Zeal without Knowledge - Romans 10:1-4
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them (Paul’s fellow Jews or Israelites) is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
The main point of this study is to differentiate between the type of zeal that believers have versus that of unbelievers. It is imperative and critical for us to see the difference so that we do not justify something that is not only misguided but also very dangerous. We will also discuss how knowledge, faith, and application are all involved in the process of spiritual growth and that all need to be present and ever-increasing if we are to advance spiritually. What determines spiritual maturity, and how can we tell if we are growing?
Zeal without knowledge is dangerous, whether it stems from a believer or an unbeliever (although it is less damaging for a believer since unbelieving “enthusiasm” blinds one to the truth of the gospel). The religious crowd of Jesus’s time was very pious toward God but was actually on the Devil’s side as they attempted to work against Christ’s kingdom. It was they who would plot and eventually help carry out our Lord’s death on the cross. There are many examples of those who have done things “in Christ’s name” and done far more harm than good (no good actually). We see this to be the case with false religion from those who seek to work their way to heaven.
As for our topic on zeal, we need to point out that all believers will experience growing pains their whole lives until they meet the Lord face to face. This means there will always be things we are wrong on (both short and long-term) that we zealously believe, justify, and defend (since there are no believers on earth who are right about everything). We all have and will continue to be zealous for positions we take and hold that are unscriptural and, therefore, not true. We all have and will continue to hold to a little misguided zeal. There is no excuse for this, but it is the inevitable reality since we are imperfect human beings. We will only “fully know” everything once we see the Lord face to face in resurrection (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Of course, there are extremes believers need to avoid. If we aren’t seeking the truth out all that much and really trying to understand it because of indifference (the lukewarm attitude most carry within the body of Christ today), then there will be far more things (not to mention more dangerous things) believers will get wrong and defend “in the name of Christ.” Just because we will never know everything until the resurrection does not mean we shouldn’t make any efforts to increase our knowledge of the truth (necessary for our continued sanctification). We are to give our very best efforts and seek as much as we can (Matthew 7:7-8). The more we want to do the Lord’s will for us, the more we will grow. And the more we grow, the more we should be learning and applying which will result in our zeal slowly but surely being straightened out in the right direction This also means we will better learn how to handle and direct our own personal biases and opinions without them being so misdirected all the time. Like zeal, being opiniated and biased are not bad things as long as they are according to the knowledge of the truth. They too must be projected to the right and proper place. If we are going to be bias and opiniated, we need to make sure that we are right in what we are saying because there is so much danger being around a person so vocal and prejudiced in their views yet who is wrong on so many of them. If they are right in what they say, then good and well. But if not, then they will only cause themselves and others to stumble.
Since spiritual growth is a process that takes time, it is expected that newer growing believers will carry far more false beliefs with them in the early stage of their walk. That is why it is so important for us to be patient and bear with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2) since even believers who want and are growing as they should will have at least some unlearning to do. It is a process that takes time. What matters is the person’s attitude and whether they really want to keep learning and advancing.
Regarding our Romans 10 passage, we have in verse two the phrase, “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” The religious Jews Paul spoke of here did have a true zeal for God only in the sense that their desire for Him counted as a “type” of zeal (otherwise, verse two would not have used the word “zeal” at all). But this zeal was only truly for God in the sense that it was “directed toward Him” or “done in His name.” That is what our verse means by “they have a zeal for God.” However, the Jews of Paul’s day did not have any meaningful zeal for God because their zeal was “without knowledge” because of their unbelief. The zeal these unbelievers who never come to Christ (assuming for their whole life) possess is directed toward God but never received by Him because none of it was truly done for Him in true saving faith. Nothing good any unbeliever ever did will mean anything when they stand at the great white throne judgment (they will have nothing to show before Christ). When we believe in the gospel, we are justified and declared righteous. But if a person remains in unbelief, they remain unrighteous and cannot please God in any way, shape, or form. This is confirmed (along with other passages) by the parable of the sheep and the goats judgment (which refers to all unbelievers of all time). Verses three and four of our Romans passage shows us why this is the case when it says “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” There is a difference between the righteous zeal believers possess and that of unbelievers.
Knowledge, Faith, Application, and Spiritual Maturity
Knowledge (the truths of God’s Word), faith, and application all go together and cannot be separated. Removing just one of these critical aspects would make spiritual growth and pleasing the Lord impossible (it would also make coming to Christ and getting saved impossible). It is a highly misunderstood subject in today’s church where many Christians talk about the fact that we need to be unified yet aren’t doing that as they should (something that is objectively true based on Revelation 3:14-22). The passage in quotation marks confirms that most believers are lukewarm, that much we know. But, and understandably so, there can be a degree of confusion as to what a red-hot Christian is supposed to look like. As in, how much does one have to know and apply in order for that person to be said to be maturing as they should be? That question isn’t the right one to ask because there are no specifics written on some scale that can give us the answer. This is because how much one knows is not the issue. The real concern (and this is what distinguishes serious believers (whoever they are) from most in Laodicea) is the person’s attitude and whether they are actually trying to grow spiritually by searching for, understanding, and applying the truth. And those who are actually serious about advancing spiritually will naturally learn more as they go along.
The issue with most Christians today is (and this is why our Lord says they are lukewarm) is that very few are actually trying to learn and do much of anything (grow spiritually). This easily explains why most in the church never get around to using their spiritual gifts in the ministries the Lord is calling them to (a sign of a lukewarm Christian is that they never pursue and fulfill their spiritual calling). So many people go through the motions by attending church services and fellowshipping but not really focusing on seeking to grow by advancing in their walk with God through consistently seeking out the truth and applying it. And most assemblies either teach very little truth at all (too much sermonizing, motivational speaking, stories, illustrations, etc.) or contain nothing but “baby food” (milk). It is true that “milk” will be necessary in the early phase in a newer believer’s early growing stage. The problem is that most don’t get out of the infant stage because the right spiritual food required for that to happen (meat) is not being served (in most congregations). The truth is not sought out all that much because just going to church and having fellowship is seen as enough to “follow the way of love” and fulfill one’s duty.
1 Corinthians 13 can wrongfully be taken to mean that knowledge isn’t that important. But the more truth we know, the more we can apply. The more we apply, the stronger our love for others will become (and the more effective we will become in our ministries). For spiritual growth to occur, our knowledge, faith, and application must continue increasing (all three cylinders must be firing). That is what it means to follow the way of love. If we don’t apply the truth we know in our hearts by faith, then we can’t love God and others as much as we should (if you love me you will keep my commandments John 14:15). Knowledge of the truth (the truth is the real issue and a better description of what all believers need) without “execution” is useless, but believing one can grow in their faith and application without continually learning more is terribly false and misguided (the truth must be sought out without compromise). If only one of those aspects is ignored, then little else will matter. So many individuals take to extremes where they overemphasize one or two while neglecting the rest. Some may do this wittingly or unwittingly. Others may acknowledge all three yet not be doing them all that much themselves. It is easy to talk well, but whether there is a genuine desire to do those things is a different story. Is the truth continuously being sought out? If so, is it believed and applied? Laodicea is doing very little of all three aspects, which explains why most believers remain in the infant stage (it also explains our Lord’s words to us). For our faith to grow continuously (and for us to live the Christian life better day by day), we must continue to advance in our learning.
Now in case there may be any misunderstandings about everything above, it is appropriate to provide a few examples to clear up any confusion there may be here. Firstly, having more knowledge of the truth than someone else doesn’t mean said person is more spiritually mature per se. The individual with less knowledge may be applying more than the other brother or sister. The Christian life is all about living and walking in faith. So although we should be increasing in our knowledge and application, it is all about how much we apply in proportion to what we do know. As long as we want to learn more (our attitude is aligned as it should be), how much we know in the present is not as much of an issue as long as we keep advancing. It is our attitudes which are most crucial.
The above leads us to the question of “what about teachers?” Since pastors are expected to know more of the Word and have more head knowledge and a more consistent application of it (Luke 12:48, James 3:1), does this mean (assuming they are applying more because they know more) that they are greater believers? Not necessarily. Any other believer could be applying more in proportion to what they know than a teacher.
Finally, the following is an excerpt from “Red Hot or Lukewarm - The Current State and Reality of the Church.”
Although this life we live as Christians is all about faith ( and it is all the good choices we made in this life through faith which will earn us all our eternal rewards Hebrews 11), the truth (sought out, understood, believed and applied) is necessary for that faith to grow, thrive, and produce as it should. This is why we cannot stress good spiritual nutrition enough (something that is majorly lacking in most churches today). We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” The same applies to the spiritual realm because the believer needs serious, in-depth Bible teaching to make the most progress for Christ. And the truth (what we choose to believe) does matter because what we believe tends to shape our lives and dictate how we live them. Getting certain things right or wrong can (depending on how major they are) change the course of our lives for the better or for the worse (and even threaten our faith and potentially endanger our salvation).
And true unity can only be achieved when believers learn to be of “one mind.” What this means is that the church as a whole needs to have the same attitude for the truth (which requires prior repentance Revelation 3:14-22) in that everyone is making as much effort as they can to seek it out, learn it, understand it, believe it, and apply it. The truth is what unifies and makes us “one in mind” (1 Peter 3:8). Physical fellowship, by itself, achieves no such purpose. It is all about faith and thus, our attitudes which will dictate how much and how well our faith grows. None of this implies that there won’t be disagreements (all believers will disagree on some things). But the more like-minded believers become, the more (with time) they will agree and the less they will disagree on major teachings and issues (even if disagreements will always remain). But it is difficult for those indifferent to the truth to be of the same mind as those who are serious about it as they should be and vice versa (even if they are both unified as fellow siblings in Christ who share a common faith).