How To Have God-glorifying Zeal For God

5 Jul

“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
-Romans 10:2-4

Zeal is the fervent support–or adherence to–someone or something (a cause or ideal).

It is easy for us to be filled with zeal.  By painting our bodies in the colors of our favorite football team, we exhibit our zeal.  When we engage in a heated political debate with our co-workers, we reveal our zeal for whatever perspective we subscribe to.  And the same thing can be said about our religious beliefs and what they lead us to do.  We can just as easily reveal our zeal in this way.  Yet, as I read the above mentioned verse this past week, I have been wrestling with the question: How do we rightly exhibit our zeal for God in a way that most glorifies Him?

The reason I ask this question is because the text from Romans 10 seems to state that the Jews were exhibiting an ignorant zeal for God that was leading them down a path of destruction, rather than a knowledgeable zeal for God leading to God’s righteousness (and, thus, bringing glory to His name).  Thus, if the way in which we exhibit zeal for God can be either good or bad, right or wrong, God-glorifying or sinful, we should want to better understand what it means to have zeal for God in a righteous, God-glorifying way.

I have known (know) people whom others have declared are “zealous for God.”  Yet, when I think back on their words and actions, I find myself wondering if they were filled with a zeal for God according to ignorance, or according to knowledge.  Let me explain:

The Jews were filled with a zeal for God, which was a good thing.  What was bad was that they were blind to the way in which God had wanted their zeal to be exhibited.  Thus, rather than trusting in God’s righteousness for man (identified in the person and work of Jesus Christ), they, in their zeal, sought to create their own righteousness before God through the law.  They did not understand what it meant to truly be zealous for God in a way that glorifies Him.

Connecting this to the here and now, I am led to think of people who are declared to be zealous for God who seem to do the same thing.  Righteousness is sought through “spiritual experiences”, ritualistic traditions and incantations, skepticism, acceptance and humility (which sometimes is nothing more than veiled arrogance), and good works.  Seeking righteousness according to our thoughts, words, and deeds is antithetical to the righteousness of God, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is a zeal for God according to ignorance, because we do not know what God’s righteousness really is.  Its so easy to fall into, though, because we can measure it, feel it, and find some level of satisfaction in it.  But that doesn’t make it right.

Our righteousness before God is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and is received through faith in Him.  We must come to understand just how dreadfully sinful we are (alienated from God and under His wrath), and recognize our need for a savior outside of ourselves and our own experiences.  We must trust that Jesus Christ is who He says He is (the Savior King of the world), and did what He said He did (lived a perfect life, died an atoning death for us, and rose again to take up His throne and secure the efficacy of His work).  This is what a zeal for God according to knowledge looks like: to wholeheartedly bank upon the person and work of Jesus, and letting people see that in your attitude, words, and deeds.

Therefore, I believe we glorify God most in our zeal as we live in dependence and joy, graciousness and love towards one another, and by having a strong sense of confidence, knowing where our righteousness is found.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

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