True zeal generates obedience. It makes us hear God’s Word with reverence, to pray with persistence, to love others with brotherly affection. It is the height of hypocrisy for a believer to be outwardly zealous while inwardly committed to sin. A godly heart boils over with holy affection for God and man.
I fear there is a plague of complacency among Christians today. Whatever happened to zeal? Whatever happened to Christians who are on fire to know and obey God, who have (in the words of John Reynolds) “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus among men?” Yet while zeal is a noble trait, it must be properly directed, for not all zeal is good. Here are some pointers on distinguishing true from false zeal.
False zeal is blind. Paul accused some religious enthusiasts of his day of having “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). The fire that consumed them was not the fire of the Holy Spirit but an out-of-control wildfire. The Athenians, likewise, were zealous for religion, but lost as to the identity of the true and living God.
False zeal is self-seeking. It is hypocritical, using religion as a means of gain. It seeks the good of self rather than the glory of God. This is the zeal of those who make a great pretense of godliness, but whose foremost concern is actually personal enrichment.
False zeal is misguided. It pursues minor doctrines and disputable matters while putting aside the weightier matters of God’s law. It is obsessed with traditions and institutions rather than obedience. The Pharisees were far more concerned with the washing of cups than the cleansing of souls.