I suppose you could come up with all kinds of lists of types of Christians, but in conversation with a couple of brothers recently it hit me that Paul (perhaps unintentionally) gave us a brief, handy list in Romans 10:2. Speaking about his Jewish brethren who had yet to accept Christ, he said “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (NKJV).

Zeal and knowledge. These two factors give us a nice x-y axis on which we can chart 4 different kinds of people when it comes to religion. You can have both, you can have neither, or you can have one but not the other.

Type 1: No zeal, no knowledge.

This person is spiritually dead. They don’t know, and they don’t care. The problems with this are so obvious and so numerous that I won’t even bother to take up space with them here.

Our culture that is so rife with nominal Christianity sees plenty of these dead men walking. They are those who know nothing of the faith they claim and are not interested in finding out more. Their version of Christianity is something they do solely on their own terms.

Jesus does not offer cheap grace. He sets the decision before all those with neither zeal nor knowledge: repent, or go follow someone else.

Type 2: Knowledge without zeal.

This is a very dangerous place to be. The knowledgeable person who has no zeal is in the same boat as the Pharisees Jesus so often spoke against. It was to these types that Jesus spoke in Matthew 18:5 (quoting Isaiah 29:13), “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” This is exactly what He addressed in the Sermon on the Mount when He brought up commands they all knew like the back of their hand but revealed how they had missed the true intention of the commands – change of heart.

To be honest, this can be one of the most common traps for those of us in the churches of Christ. We are a group that emphasizes Bible knowledge – and don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing! We should all be pursuing greater knowledge of the Word, because it’s through the Word we come to know our Lord. But it can be very easy to know all the right things in our heads yet be totally unaffected in the heart. “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies,” Paul taught us (1 Corinthians 8:1).

It’s this kind of approach that turns the Bible into a textbook, full of facts to be memorized, or a legal code, full of codes to be cited to establish authority. The Bible has immeasurable depths of knowledge to be mined, and has many commandments we must keep, but we must never let it become a volume that only speaks to the head. This was the struggle of the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7. They had all their doctrinal ducks in a row, standing firm against false teachers. But they had lost their first love. Knowledge, but no zeal.

Type 3: Zeal without knowledge.

This, of course, was the type Paul was addressing in the verse that spurred this article. He was writing of Jews who cared greatly about God but remained under the Law instead of submitting to Christ for their righteousness. And as admirable as their zeal was, it would not save them. Knowledge is crucial.

When someone first becomes a Christian, this will typically be their state, and that’s ok… for a time. Zeal that is never paired with knowledge is a whole other kind of danger. This person can have a fire to do things for God and tell others about Him, but if there is no knowledge there, they will deceive both themselves and others. “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Proverbs 19:2 ESV).

This was the struggle of the church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:18ff). They had increasingly good works of love, service, faith, and patience. But they did not stand for truth in opposition to “Jezebel” who taught sexual morality. Clearly there was zeal, but also either a lack of knowledge or an unwillingness to use it.

This particular zone is more commonly a progressive problem. All kinds of bad ideas start with someone (perhaps even a well-intentioned person) doing something in the name of God without consulting His Word to see how He might feel about it. All kinds of wrong ideas have been propagated over the years in the nebulous name of being “loving,” which shows a desire that is in the right place but an understanding that is not.

For this reason we must “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18a NKJV).

Type 4: Zeal with knowledge.

I don’t think anybody who is both zealous and knowledgeable would ever say “I’m full of both zeal and knowledge.” The greater love one develops for God, and the more one knows, the more understanding there is that pride and self-congratulation are counter to everything about the Christian life. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t say we want to be full of both zeal and knowledge. Rather, that should be the aim of every Christian.

There are times when our zeal will be strong, and times when it will wane. There will always be areas in which we can expand our knowledge. It is a life-long pursuit to have hearts filled with passion for God and heads filled with knowledge of who He is and what He desires from us. But it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

While the title of this article asks “Which one are you?”, I think the answer to that is going to be fairly consistent. We would all like to think we’re trying to be both zealous and knowledgeable. So the real question is, which of the other options do I have a tendency toward, and how do I avoid it?

Knowing which one we are, praying about it, and applying ourselves to growth is the best way to truly possess both zeal and knowledge.