It is assumed by many today that there is good in all religions. It is described like the spokes on a wagon wheel. There are many spokes but they all lead to the same hub. And so it is reasoned that there are many religious paths but they all lead to heaven. The test applied is sincerity. It is felt if the person is sincere then his faith or his religion must be valid.
But the Apostle Paul referred to those who have a zeal but without knowledge. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1-2).
Zeal of God Is Not Grace
Some argue that since man by nature is sinful and does not seek God, that if he seems to be kind or has a religious zeal that he must be saved. But the fact is that great zeal is often seen in false religions. The prophets of Baal cut themselves till their blood gushed out. Pagans cast their babies in the fire in an attempt to please their god. Modern day suicide bombers blow themselves up and kill others in the name of religion.
Jesus spoke to the Jewish Pharisees in his day saying, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7). Here were Jewish religious leaders, zealously worshiping in the name of the God of the Old Testament, yet Jesus says they are hypocrites, their hearts are from God, and their worship is empty.
Again Jesus says to his Jewish audience, “…if ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham…If God were your Father, ye would love me…Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:39-44). The apostle Paul was “a Pharisee of the Pharisees” prior to his conversion. He writes that “concerning zeal” he was blameless, to the point of persecuting the church and putting Christians to death. But after he had an experience of grace he saw the error of his way, repented, and counted his former zeal and works but “dung”.
There are those today who even in the name Jesus Christ are very zealous and do what would be considered to be good works. But not all who demonstrate zeal in their religious activities actually know the Lord. At the last day these words will be spoken by Jesus to those who had a zeal of God, but did not have salvation by grace through faith in Christ:
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).
The Need For Jesus’ Righteousness
Paul plainly says that his fellow Jews, with whom he once shared not only familial connections but religious affections, are not saved. There were two problems with the Jews’ zeal, Paul goes on to explain. It was not according to knowledge, and they were not submitting themselves to the righteousness God. They were ignorant of God’s righteousness—they did not understand what God required of them. Jesus said, “…that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisee, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Charles Hodges wrote that the Jews’ “ignorance implied ignorance of the character of God, of the requirements of the law, and of themselves.”In addition, they had not submitted to the righteousness of God—had not submitted themselves to Christ. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The only righteousness by which one can stand acceptable in God’s sight is the righteousness found in Jesus Christ.
So while it is assumed by many today that sincere, zealous people are all saved, the Scriptures do not support it. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6). And in Acts 4:12 we read, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” When we look at Scripture and don’t base our views on what may be popularly believed, we see that not every sincere, zealous person is on their way to heaven. Some who did works in the Lord’s name will be told, “I never knew you.” That is sobering indeed. But the good news is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners. If you see you have no righteousness you can find it in Him. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Jesus says that “him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” and “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” It is not your zeal, it is not your good works, it is not your gentle spirit, it is not your sincerity or zeal that will save you—it is Jesus.
Could my tears forever flow, Could my zeal no languor know,These for sin could not atone:Thou must saved, and Thou along;In my hand not price I bring,Simply to Thy cross I cling. ---A. Toplady