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HOLY ZEAL: A RARE COMMODITY
by Philip Owen

            The recent visit of Pope Francis fomented a demonstrable zeal among adherents to Roman Catholicism and many of other persuasions, or no persuasion at all, as well.  Sadly, the enthusiasm was misplaced and misguided, stirring many emotions and provoking a flurry of activity but not to the salvation of men nor to the glory of God.  Nevertheless, the display provided a provoking contrast with something that is missing from much of the Protestant church, namely, a genuine fervor for the Lord and for righteousness.  God would have us behave with decency and decorum, but that remains a far cry from the empty, lifeless shells that warm so many pews on any given Sunday morning.  It ought not to be so; God would not have it so.  In fact, one hallmark of salvation is holy zeal.  Paul reminded Titus that “our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus . . . gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Tit. 3:13b, 14).

            Zeal is distinctive.  One of the defining characteristics of someone who has passed from darkness to light, been cleansed from sin, been made a child of God, and been indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God is a zeal for “good deeds.”   A love for righteousness distinguishes the saved from the lost.  One who experiences no hatred for sin in general and no sorrow for personal sin and who manifests no repentance demonstrates no evidence of a redeemed life.  Similarly, one who exhibits no desire to devote any of his time and talents to serving the Lord calls into question his spiritual wellbeing.  There are both a from and a to in our salvation:  believers have been redeemed “from every lawless deed” “to . . . a people . . . zealous for good deeds.”  The clear implication is that the first and second go hand-in-hand in a believer’s life.

            Zeal is productive.  Watch a person who dislikes his job:  he mopes, he daydreams, he pokes.  A zealous person is productive.  He respects his employer, loves his job, or, at the very least, attacks his work with enthusiasm.  Zeal goes places, gets things done.  Little of value is accomplished without zeal, and the work that is done often suffers from poor quality.  Believers are zealous for good deeds.  Seeking to know and to do the Lord’s will, they covet opportunities to serve the Lord, to bless their brethren, and to help the lost.  Their efforts are not casual or careless:  they do not seek just to “get by” in their service but to do their best as unto the Lord.

            Zeal is attractive.  Energy in the work of the Lord and enthusiasm for righteousness are attractive.  Godly people want to be around people who demonstrate holy zeal.  Even the lost may find those qualities attractive—particularly when they derive the benefits of a saint who serves them honestly, graciously, and as unto the Lord.  Few things are more distasteful than someone claiming to be saved who seems to find the things of the Lord a drudgery.  On the other hand, one who serves with rejoicing brightens whatever space he occupies.

            Zeal is contagious.  Just the arrival of some people brings a cloud over a gathering; the presence of others brings a ray of sunshine.  Although sin of any sort enervates, robbing the soul of all spiritual power, holy zeal energizes.  God uses men and women who are willing to stand in the gap and make up the hedge.  Those with holy zeal for the Lord and His Word lead others to become zealous for the truth.  We tend to shy away from those who tend to be morbid or depressed, but we are attracted to those with godly fervor.  God does not call us to foolish emotionalism, but He does call us to fervent pursuit of the truth and a zealous regard for righteousness.                           

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