Understanding Fanaticism

By John Thiel, mp3

We are here to examine an interesting life exercise. As we take hold of Bible truth with all its fascination and high standards, we need to be able to differentiate between a human response to the word of God and the high standards of the word, and a spiritual response; we need to understand the difference between strictness and fanaticism. What kind of an influence do the gospel and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ have upon us and what is the fruit of that influence?

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

What is the fruit of the inroads of the gospel and of the grace of Jesus Christ in humanity? If you are going to be truly impacted by the grace of God, what will this grace of God unleash in your life? It teaches us to “deny ungodliness”. That is a big field of meditation. What is ungodliness? That is what grace teaches us. It teaches us to deny worldly lusts. What are they? It also brings about a sobering experience, that we should live soberly, righteously and godly, where? In heaven? No; in this present world. These are the inroads upon the life by the grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave Himself because of His grace so that He might redeem us from all iniquity, from all lawlessness. Iniquity means lawlessness. I like to be without law; I like to be free from law. ‘How good it would be if I could do just what I like’; but no, there are laws, and the world wants to be free of laws. But we are set free from lawlessness through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will be happy to place ourselves under law. This also produces a peculiar people, a people set aside for God, very strange in the eyes of the world; and they will be zealous of good works.

This scripture contrasts the true doctrine of grace from the modern doctrine of free grace and liberalism, which says, ‘Do what you like, it’s all right, Jesus loves you; He has so much grace towards you that it doesn’t matter what you do, you are going to be saved anyway.’ That is the modern doctrine of grace, free grace, liberalism. Those embracing the true gospel are reproached by liberalists. They are told by liberalists, ‘You are trying to work your way to heaven, but you can’t get to heaven by your works’. Yet here we read that we will be a peculiar people, zealous of good works. We will be casting away all ungodliness, refusing the worldly lusts, and we will live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. The true impact of the Holy Spirit applying in our life the teachings of Jesus, will be regarded as fanaticism.

The baptism of the Holy Ghost as on the day of Pentecost will lead to a revival of true religion, and to the performance of many wonderful works. Heavenly intelligences will come among us, and men and women will speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Spirit of God. But should the Lord work upon people as He did on and after the day of Pentecost, many who now claim to believe the truth would know so very little of the operation of the Holy Spirit that they would cry, “Beware of fanaticism.” They would say of those who were filled with the Spirit, “They are filled with new wine” [Acts 2:13, NRSV]. . . . {CTr 371.4}

When souls long after Christ, and seek to become one with Him, then those who are content with the form of godliness exclaim, “Be careful; do not go to extremes.” {Ibid. 371.5}

Beware of fanaticism. Be careful, don’t go to extremes.” This will be uttered by those who do not know the true working of the Holy Spirit and who do not know the grace of Jesus Christ that teaches us. How many around us will that involve? I would like to look at the contrast between what is written in Titus – that Jesus has redeemed us from all iniquity and purified unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works – and extremism. I would like to qualify the distinction between zeal for good works and fanaticism. Can you see how important that we get this clear in our understanding? This is important so that I can be very zealous for good works because Jesus has redeemed me, and then avoid fanaticism and extremism.

Let us first focus on the characteristics of fanaticism and extremism. I thank God that He has given us scriptures by which we can examine the kind of thing that would be exercised by someone who is very fastidious in the word of God, someone who is trying ever so hard to live up to every little aspect that comes out of God’s mouth, and yet is a fanatic. There are such people. It is very possible that anybody who really wants to follow the Lord to the T can fall into this category. The following scripture gives us a revelation of fanaticism. Jesus is here speaking to the Pharisees; they were the teachers of the people, very exact people; they were following the letter of the law very closely:

Matthew 23:2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men’s shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

What are phylacteries? They are small leather boxes containing Hebrew Bible texts, worn to remind them how to keep the law. The Jews carried many items that would remind them to be very fastidious and exact in keeping the law of God; they made these boxes and put Bible texts into them. To make broad the phylacteries was to make a big show of this. ‘Look at how fastidious and careful I am. Look at the good I am doing here. Can you see how conscientious I am??’ Can we see what fanaticism is? It is the anxiety of making sure that other people are paying attention to the fact that I am so holy and am trying so hard to do the right things.

Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

What were they so particular about? What is a fanatic? He is a person who is so exact, just like everyone else is who really follows the Lord; he tithes every little thing, and Jesus said, This you should do. But the fanatic is so particular about the tiny little details that he ignores the weightier ones; which are what? You can be so particular about tithing, about the little details of health and dress reform – which we should be, don’t make me for a moment suggest that you shouldn’t be – and yet, while being so particular, you can leave the others undone; which are what? Judgement, mercy, and faith. As a fanatic you can be particular down to the enth degree, and yet be very harsh and unmerciful to others. You can have a lack of understanding of others people’s feelings. These aspects of mercy, judgement, and faith are weightier than the little details, but we can concentrate on the little details and leave the weightier matters undone. This is fanaticism.

Matthew 23:24 [Ye] blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

What does that mean? You make sure that the water is pure and that you will only drink pure water, and while you do that you are swallowing a camel. You are taking things in that are much worse than drinking a little impure water.

Matthew 23:25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

The liberalists read this the other way, ‘Oh you don’t have to worry about the outside then, just make sure that the inside is right.’ No, that is not what Jesus is saying. They had to do everything right on the outside as they sanctified themselves. That is important and that is not to be laid off when you become a faithful follower of Jesus. You will do all the finer details as well as the in-depth realities.

…those who claim exalted attainments and who delight in making prominent their good works: {ML 251.5}

The fanatics are people who claim exalted attainments and delight in making prominent their good works. The human nature is such that you want others to recognise that you are really being a good person. This leads into fanaticism.

The rebuke of Christ to the Pharisees is applicable to those who have lost from the heart their first love. {5BC 1098.5}

If you have your first love, you become very particular, you are a peculiar person zealous of good works; however when you lose that first love you don’t lose the fastidiousness of your discoveries, but you have lost your first love.

A cold, legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion. When fastings and prayers are practiced in a self-justifying spirit, they are abominable to God. The solemn assembly for worship, the round of religious ceremonies, the external humiliation, the imposed sacrifice, all proclaim to the world the testimony that the doer of these things considers himself as righteous. These things call attention to the observer of rigorous duties, saying, This man is entitled to heaven. But it is all a deception. Works will not buy for us an entrance into heaven. The one great offering that has been made is ample for all who will believe (MS 154, 1897). {Ibid.}

I want to look right before God, I want to look right in the eyes of the church, and therefore I am feverishly doing everything to look right. That is fanaticism.

Those who are under the influence of the Spirit of God will not be fanatical, but calm and steadfast, free from extravagance in thought, word, or deed. {FLB 56.5}

If a person who is not fanatical is free from extravagance in thought, word, or deed; then what is a fanatic? He will be full of extravagance in thought, word, or deed. He will be continually making big claims of the things that he has learnt in the Bible and in the Spirit of Prophecy. He will be very flamboyant in his expression about what you should or shouldn’t do, without due consideration of the extremeness of that. Fanatics will be very extravagant, enlarging things that they don’t really understand the depth of.

A fanatic is someone who started off well and then lost his connection with Jesus. How easy that can be done. Then you hang onto those kinds of details that you have practised because you loved Jesus; you hang onto those details and they become everything to you. How easy that happens when you have become a very careful health or dress reformer, and then you lose sight of Jesus and you hang onto those things as a life-saving energy, and it becomes fanatical, legal, and cold.

Legal Fastidiousness

This is the exact opposite of calm, restful walking with Jesus. It is when you become very fastidious and feverishly so. Do you know that experience of being tense inside because you are supposed to be doing something and you are watching so carefully to make sure that you are doing it right, and you are tense inside? Tell me, is that peace and rest in Jesus Christ? Not at all. You are under stress trying to do what is right, nervously guarding, restlessly exacting, because you have to be exact. So you are very uptight about doing what is right and you exact it; you exact it on others just like the Pharisees did. As you do that, you become a bigot.

The one object to be kept before the mind is that you are reformers and not bigots. {Ev 90.2}

What is a bigot? An intolerant person. To be bigoted means to hold fast to an opinion, a belief, or a church, without reason, not tolerating the views of others. You can be so correct in everything you are doing, but you are not correct in the deeper things of salvation, which are the restfulness that you can find in Jesus Christ and the mercy and compassion on others who are not as fastidious and as careful as you. The fanatic will say, ‘Yes, that’s them over there, these people are like that, just like it is written;’ and he can’t see himself. The fanatic will never look at himself to examine whether it is speaking about him. He will always be exacting on others. He is bigoted.

There will be some terrible falls by those who think they stand firm because they have the truth, but they have it not as it is in Jesus. {5T 540.1}

If you have the truth, but you don’t have it as it is in Jesus, you are fanatic, and you will make a terrible fall, like the Pharisees did. It is the truth as it is in Jesus that needs to be understood. To live a life of strict rectitude, zealous of good works in Jesus, this must contrast sharply with the life of rectitude and strict zeal of good works as a legalist. It must be a sharp contrast, a contrast from bigoted, narrow-minded intolerance, from a joyless, rigid exaction. When we lose sight of the truth as it is in Jesus, our joy goes out of our walk with the principles and standards that the Lord has initiated upon us. It is all one big drag, and the person who is very fastidious has usually a very long, drab face. He is not happy. There is no shining joy coming out of that life. As you meet up with the exactions, you get a chill, instead of a joy of wanting to do what is right.

Having examined that in some detail, I would rather now reflect upon that which Jesus produces:

A Peculiar People, Zealous of Good Works

Love motivates a scrupulous work of righteousness, a love-motivated action, so that all that God requires is upheld, but with joy. There are liberalists that will hear this and say, ‘Yes that’s you lot. You are all like that!’ That is the way the liberalists will look at it. You will just be as strict as the legalist, just as careful to do it exactly as God says, but there is a slightly different tinge there which can be felt, and that is the love which streams from the soul. That is what makes these people very uncomfortable, because they realise that, ‘These people are very fastidious, very exact, and it feels as though they are exacting, but then I can feel this love. What is happening here?’ This is the influence that Jesus Christ has come to this world to give – a life of fastidious, correct living, with the joy and the love pulsating through us.

It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure. Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil and to impress His own character on His church. . . . {ML 46.2}

When the Spirit of God takes possession of the heart, it transforms the life. Sinful thoughts are put away, evil deeds are renounced; love, humility, and peace take the place of anger, envy, and strife. {Ibid. 46.3}

When you are trying to do everything right and it’s not happening and you are stressing out under it, and someone gets you on the wrong angle in your relationship, you will snap, won’t you? Because you are being so fastidious and yet it’s not working and, These people are treading on my corns and they are not doing it right anyway! Then there is anger. That is not the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God takes possession of the heart, and it brings humility and peace, which take the place of anger, envy and strife.

Joy takes the place of sadness, and the countenance reflects the joy of heaven. No one sees the hand that lifts the burden or beholds the light descend from the courts above. The blessing comes when by faith the soul surrenders itself to God. Then that power which no human eye can see, creates a new being in the image of God. {Ibid.}

Something happens which is not a display. It is something that no human eye can see, and the person who is occupied with his relationship with Jesus is not occupied with the fastidious details; he is occupied with his focus on Jesus and what Jesus is saying to him. He is simply doing what Jesus is saying to him, and he lives by every word that comes out of God’s mouth. He is not occupied with the words, but with the Person of the words. He is occupied with the wonderful compassion that this Person has towards him; and as he is occupied with that, he wants to please that Person, and everything that that Person says he is prepared to do without considering that he has to do this, that, and the other thing. It is an unseen hand that achieves this.

The Fruit of Sanctification

Such are the fruits of Bible conversion and sanctification. {ML 251.3}

His [the truly righteous man’s] nature is so thoroughly imbued with love for God and his fellow men that he works the works of Christ with a willing heart. {ML 251.4}

All who come within the sphere of his influence perceive the beauty and fragrance of his Christian life, {ML 251.5}

There is a fragrance, an atmosphere which is not cold or legalistic. It is a fragrance of Christ in his love, kindness and mercy.

…while he himself is unconscious of it, for it is in harmony with his habits and inclinations. {Ibid.}

A fanatic is a person who is very conscious of what he is actually doing as he reads the word of God. He is occupied with impressions. But the person who is occupied with Jesus is not occupied with impressions; he is occupied simply with the beauty of the influence of Jesus upon him, the love that pulsates from Jesus to him, and which he returns to others. All this he does unconsciously, for it is in harmony with his habits and inclinations. He just does it because that is his habit; God has put it there.

He prays for divine light, and loves to walk in that light. {Ibid.}

He prays for divine light, and when the light comes, he says, This is what I love! This is my joy.

It is his meat and drink to do the will of his heavenly Father. His life is hid with Christ in God; yet he does not boast of this, nor seem conscious of it. {Ibid.}

You are very contented inside, you don’t have to display anything to anybody. You do not act in a way which says, ‘Can you see everybody? I’m doing it right!’ That is human nature. But no. His life is hid with Christ in God; yet he does not boast of this, nor seem conscious of it.

God smiles upon the humble and lowly ones who follow closely in the footsteps of the Master. Angels are attracted to them and love to linger about their path. {Ibid.}

Angels delight to be in the presence of these kinds of people; they like to linger about their path. Would you like to attract angels to you? Jesus can do that for us if we focus our attention on His redeeming love and His wonderful grace; then it will be unconsciously that I will be fastidious and exact in all my ways.

They may be passed by as unworthy of notice by those who claim exalted attainments and who delight in making prominent their good works: but heavenly angels bend lovingly over them and are as a wall of fire round about them…. {Ibid.}

The fanatic exalts the attainments of what he is doing, but he looks upon these people as unworthy. How important it is that we really understand our relationship with Jesus and the strictness of the truths we have contemplated here, so that we never lose sight of the person who is behind these wonderful principles; so that we concentrate so much on Jesus in all this, that we will be particular in every respect – all the dress reform, the health reform, the release of worldliness, the right music, the right principles of being away from the world and all that we have studied – all these things will be perfectly in place, but unconsciously in reference to our display. We will cease from man and look above us. We will not be comparing ourselves among ourselves to see whether we are doing it the right way or not, because we are all concentrating on the same Jesus and we are not looking at each other to try and look better than the other person. That is where envy, jealously and strife come from.

To man is granted the privilege of becoming an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ. {Ibid.}

What actually stimulated my meditation on this was when I was considering having Bible studies with the young mothers who are bringing new lives on this earth; and how many a mother I have seen under the strict standards of Adventism that has destroyed the children by fanaticism. I would hate to see our young people who are now giving birth to children destroy these lovely little souls. I would hate to see them destroy the fine sensitivities of their children by a bigoted manner of communicating to them the high standards that they are trying to train them into. A child feels the atmosphere. Is your life fragrant with the joy and the love of Jesus Christ? That little child will feel it. If you continue to train that little child, in the same way that we can all affect each other, to do what is right because it is joyful, pleasant and attractive, then that little child will love to do it too. But if it’s: Don’t do that! You mustn’t do this! and if you continue to come down upon a child that is forever being hammered with all the high standards and principles that we want to train them up with, that child will die spiritually right from the very beginning! We can do it in our church just like that. We can kill each other’s spirituality by this kind of harshness that spoils the joy of the Lord in our midst. What should we do in the light of everything we have been meditating on?

Look at Jesus

Take another draft of God’s love. He, God, who is so pure, so exact to the finest little detail, so that nothing in the universe is out of place, and that everything can de depended upon and be exact on time – they set their clocks according to the movements of the stars, it can be depended upon – how exact is God? Down to the tiniest little atom. It is all absolutely one hundred percent correct. This God who rules the cosmos, who has written down for us the Bible order and who doesn’t deviate the faintest from the law; yet this person came to this earth and mingled with derelicts like you and me, with hypocrites, polluted humanity. He came and dwelt among us. Ponder Him. While He dwelt among us He could not even be brought to deviate from His integrity and purpose, and yet He would not become polluted by our ablutions. What corruptions stream from us? As He is mingling amongst us, He is the wonderful God He is. Couldn’t He have become so quickly fed up with us? How quick do you become fed up in the church when things do not go exactly right the way that they should be, when you know it is written that this is the way it should be? Who knows better than you but Jesus Christ? And look how long and how patiently He has borne with us. As you look at Him, for what purpose did He mingle with us in the atonement? Was it not to bless us? Was it not to lift us to His own character, to make us as particular and exact as He is? But look at how He did it. He came right down to Gethsemane and the cross, and there He suffers under all the ablutions of our evil, and He says, ‘Look at Me; come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden. Learn of Me. In My integrity and My faithfulness to be exact and do everything absolutely correctly, I have taken upon Me all of your corruptions.’ No one can teach you how not to be fanatical, but Jesus can place it before you and show you that you can be so exact in doing everything that God has revealed in His word, and yet be the most loving and lovable Christian. How do you measure up?

Christ carried out in His life His own divine teachings. His zeal never led Him to become passionate. {ML 187.2}

What does the grace of Christ do? It works in us to make us zealous of good works. What is the zeal? A zeal that never becomes passionate.

He manifested consistency without obstinacy, {Ibid.}

How many people in their consistency become obstinate? Can you see here this wonderful Being? Zealous, consistent, yet not passionate, nor obstinate.

He manifested … benevolence without weakness, {Ibid.}

How many times do we become benevolent, and in our benevolence we become weak? He was still as staunch as a pillar, but benevolent.

He manifested … tenderness and sympathy without sentimentalism. {Ibid.}

Jesus was tender and sympathetic, and yet never sentimental.

He was highly social, yet He possessed a reserved dignity that did not encourage undue familiarity. {Ibid.}

To be highly social, to love one another, and yet to keep a certain protection. That was Jesus. We all have to learn that lesson.

His temperance never led to bigotry or austerity. {Ibid.}

You can be so temperate that everyone sees you as a harsh, austere person. Jesus was extremely temperate, but He was not bigoted or austere.

He was not conformed to this world, yet He was not indifferent to the wants of the least among men. He was awake to the needs of all. {Ibid.}

I read this little paragraph many years ago, and I determined that I was going to follow Jesus. Every now and then I make some mistakes, and I quickly discover that, to be social and loving and lovable, I went overboard. It is easy to make mistakes. But as we make mistakes, Jesus is not austere; He reaches to us again and says, Come up higher, I love you. The greatest joy in your life is when you have made a mistake and the Lord Jesus reaches out to you and lovingly draws you to Himself. I stand here as a witness of this great love, and in my effort to be like Jesus I hope to affect each one of us here, and we can affect one another to be exact, to be exactly what Jesus wants me to be in every aspect of what is written in the Spirit of Prophecy, but not to forget to have all that as it is in Jesus.

May God grant this to our little company. The liberal Christianity will look upon us a legalists, and we want to look to Jesus and learn so much from Him that all those accusations that will be leveled upon us will be melted down by the beauty of the love and the character of Jesus Christ, so that the Lord will create a victory through such a company as ours. This is our challenge, our privilege. We can join together, young and old, to stand as a messenger, the body of Christ, to the world around us. May God grant it to us. May we listen to His counsel. May we gaze upon Jesus and focus our entire soul, body and spirit, upon that beautiful appreciation. And I pray that in due time, when the test comes, we will stand as a light in the world.


[Jan. 15, 2005]

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Posted on 08/05/2011, in Divine Service Sermons, Fanaticism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. carolyn higgins

    A very needed sermon. When the focus is continually on dress and eating souls are lost. How many times in our congregation has one been told that their hem is too high or their neck too low or the wrong substance has been used in the cooking . But when it came to the test where was the love of God ? Evil surmising and sarcasm reigned supreme. I am glad for a new focus. May the weightier matters of the law come into play honesty and respect.

  2. The woman of Revelation 12 is now here…
    God is very precise: A woman delivers the true word John1:1, Rev 12:5, Rev 12:13 who restores Acts 3:21 all things to the world before Christ’s return. This woman exposes the lies of Satan who has deceived the whole world Rev 12:9. This woman creates a new thing in the earth by fulfilling God’s promise to Eve Gen 3:15, Jer 31:22, Isa 14:16. She is meek like unto Moses Num 12:3, she was raised up Acts 3:22 from the Laodicean church that becomes lukewarm because they refused to hear her Rev 3:14-17. She is also bold like Elijah Matt 17:11, her witness alone turns the hearts of the fathers to the children Mal 4:5-6 to prepare a people for the Lords return before the great and dreadful day of the Lord Matt 17:3, Luke 9:30. Moses and Elijah are together with the word Matt 17:3 they all three are in this one woman. Those who will not hear Acts 3:23 the true word of God now delivered to the world free of charge, as a witness, at the heel of time from the wilderness Rev 12:6 will not be allowed inside the walls of God’s coming kingdom from heaven Rev 21. This true word turns the hearts of the fathers to the children of God by giving the truth that not one child of God will be put in a hell fire no matter what their sins. It never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer 7:31, Jer 19:5. God created evil Isa 45:7 to teach his children the knowledge of good and evil Rom 8:7, Gen 3:22 so that at their resurrection they become a god Matt 22:29-30, Ps 82:6. Prove all things. Be a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. You cannot rightly judge this unless you read all that has been written by this woman first Pro 18:13 http://minigoodtale.blogspot.com check out the bruising of Satan.

  1. Pingback: Comprendre le fanatisme | Sermons du Sabbat

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