Zealous for God
Virtually all professing Christians we've met are zealous for God...
Do you think we've lost our minds? As, likewise, many pastors are probably thinking, "You haven't seen my congregation -- most of them aren't zealous about anything -- I can't get them motivated!"
Regardless of your experience and whether you immediately agree or differ with us, take the time to let us prove our hypothesis.
Consider "zealousness." A dictionary definition of it's root word "zealot" include entries of "fanatic" and "enthusiastic partisan." In scriptures the source Greek word is defined as having "warmth of feeling for or against" or "to be heated over". Lastly, its Hebrew counterpart is tied closely with words like "jealous" and "envious" -- evoking some more of the depth of feeling conveyed by this Biblical term.
The proceeding definitions show when someone is zealous about God, their passionate belief in Him will always be reflected in their speech, thoughts, and actions. We can safely note that a zealot's conviction will make it extremely hard, if not impossible, to sway them from their focus and strong belief.
Good or Bad
All zealousness is not good. Many people are zealous about things that are wrong -- one example are abortion advocates; not to mention the many terrorists who are zealous for their chosen causes. But how about zealousness for God? Is all zealousness for God good?
The apostle Paul wrote about some zealots in Romans chapter 10 verses 1 to 3...
Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
The preceding passage clearly shows a zealousness for God based on a lie -- in this case, out of ignorance. Paul referenced these zealots as needing to be saved. What?! Zealots for God that need to be saved!! This sounds like an oxymoron until you look closer. It's quick to see that being zealous for any pagan god is wrong. Likewise, all those who are zealous for idols are similarly incorrect (try 1 Kings 18:28 for a Biblical example). Yet being zealous for God out of ignorance (based on a lie) is just as wrong. Notably, the people Paul wrote of would all have felt they were saved -- God's children -- and would have seen themselves zealous for God; acting out of their zealousness.
Roots of Wrong Zealousness
Paul the Apostle was personally zealous for God out of ignorance prior to his conversion (Acts 7:58, 8:3, especially Acts 22:3-5). Paul's actions were motivated by his ignorant zealousness. When anyone redefines who God is, they ultimately end up serving a God they have created or fashioned in their own mind. No one can ascribe acts or desires to God that are contrary to His will and character without redefining who God is. For example, if I should heretically attempt to say that God is comfortable with people lying and accepts this as okay, I cannot do that without redefining God's holiness. When Paul sought after Christians to persecute and imprison them (Acts 9:1-2) he was redefining who God is -- by denying the deity of Christ and more. For Paul to become zealous for God, in a true and positive way, his ignorance of who God is first had to be set right by the Truth (Acts 9:4-5).
Throughout our years of traveling ministry we have informally surveyed many groups of "professing Christians" (accounting for 99% of all people attending most camps and churches). Each were asked how they would describe God -- the God they worship and serve. Virtually everyone cited the descriptor, "God is Love", with many of adding "kind", "forgiving", "accepting", and "loves you as you are." Others responded with answers like, "He's cool" (or "Phat" -- the latest street slang word loosely translated as "cool"), "the Big Guy", "#1", "the Head Coach", etc. The word "Savior" was second only to "Love" as the most utilized descriptive item. What's wrong with all of this? For starters, very few made any reference to God as Judge or His Holiness and Justice (or anything related to these). Other often conspicuously absent references included Creator and Lord. These unbalanced responses help to illustrate the way many people have chosen to redefine God. They portray Him as they wish Him to appear and not as He has revealed himself to us. To see how this redefinition influences people, and their zealousness, we must examine some of the substance behind three of the responses we received.
#1 - Why was "Creator" omitted?
For many professing Christians their God cannot be Creator. Some (especially young people) hold this view out of default. They have never, or have rarely, been taught about God as creator. (Contrast Ecclesiastes 12:1). Many more adopt this view out of willful ignorance. The world around them, media, mainline scientific community, etc., all teach that "true science" proves everything has evolved. Some will concede that their "God started everything" (i.e. caused the Big Bang) but they have ultimately relegated God to being no more than a "force" behind evolution. Some people surveyed could not remember (or cite as being extremely rare) the last time they heard Creation taught. Some of our queries, among Pastors, youth leaders, etc., provide one reason for this -- "There are so many respected schools of thought about creation, even among Christians, that we can't present such a narrow view without offending them." This has long since translated into entire sections of the Bible, especially the early chapters of Genesis, being ignored or glossed over in much preaching and teaching ministry. Great confusion even reins among some of the minority who profess God as literal Creator (i.e. six days Genesis 1:31-2:2). Further survey items have these same individuals making statements about man and dinosaurs not living together or the earth being millions or billions of years old.
In removing God as the true and literal Creator, the following errors have gained a foothold.
(a) God's infinite power has been minimized
(b) God's authority over His creation as it's Creator has been minimized
(c) No literal Adam and Eve equals no literal fall
(d) Man is not responsible for his condition as we evolved this way by chance
(e) "Survival of the fittest" has replaced "Created equal before God"
(f) The Bible is not accurate concerning historical accounts
(g) The Bible can be reinterpreted in light of new scientific evidence or theory
(h) It's acceptable not to teach questionable or debated sections of scripture.
These points work together to mock God's repeated and specific declaration of who He is -- Creator of all that exists (Revelation 10:6, Psalms 148:1-6, Isaiah 42:5, 44:24, Colossians 1:6, Genesis 14:22). For many, the errors previously listed now frame the redefined God they are zealous for.
#2 - Why was God's Holiness omitted?
Many surveyed could not even begin to describe what it means to say that God is Holy. This is important because God's hatred of sin and requirement of justice all stem from His holiness. For that matter, if God is not Holy there is no reason for God's mercy and grace. As for the God who punished sin -- destroyed nations, wiped out cities and individuals -- many of today's professing Christians have relegated Him to the Old Testament, believing the God of the New Testament to be different or new and improved. This is how God has become the God of total acceptance. "God will accept you as you are" has now been translated, "God will continue to accept you as you are." This new God requires nothing -- much less repentance. Now this God might think it a good idea if you would like to change a little -- but He makes no requirements upon you -- "because He accepts you as you are." To recognize God's holiness is to acknowledge His requirement of repentance for the sinner (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Acts 3:19) and God's call to His people to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), set apart for Him (2 Corinthians 6:17), zealous of good works (Titus 2:14). The fact is, many see no need to be saved because they do not see God's Holiness. Many more now profess to be saved because they can "have their cake and eat it too." Who would not want a "ticket to heaven in Jesus' name" with no requirement to turn from sin and "take up their cross" and follow Him (Matthew 7:37-39)? This helps to explain why God is also primarily described as being "love" and "savior." If God is all love, and holiness is cast aside, we're only a short distance from complete universalism -- where God is everyone's savior. Many professing Christians actually go so far as to claim all those who have earnestly worshipped a God of their own defining, but out of ignorance, will go to heaven. (As an aside, Roman Catholics provide a written affirmation of their consent to this false teaching in their 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church. Entry # 1260 states, "Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved."). Many more cite good works as the basis for their salvation regardless of what the Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9... "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Yet at one location alone, fully one-third of the professing Christians present cited good works (or more good than bad) as being the basis and hope of their salvation. A few even combined this with "and I as asked Jesus to be my Savior... (As another aside: Compare this emphasis on works to the Mormon's false doctrine pertaining to grace... "for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." -- 2 Nephi 25:23, Book of Mormon). Without God's holiness being upheld by preaching and teaching of sin -- with it's holy and just penalty -- the church is creating counterfeit Christians who are worshipping an all accepting God of Love who makes no demands. We need to be again showing people to the narrow way (that few will find -- Matthew 7:13-14) rather than trying to widen the gate so all can say they have entered.
#3 - Is Jesus Your Lord?
Responses of many professing Christians ranged from "No" to "I'm trying to make Him my Lord." This stems from a gospel that has separated Jesus into two. Part one says accept Jesus as Savior -- of course He unconditionally requires nothing, much less change or repentance (okay, maybe a token "I'm Sorry") -- a quick formula prayer to be on your way to heaven. Part two proclaims that Jesus can someday be your Lord; as you optionally chose to follow His commands and headship for your life -- this merely for a better life (and future reward) as you're already saved regardless. (Contrast 2 Timothy 2:19, Isaiah 55:6-7).
To leave no doubt, we must here make clear our belief that a person is saved completely, only and altogether, through simple faith in Jesus Christ; coming to Him in repentance of sin. There is no requirement of works, or mingling of faith and works, to be saved -- it's faith alone. (See Ephesians 2:8-9 again).
As to our survey question, the answer is, Jesus is Lord . He always was, is, and will be (Hebrews 13:8). No one "makes" Him Lord. You either are in rebellion to His Lordship or you are submitted to it. Either way -- Jesus is Lord! No one can become a Christian without acknowledging Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9) for only in acknowledging His sovereign Lordship are you able to Him as Savior... Truly, only He who is Lord is capable to save (Isaiah 43:11). In acknowledging His Lordship (as head over the body -- 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:4-6) we learn to follow His commands day by day as He does His holy work in us. The bottom line: God's saving grace changes people.
Yes, the majority of professing Christians we have met are zealous for God. Some are zealous for God out of truth and knowledge, yet many more are zealous for a God they have created.
In keeping with our original definition, both types of zealots are acting out of their zealousness. For those who worship a God that requires no change, and is all love and happiness, they religiously make sure they pursue that which feels good, requires minimal change, and expresses their view of "love". Sadly many of these "zealots for God" are not saved and have become so zealously minded toward their (fictitious) God that they truly cannot see the state they are in. (Review our Fact Summary, Items 1-5, again).
Consider the day when many a self-deceived person will stand before God in judgement. They will call Him Lord (some likely "Savior" and not even Lord) who have never turned to Him in repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10) -- believing they could stay living in sin -- and will be told "depart from me." (Matthew 7:21-23)
Praise God, it is He that can, and does, open eyes and ears to hear the Truth. We must be faithful in proclaiming it! (Romans 10:13-17)
Zealots for God out of Truth and Knowledge
All who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior are zealots for Him. Their true change of heart as a born again, new creation, will result in a true zealousness for God and His righteousness (Matthew 7:24-27, 10:32-33). In saying this, we understand that God's sanctifying Spirit works in different ways and different speeds with different people -- but always He works in them. You cannot have the Truth living within you without being convicted of a lie. Moreover, as we study the Bible (God's revelation knowledge of who He is) once again His truth is working to change us (John 17:17)
God has always wanted His people to be zealous for Him -- as He has revealed Himself to us. (See Numbers 25:11-13, Galatians 4:18, Titus 2:14, Revelation 3:19). Truly no one can zealously worship God, or serve Him, unless in Truth (John 4:24).
Let it be
our prayer to all be zealous for God out of perfect knowledge, truth,
and love for Him. "Jesus answered and said to him, "If
anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him,
and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not
love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not
Mine but the Father's who sent Me." (John 14:23-24).
Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 1994-1997.