Real zeal vs. False Zeal

(Photo: Pexels)

By Elizabeth Prata

A regenerated heart means different affections, different point of view, different citizenship. It means the world will hate the believer. And it does. It does.

Post-salvation, I learned that some of the most vicious and difficult evangelistic responses don’t come from the world, but sometimes actually come from people calling themselves other Christians. That is because I learned there are false Christians who possess a false zeal. Or, actually, it’s a true zeal, but it’s misplaced from glorifying God in truth, to glorifying satan in hate.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:1-2).

By this verse we see there is such a thing as a zeal that is not of God. There can be zeal, or fervor, or energy around religious things, but not according to what we know from the Bible. AKA knowledge.

This contrast of false zeal vs. true zeal was highlighted recently with several events in the news. Of course, the “Asbury Revival”, a week-long event that had occurred at a college in Kentucky where a seemingly spontaneous move of God spread across the campus, drawing hundreds of matriculated students, then busloads of students from other campuses, then rubber-neckers. The event seemed to indicate a spiritual move of the Spirit to awaken dead sinners. Or was it? There certainly was an abundance of zeal present. Was it real or false? How to tell? At the very beginning it was especially hard to tell.

Zeal: great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective. Synonyms: passion, fervor, enthusiasm.

In addition, another zeal event occurred. Beth Moore’s third memoir was released in February and the enterprising little Bible thumper from Texas has been busy as a bee flitting from interview to interview. The book rests at this writing at the top of famous best-seller lists. It’s creating quite a buzz. She has been on TV, streaming, and print, her opinions delivered with as much verve as ever, and are eagerly absorbed by audiences, never waning despite her 65 years and over 4 decades in the Christian biz.

Beth Moore has been consistently described through the years as “energetic”, “charismatic”, “passionate”. She puts out an energy as zealous for God.

But how can we discern if we observe a true zeal or a false zeal? Let’s turn to the scriptures.

As Paul finished Romans 9, and remember, there were no chapter breaks in the original letter, before he went on to mentioning false zeal in Chapter 10:1, had reminded the Roman Christians that Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not attain that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. (Romans 9:31-32).

They appeared to be doing a religious effort, they looked like they were on the right track, and part of that appearance is because of their fervent energy.

They went across the world to make one proselyte, but wound up making him twice the sons of hell they were. (Matthew 23:15). That verse is the example of zeal without knowledge. You can be passionate, you can be busy making disciples, but a false zeal will make disciples who miss the mark completely and will wind up in hell as a son of hell. Zeal, no knowledge.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached on the Romans 10:1-2 verse in a sermon called False vs. True Zeal. The sermon is stunning, relevant, and informative. He laid the foundation as he always does, logically, then laid out tests to determine of someone is exhibiting false zeal. Then in the later part of the sermon he laid out how to determine if a person is exhibiting true zeal. I’ll paraphrase his sermon below in 2 parts. Today, we have an exam of false zeal. Tomorrow, true zeal.

Lloyd-Jones’ sermon can be heard here, for free: True Zeal and False Zeal: A Sermon on Romans 10:1-2. Or on Youtube with closed captions (which might help due to his accent).

I think almost invariably that zeal is one of the most prominent characteristics of people who belong to the cults.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Test of False Zeal
by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, paraphrased & quoted from his sermon

Here is one thing which should always raise the query in our minds and that is that our zeal has been imposed upon us by somebody else and we are just conforming to a pattern. You’re becoming just like the rest of them, conforming to an external pattern.

Secondly if it is a zeal that has to be whipped up or organized as it were, or that we have to be kept up to it. If the stimulus has to come from other people on the outside, it may very well be a false zeal.

A third test if you find that you put greater emphasis upon doing than upon being, it’s always an indication. You should be careful if you are more anxious to do things than to be a saint, you better examine your zeal again.

Another way of putting that my fourth test can be put in this form that involves zeal the activity is always very prominent and at the center of the life rather than the truth. The thing you are hit by all along is the activity, this energy that’s being put forth, rather than by the truth which even the people themselves claim to be representing. In other words, there’s always a tendency in false zeal to overdo things. There’s always an element of excess where the activity is more in evidence than the thing which is claimed.

In the fifth place the more prominent the machinery and the element of organization the more likely it is to be a false zeal. When methods and means and organization of machinery are very prominent it’s good presumptive evidence that it is a false zeal.

As my sixth test MLJ grouped a number of things together under the heading of carnality carnality. He meant that by that the flesh. In false zeal there is always this carnal element and it shows itself by a kind of lightness, a lightness of spirit, almost sometimes even a frivolity.

This can sometimes be seen even in religious meetings. There’s a lightness and a joviality and the kind of jovial superficiality. You can’t imagine such things anywhere near the Apostle Paul or any other of the Apostles or anywhere near our Blessed Lord himself, but you get it in these meetings. They’re very zealous. I’m not quitting their zeal I’m granting their zeal. I’m granting their enthusiasm but they always overdo it and there is this light touch about it.

Indeed I have often on some occasions in a certain type of meeting I’ve had to remind myself that I am in a religious meeting. The spirit I have felt present has been the spirit of a cricket team or a football team. The spirit of doing something worldly some wealthy entertainment. Now the people were absolutely sincere but there was lightness in the atmosphere there was no sense of awe, no sense of God, no sense of holiness no sense of reverence but everything was bright and breezy. It was being carried along with the verve and wonderful organizing power I say these are indications of carnality, not of true zeal.

Still under carnality, if there is an element of self-confidence and of assurance and of being in control of the situation, you can be quite certain it is false zeal. Any impression that is given by men – I don’t care how zealous he is, I don’t care how sincere he is – if he gives that impression that he’s in control and self-confident in the show I’m suspicious of his zeal and of his sincerity. If there’s any suspicion at all of his being proud of himself, it is still worse.

But let’s go on to test number seven – false zeal is always impatient to the examination. It dislikes being examined. It dislikes being questioned.

It resents this- it says ‘Can’t you see that I’m zealous … I’m enthusiastic … I’m sincere … I want to do …’ But you say ‘Well but let’s make sure because of the teaching.’ No, no, it’s impatient of all that. It wants to get on with things, must be doing something.

False zeal dislikes slowing down long enough to be examined.

Eighth, that is surely a very bad sign and when it is impatient of teaching. It is still worse they have a zeal of God but not according to knowledge. They don’t want the knowledge, for they’ve rejected the knowledge. They are not interested in it. They must get on with it they say. They don’t want to be taught and teaching is unnecessary. The thing to do is to be doing something that’s the spirit of the false zeal test number nine.

—end Martyn Lloyd-Jones tests of false zeal from his sermon.

As you read along of the 9 tests, did anyone come to mind? I can think of a lot of Christian celebs I see on social media who resist being tested, or don’t like their teaching being compared to the Bible. I can think of several people who exhibit a zeal but after having seen them PERFORM, their teaching actually evaporates. Their teaching has no substance when parted from their charismatic personality.

Monday I’ll post what Lloyd-Jones outlines as tests of true zeal. You’ll notice the difference immediately. Meanwhile, don’t be one of the many who think that just because a person seems passionate for God, they possess a true understanding of the faith. There IS such a thing as false zeal.

There is a danger of setting up zeal or sincerity to the supreme position.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Further Reading

Editor's Picks

Editor's Picks