Running Fast In The Wrong Direction

Imagine going to Chicago on a business trip.  You have a bunch of meetings and  have plans to fly out right after your last meeting to meet your family in some great vacation spot.  Your meetings run late and you know it is going to be a challenge to get to the airport and get checked in so you can make your flight.  You grab your bags and hail a taxi.  You say to the driver, “I need to go to the airport and I’m running late, step on it!”.

The taxi driver takes you at your word and takes off from the curb, weaves in and out of traffic and keeps his hand firmly on the horn of the car.  You are impressed at the drivers’ focus and determination.  He does seem to be making good time.  You aren’t real familiar with Chicago but you don’t recognize the surroundings.  Finally, you say to the driver, “How are we doing on time?”  He responds, “We should be at O’Hare in about 10 minutes.”  You scream, “O’Hare! I’m flying out of Midway!!”  Needless to say, you miss your flight!

This is the kind of picture Paul gives us of his fellow Jews at the beginning of Romans 10.

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. [Romans 10:1-4]


In talking about his own countryman Paul says they are zealous or enthusiastic in their pursuit of God but their zeal is not based on knowledge.  In other words, they are pursuing God in the wrong way.  Please notice a couple of things.

Zeal in itself is not bad.  If there is one thing that is often true about the church today it is that we lack zeal or enthusiasm.  We have so many things we are involved in that the things of God often get pushed to the back burner of our lives.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had some people (doesn’t even have to be all) that were as enthusiastic about the things of God as they were their hobbies, favorite television programs, their children’s sports, politics or their exercise and diet routines?  Imagine what would happen?

  • Schedules would be changed to make time for God.  People would check their church calendar before making other plans.
  • Worship would be vibrant and alive.  People would be attentive.  Maybe even responsive.  (I can hear someone in     the pews now say, “Where did you get your seminary degree?  From a McDonalds Happy Meal?)
  • People     would invest large blocks of time and money in developing and growing in their relationship in Christ.  They     would sacrifice in order to invest in the things of God.  They would set aside time for Bible Study, they would seek out small groups and conferences where they could develop their spiritual life.
  • And like the parents of athletes we would talk about the Lord constantly . . . even to people who really aren’t interested.

Misplaced zeal.  The problem with Israel was not their enthusiasm; it was the focus of that enthusiasm.  It is possible to be religiously zealous yet still be way off course.

This isn’t hard to illustrate.  Are the Islamic extremists zealous for their God?  You bet they are.  They are so zealous that they kill people and are willing to commit suicide for their beliefs.  Are Mormons zealous for their faith?  Most are very zealous.  Their commitment often puts us to shame. They work hard at telling others about their beliefs and they work hard to let their faith permeate every area of their lives.  These groups are zealous for God but they are running fast in the wrong direction.

Think about another example of zeal without knowledge.  Think about the current dieting craze.  Do we need to diet?  Most Americans (including me) are overweight.  However, some people pursue diet and exercise with a zeal that is distorted.  They make themselves sick by their zeal for dieting or they make everyone else sick because that’s all they talk about.  I know it is better not to have gravy on my potatoes, I don’t need to be told!

The Jews were devout.  However, they were devoted to the wrong thing.  Paul tells us that they did not know the righteousness that comes from God but sought to establish their own.  In short, they were not submitting to God’s mercy and grace, they were devoted to making themselves righteous.

They are like many people today.  They are religious.  They want to develop their relationship with God.  However, they believe it is something they can do on their own.  They believe they can read the right book, meditate in the right way, go to the right classes, serve in foreign lands, do enough good things, try to be kind and maybe even go to church. Then they will reach the right kind of life that God requires (righteousness).

There are many churches who preach this same kind of moralism.  You will be told to be more socially or politically active; challenged to be more open-minded and inclusive.  But you will hear nothing about the gospel of God’s grace extended to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They are promoting a zeal without knowledge, and a righteousness that is earned rather than received.

The dangers of misplaced zeal?  There are several things that happen when people believe they can establish their own righteousness.

We become satisfied with our own Righteousness. We start looking around at others and compare ourselves to them rather than to the holy standard of God and His Word. We start to believe that compared to other people, we are doing are pretty good.  We rationalize that we must certainly be among those who will be saved. In truth, all we are doing is lowering God’s standard.

I like the illustration that compares us to light bulbs.  Some of us are 60 watt, some 75, 150, or even 500 or 1000 watts.  When a thousand watt person looks at a 60-watt person he believes he is doing exceedingly well and begins to feel smug and proud. Unfortunately, God calls us to shine like the sun!  When you compare a 1000-watt bulb with the brightness of the sun . . .it is as if it were nothing. When we try to earn our own salvation, sometimes we actually think we are doing pretty well.  It is a delusion.  Apart from the grace of God we all fall far short of what is necessary for salvation.

Second, We tend to look down at others.  When we live by a performance mentality we conclude that those who aren’t doing the same things we are doing are deficient, failures, and people to despise.  In fact, in order to look better ourselves (and image is everything) we are constantly trying to point out the faults of others.

Third, we may get discouraged and give up.  Those who try to achieve the righteousness of God by their own effort often feel frustrated because of their many failures.  As a result, some simply give up.  They conclude that it is impossible to reach God’s standard and since it is impossible, there is no sense to really try.  They are the ones who will tell you that they tried religion, but it didn’t work for them.

Fourth, people who focus on their own righteousness reject Jesus and the Gospel because they see no need for grace.  If you feel you are doing fine on your own, you don’t need Christ.

Fifth, we misuse the Law.  When we try to earn our own salvation by law-keeping, it is natural to try to focus on obeying the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.  It is much easier to say, “I have not ever committed adultery” than it is to say, “I have never lusted after a woman in my heart.”  It is easier to say, “I never murdered anyone” than it is to say, “I never nursed hatred in my heart.”

This was what the Pharisees missed. On the surface they were outstanding law keepers.  They were very careful to obey the letter of the law.  However, over and over Jesus confronted the fact that the Pharisees were missing the point.  They were like particle board with a veneer finish.  It looked great but it was superficial.


Having exposed the problem we need to look for a solution.  How can we keep from being from running fast in the wrong direction?

First, we must start with Jesus.  We’ll talk more about this next week.  Paul wants us to understand that the only true way to be right before God is through Jesus Christ.  We can’t do it on our own.  Even the best of us are only 1000 watt followers.  We cannot attain God’s standard without His help.  Jesus died for our sin.  He rose so that new life might be given to us.  We are made right with God not because of what we do, but because of what He has done for us and in us, through Christ.

I challenge you to do a personal inventory of your life.  Ask yourself some questions,

If God asked you why you should be granted access to Heaven, (or if someone asked you why you thought you would go to Heaven) would you start listing your accomplishments and religious acts?

When you are asked to describe the Christian faith do you talk about rules and regulations?

If someone asked you how to be a Christian would you tell that person to go to church, work hard, and try not to sin too much?

Do you feel like you are running fast but getting nowhere?

If you answered any of these questions yes, it is possible that you are headed in the wrong direction. Eternal life comes only through trusting Christ.  A true believer is not focused on rules and regulations; they focus on building a strong relationship with their Lord and Savior.  The true believer understands that they have been granted eternal life in spite of the fact that they often stumble and fall.  If you want to head in the right direction, don’t bring Jesus your resume, come to Him with open hands.  Bring Him your wounded heart, your failures, your deep sin and ask Him to forgive you and make you new.  Don’t plead your goodness; trust His sacrifice.

Second, Godly zeal hurts for those who are lost and in need of a Savior.  Did you notice the first verse of this chapter?  Paul said, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  Paul had not given up on Israel.  He ached to see his family and friends in the Kingdom of God.  Every time Paul entered a town he went first to the Jewish synagogue to teach.  Time after time he was abused and at least once was left for dead. Paul was not deterred.  He continued to look for opportunities to share his faith with any of his brothers who would listen.  It didn’t matter how he was treated.  These people needed Jesus and Paul wasn’t going to rest until he had made every effort to introduce his kinsman to the Savior.

Paul’s attitude is different from most people today.  Frankly, it is different from our attitude. A recent survey by Christian pollster George Barna found that only about half (53 percent) of born again Christians feel a sense of responsibility to tell others about their faith. Compare that with these quotes from earlier generations of believers:

“I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls for Christ.”—David Brainerd

“Lord, give me souls or take my soul.”—George Whitefield

“Here let me burn out for God.”—Henry Martyn, on the shores of India

“I am very tired, but must go on … A fire is in my bones … Oh God, what can I say? Souls! Souls! Souls! My heart hungers for souls!”—General William Booth of the Salvation Army

“I would rather win souls than be the greatest king or emperor on earth. My one ambition in life is to win as many as possible.”—R. A. Torrey

People are just as lost as ever.  They are looking for meaning, direction, and some sense of purpose.  When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone?  If you are like most, you are embarrassed to answer. So what has happened to our hunger for the lost?

  • Are we scared we won’t say the right thing?  Maybe we need to be better prepared and maybe we just need to remember that it’s God Spirit that transforms a heart, not us.
  • Are we distracted by our emphasis on providing a wide variety of programs to meet the many needs of the individual?  Is it possible that we need to get back to our primary callings?  We are called to preach the gospel and make disciples.
  • Are we too concerned about offending others?   What is more offensive than letting someone go on their merry way knowing that they are headed to Hell?
  • Have we embraced post-modernism or political correctness so much that we have watered down our theology and have come to believe that all roads lead to heaven?

The person with a true heart of God sees other people as God does: as lost sheep in need of a Shepherd.  A proper zeal is one where we are eager to tell others about the great Savior we have found.

Godly Zeal trusts God’s Power Rather Than Our Own.  Paul knew that Israel was not going to be saved because of his rhetoric.  He knew that salvation is something that God brings to pass.  So, he prayed.  I bet he prayed fervently and constantly.

Imagine how many more people would come to the Lord if we prayed? What would happen if every time we heard someone speak in a vile manner, we prayed for him or her?  What would happen if we responded to every rude person with a prayer?  What would happen if we prayed for those who slander Christians rather than slandering them in return?  What would happen if we prayed for the salvation of those in Hollywood? What if we prayed for people who were pious and filled with the sense of their own importance rather than simply avoiding them?  What if we set aside time every day, even several times a day to pray for those family members and friends who have not yet responded to God’s invitation to receive His grace, forgiveness and new life?

You know what would happen and so do I . . . people would come to Christ!  If we asked God to help us be faithful in our witness and we sought the Lord on behalf of our lost friends, family members, and co-workers, there could very well be a revival in our land.

The church. . . .our church desperately needs enthusiastic people.  We need those who are willing to step up and serve the Lord with energy and focus.  We need those who are so grateful for God’s grace that they are willing to work and sacrifice to reach lost people and to equip those who have been changed by His grace. We need those who will make discipleship a priority in their lives.  So, I guess the real question is, “Will you be one of those people?”

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