The Danger of Zeal Without Knowledge

A rather ironic and curious characteristic of the idolatry of false teaching is that essentially it is “zeal without knowledge.” It is quite common for those caught in the throes of deception and false doctrine to be quite zealous and ardent in their spiritual pursuits.

Wherever false teaching is being promulgated, the perpetrators and adherents commonly are fervently dedicated to their church-group and its purposes, beliefs, and goals. In fact, it is this zealousness by participants in aberrant and cult-like religious groups that makes it extremely difficult for concerned observers to: one, fully recognize and realize the existence of error and errancy; two, to take serious the potential for spiritual and psychological injury and ruin; and, three, to recognize the need for and actually effect appropriate remedial action.

Certainly, this is the case with those who are being duped by the fallacious Discipleship/Shepherding doctrines. They are often very zealous and even marginally fanatical in their spiritual pursuits. And, in a day when there is far too little fervency for the things of God, most any of us are understandably reluctant to do anything that might douse the fire of someone who is on fire, ostensibly, for God.

The Apostle Paul, speaking of his fellow countrymen, the Jews, said, “For I bear them witness that they have a ZEAL FOR GOD…” (Rom. 10:2). He was saying that the Jews’ zeal for God was genuine and sincere, and certainly no people had more religious zeal than the Jews until then. Nevertheless, their zeal, he went on to say, was “not in accordance with knowledge.” They had “zeal without knowledge.” Their zeal, though extremely fervent, genuine, and unquestionably sincere, nonetheless, was not founded upon Truth. Continuing, the former Hebrew of Hebrews and Pharisee of Pharisees said:

For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish THEIR OWN, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (vv. 3,4)

How profound and profoundly apropos the issue Paul addresses here is to the matter of idolatrous false teaching in that he specifically juxtaposes “zeal for God” against “the righteousness of God,” which actually is referring to “rightstanding with God,” or in other words how one obtains rightstanding with God.

When Jesus of Nazareth at the age of thirty was revealed as and took on the role of the Christ, He truly became THE (only) Way [to God], THE (only) Truth [all spiritual truth, wisdom, and understanding), and THE (only) [Eternal] Life [in communion and fellowship with God] (Jn. 14:6). From the moment Jesus was revealed as the Christ, the Messiah, the Door into fellowship with the Father, from that very moment, Judaism and the Old Covenant (not to be confused with the Old Testament books of the Bible) was made obsolete. That is to say that from the moment the Christ was manifested, faith in Christ was the ONLY way to rightstanding with God. The absolution of our sins through Jesus’ shed blood became the NEW Covenant, the “new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) by which those who believed in Him were granted free and equal access unto and communion with God.

From then on, the Old Covenant, wherein rightstanding with God was attained by strict adherence to the ordinances of the Mosaic Law, was no longer in effect. Thus, the statement: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). Christ’s manifestation meant the end of the law in regard to obtaining righteousness, or rightstanding, with God through it. Now, “everyone who BELIEVES has rightstanding with God, “by grace… through faith” (Eph. 2:8).

The obsolescence of the Old Covenant and its replacement by the New Covenant does not mean, however, as some ignorantly surmise, that the Truth God revealed in the writings comprising the books of the Old Testament section of the Bible are now null and void. It was not God or His Truth that changed between the Old Covenant era and the New Covenant era, but rather only the WAY we get to God, that is, the way of attaining unto rightstanding with God.

I always find it fascinating and more than a little ironic that in the very last Old Testament Book, Malachi, God reverberantly declares: “For I am the Lord, I change not !” (Mal. 3:6, KJV). I think the Lord strategically planted that statement in that Book for the very purpose of debunking all the religious theorists’ claims that somehow He changed between the Old and New Covenants. He did not. As the verse implies, He cannot change, because He is the Sovereign and Perfectly Holy Lord. If God were to change His Nature, which is what He is, which is in turn His Word, He could not be God, for mutability signifies prior imperfection. Yet, He is perfectly perfect, and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, without any “shadow of turning.”

Because of the perfection and immutability of the Divine Nature, what God said in the Old Testament writings is just as true and trustworthy now in the New Testament age. “Not one word of ALL his good promises have ever failed” — whether they are in New or Old Testament writings, and regardless of what era He said it in. I unabashedly repeat that the only thing that has changed between the Old Testament and the New is the WAY by which we attain rightstanding with God. Otherwise, what He said and established in the Old Testament is still true in the New Testament dispensation.

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If anything God said or established in the Old Testament were to have changed, He surely would have told us. Generally speaking, however, God is not given to superfluity. Redundancy is not a requirement in the realm of God, which is to say that it is not mandatory that God reiterate in the New Testament writings something He said in the Old Testament writings in order for it to be effectual in the New Testament Age. Anything He has ever said is forever settled in Heaven; it is immutable Divine Law, unless He changes it, and when He changes something He publishes that change brazenly and unmistakably. And, the implications and applications of this irrefutable assertion are great in a number of important areas of doctrine under debate and in dispute today in which mere human opinion and religious bias and tradition are being exalted by some above the revealed knowledge of God.

Getting back to the main point inherent in the Apostle Paul’s allusion to the Jews’ “zeal without knowledge,” he said, “not knowing about GOD’S righteousness,” that is to say, the way God had established for the attaining of rightstanding with Him, which is through faith in Jesus the Messiah, not knowing about that, the Jews sought “to establish THEIR OWN,” and “they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” Now this is the ultimate problem with the idolatry of false teaching and indeed every kind of idolatry — it replaces God’s method for gaining rightstanding with Him, which method is clearly revealed in His Word, with a contrived and incongruous doctrine which has been fashioned and formed in someone’s own human mind.

Not knowing about God’s righteousness, and not wanting to subject themselves to the specific requisites of God’s righteousness, they seek to establish their own. That is precisely what all idolatry is, substituting a false gospel for the true, a false religion for God’s method for righteousness, a false god for the One and Only True God, making a god out of one’s own religious thoughts and contrived religious methodologies. It is genuine zeal for wanting to attain unto God-likeness, but on one’s own terms, without whole surrender and submission unto God Himself and the Way He has established for attainment of that very status.

It is, I understand, difficult to think of zeal as being anything other than a most commendable and desirable trait. But, not always! In fact, there are case stories in the Bible that illustrate very vividly that misplaced zeal can be quite deadly! A prime example is that of King David who with great zealousness for God in attempting to accomplish the extremely noble and virtuous goal of retrieving the Ark of the Covenant and returning it to its proper place of veneration caused one of his most loyal and beloved servants, Uzza, to be struck down dead by God Himself in an outburst of holy wrath, all because David violated certain particulars of God’s established ordinance regarding the method for transportation of the Ark.

David was full of zeal, and his zeal was not for some worldly or self-aggrandizing achievement, but for THE THINGS OF GOD! Nevertheless, his misdirected zeal got a beloved friend killed and invoked the wrath of God, despite all the pageantry, and pomp and circumstance, as David along with all of Israel were praising and “celebrating before God with all their might, even with songs and with lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and with trumpets” (1 Chron. 13:8).

God tells us that the real life incidences that occurred in Old Testament days “happened to them as an example and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). The poignant moral of this story to all of us living at “the ends of the ages” is that as needful and desirable as the fervency of zeal is, zeal, no matter how fervent and fiery, cannot and will not ever supersede the necessity of obedience to God’s already established Word, Will, and Ways, that is, His ordinances.

Even all that we do for and as an offering unto God, must be done or offered up according to the ordinances, according to His Word, Will, and Way. We cannot do it our own way, and have rightstanding with God. Neither can we seek and serve Him according to our own doctrines for seeking and serving Him, and have rightstanding with Him.

When the fleeting vapor of our natural life is over, and we stand before the Righteous Judge to be judged on the basis of our deeds (Rom. 2:6, et al.), faithfulness and obedience to Him will be the standard, not how emotional, fervent, or zealous we were. Zeal never overrides or negates the necessity for obedience of the specific requisites of God’s ordinances. It’s either HIS Way, or NO way!

[Original Post Date on Real Truth Digest E-zine: 12/19/99]

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION, by Dr. Steven Lambert. The book exposes the widespread problem of authoritarian abuse in Neo-Pentecostal church-groups, and explains how it became infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal church arising out of a false movement known as the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement (1970-77). References to “Discipleship” or “Shepherding” (and variables) doctrines, teachings, proponents and participants, and so forth, allude to the pertinences associated with that movement.

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