“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from 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 10:1-4
Here Paul is talking about Israel and the Jews who were extremely zealous to please and honor and serve God, who were willing to go to any lengths to obey him. Paul gives them credit where credit is due, granting how good it is for them to realize the importance of honoring God. But I think it is interesting here that the reason Israel goes astray is that their zeal was not enough–that it must be based on knowledge.
It is so common in our culture to hear, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” The Jews were sincere and zealous in their beliefs, but their beliefs were mistaken.
Tim Keller says that zeal without knowledge or understanding is fanaticism, terrorism. Imagine a person who intensely believes that a poison solution is not fatal–but if she drinks it, she will be dead. Her zeal not only did not help her, it helped her die. That is zeal without knowledge.
Was Israel’s problem ignorance? Look at verse 3: “being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to [it].” The information is not unavailable, it is simply what suits them; this is a zeal that refuses reflection–they refuse to stop and think things through. Though they are sincere, they can also do a lot of damage.
I think this is true of all of us. We need a knowledge of God and His righteousness in order to make our sincerity right. Anyone can believe anything with a fervent passion, but if that passion does not come from truth, then it is misplaced. It’s so easy for us to pick and choose what we want to believe and emphasize what we really believe in our actions, but what about the rest, what about the parts that we don’t want to see? Creating our own boundaries and beliefs causes destruction. We need to be continually learning and challenging ourselves and each other to believe what is right and true, because if we don’t, our actions are put into something that is misplaced, no matter how much passion and zeal we have.
*thanks to Tim Keller’s Romans study for a lot of these thoughts.