1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:1-2)
“Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.” (A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy)
God really does seem to care that we know him (John 17:3)… and know him rightly. Any old expression of religion won’t do and, in fact, can often lead to a dangerous idolatry.
The Apostle Paul, passionately concerned for the salvation of the Israelites, admitted that they had a zeal – perhaps even an enviable zeal – for God. Yet, he was quick to follow that admission with the sober truth that their zeal for God was not according to knowledge. They were wrong in their understanding of how to obtain righteousness.
It seems that in our day we give points to folks for nothing more than the appearance of external and emotional enthusiasm. Maybe they are very exuberant as they worship God. Perhaps there’s lots of “God-talk” liberally sprinkled throughout their conversations. It may just be that they are quite active in service to their church. These are all good things, or at least should be good things.
What these folks have to watch out for, (and all the rest of us, for that matter), is that we not have a zeal that is not according to knowledge. Now, I’m not saying that we have to pass a doctoral examination in theology before we go to heaven. What I am saying is that a shabby doctrinal or theological foundation can lead one astray. It can cause a well-intentioned person to unwittingly compromise his or her faith and drift to and fro with every new “Christian” book, television program, or religious movement.
In Exodus 34:6-7, God paints a beautiful picture of some of his attributes. He wants Moses and the rest of his children to know and worship him rightly. He follows up in verse 14 by saying, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” It’s not a coincidence that the first three commandments focus on this very issue.
It’s frightening how easily we can wander off the straight and narrow path. God provides a warning of this very thing in verse 16 when he tells Moses to caution the people about choosing the wrong spouse… one who doesn’t know and worship the one true God. He says that sort of choice will lead God’s people away from God and into idolatry.
Ignorance isn’t bliss. More is needed than zeal and good intentions when it comes to our relationship with God. It is certainly true that knowledge alone can “puff up” the young and immature in the faith. But that’s not the fault of the knowledge. That’s more of a commentary regarding where a person is in their faith-journey. I don’t believe the solution to this potential problem is to ignore our call to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Instead, we ought to seek such knowledge humbly, carefully, and in full dependence on the grace of God. Likewise, the purpose of our pursuit of knowing God should be for God’s glory and the good of others. Psalm 43:34a says,
3 Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. 4 Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.
A mentor of mine used to say that the better we know God, the more we will be able to love, follow, and trust God. It’s awfully difficult to love, follow, and trust someone you don’t know. It’s also hard to love and follow God if you don’t have a growing and maturing knowledge of God… regarding what God has revealed about himself as well as how to live for him in this world.
Almighty God, give me great and increasing passion and zeal for you. Yet please let it be grounded in who you truly are. Help me to continue all the days of my life to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, that I might love you as I ought. In Christ I pray. Amen.
Grace and Truth,