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The House Church Network: Dedicated to Kingdom Expansion
Can a Zealot Become a Christian?

This week's question comes from Patricia on the Internet. She shared she had once been a loving and compassionate Christian, but as she read scripture she became arrogant in her knowledge toward others. She writes, "When I got all 'intellectual', I became more unloving and self righteous like the Pharisees. . . . I can't seem to get that 'good' relationship with Him [Christ] going again . . . Can you help?"

Here is a question I can relate to personally. When I was in Jr. High school I was a zealot for Christ. I handed out tracts, I preached to my friends (and I lost a lot of them), and I was generally obnoxious in the name of God. As I look back on that period, I realize I was so heavenly minded that I was no earthly good.

Both Patricia's plight and my own past can serve to illustrate the difference between a zealot and a disciple and what we can do about it.

A zealot is someone who carries extreme or excessive devotion to a cause and conducts vehement activity in its support (Webster's New World Dictionary). In Jesus' day, Zealots were political terrorists who believed in using covert violence and terrorism to drive the Roman government from Palestine. Today, in Christianity, a zealot is someone who pushes their particular brand of the gospel down the throats of everyone they can, in any way they can. Adjectives describing zealots include: arrogant, puffed-up, critical, self-righteous, condemning, and closed-minded. The problem is, none of these words should ever be applied to a Christian. That's not what Jesus taught.

What Jesus did teach was discipleship. A disciple is a pupil or follower (Webster's). In Jesus' day, a disciple was someone who followed literally in the footsteps of their teacher and learned all they could so they could emulate them. Adjectives describing disciples of Christ include: loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled (from Galatians 5.22-23). Notice that a disciple is the antithesis of a zealot.

So, how does a former zealot become a Christian disciple? Just like Simon the Zealot of Luke 6.15 -- one of the chosen twelve disciples. You learn from Jesus and you follow him one step at a time, one day at a time.

In my case, and I suspect in Patricia's case, we first have to learn to forgive ourselves. I sometimes quip that I used to turn more people off to God than I turned on. And for a long time I felt rather guilty about it. But, over time, I've learned to forgive myself because I know God forgives. But self-forgiveness isn't particularly easy; it's something we have to work on regularly.

Next, we need to see others like Jesus and God see them. No matter who the person was, Jesus saw and treated everyone like a child of God. Jesus had compassion for all, even for those who opposed him (Luke 23.33-34). When we can see everyone like God sees them, we'll experience the limitless love God has for all creation.

Finally, if we are to be true disciple of Jesus Christ, we have to get back to basics. Those basics are obedience to Christ's teachings: "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15.14). All the commands of Christ were about loving one another and loving God (Luke 10.27). Christ calls for his disciples to do everything in love and with love.

When we move from zealousness to discipleship, and when we reflect love, joy, peace, patience, and all the other fruits of the Spirit, people are attracted to the light of Christ in our lives and we have the opportunity to share the good news in such a way that it can be heard.

And as we do, we'll discover, or re-discover, that lovin' feeling that comes from being a true disciple of Christ.

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