews. In fact, he knew this zeal from the inside-out. Because Paul himself had been a zealous member of the Pharisees, the most passionate of the Jewish sects.
Paul loves these passionate people — as only a former insider could. He says in the first verse of Romans chapter 10, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1, NIV).
But Paul also realizes how important it is for them to temper their zeal with knowledge. He knows that there are really only two approaches to a relationship with God. One works. The other does not. Paul wanted the Jews’ religious zeal to be mingled with the knowledge of which of the two approaches is the effective approach.
We see the same in our world today. The first approach says, “Lord, I believe I am a good person, certainly good enough to go to heaven. Let me show you how good I am. I have a good heart. A good mind. And even though my actions are not always perfect, I think I do enough right things to be acceptable to you. You’ll see that I’m your kind of person, God. Lovable, even if not perfect. Just the kind of person I know you would want to hang out with for eternity.”
The second approach says, “Lord, you are an amazing God. A good God — morally pure and upright in everything you do and say. Holy. And also an astoundingly kind God. Show me how good and kind, and especially merciful and gracious you are. Because my heart is dark. My mind is filled with ugly things. And my actions? They’re not even close to being consistent with what you ask of me. I could never in a million lifetimes come close to being the kind of person you want to hang out with — at least not by my own actions. In your grace, you sent your own Son, Jesus Christ, to be my righteousness. May his complete fulfillment of every right feeling, thought and act — his fulfillment of every law that reveals your holy will for me — be mine. Forgive my sins, and cover me with the righteousness of Christ.”
Paul is clear which approach is the correct approach, and which is not. The issue of “zeal without knowledge” stretches far beyond any single religion. Why? Because work-righteousness is the default “religion” of every human heart. And it is the religion the apostle Paul begs all of us to forsake for the faith that is singularly effective in producing a relationship with God.
And that is faith in Jesus Christ. Talk about passion and zeal… for all the right reasons, Jesus is someone we can truly get passionate about. Faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior is zeal and knowledge, perfectly wedded!
“For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:2-4, NIV).
Our Bible reading for Sunday, July 26, is 1 Chronicles 1:1 – 2:17, Romans 9:22 – 10:4, and Psalm 89:14-18.
Jesus, grant me your righteousness. By faith alone, I want to have a right relationship with my Heavenly Father. Help me forsake my heart’s natural religion, and no longer seek to establish a relationship with God by my own righteousness. Thank you for your grace and mercy that allows me to make such a request and be completely confident that you will fulfill it.
Header image based on "Freeway Choices" by sacks08, CC By 2.0