Every police force has a Barney Fife, but most wouldn’t expect to meet him on the way to church. In the year 2000, one British man did. While driving to a church service in Australia, this man was pulled over and fined $50. His offense? Eating a Kit-Kat bar behind the wheel. The policeman said he had been holding the steering wheel with two fingers, while he was holding the Kit-Kat bar in his other hand. Plus, the candy bar was so good it took his mind away from his driving.

While it is good to be zealous about our work (and especially our faith in Christ), zeal without knowledge can be dangerous. It will cause us to fall into legalism, where we blow things out of proportion, majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. It is easy for us to get caught up in this way of thinking when we lose our perspective of what’s important. In the Bible, the Pharisees struggled with legalism. They thought they (and everyone else) had to keep the Jewish law perfectly to be saved. While they tried so hard to keep the law, they ignored other areas of their lives where they fell short, such as in loving their neighbors.

Christians can be just as guilty as the unsaved Pharisees when it comes to legalistic practices. We do not use these practices as requirements for salvation, but we often (wrongly) use them as the basis for other believers’ spirituality. Some examples of this include demanding that others put our desires, opinions, or feelings above their own and having no tolerance for disagreement with our own views, traditions, or standards. This is wrong. True spirituality comes from the heart, not from following (or even agreeing with) a set of manmade rules and standards.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have some of Barney Fife’s legalism in us. The only way to get rid of it is to pray for a gracious, understanding heart. Knowledge with zeal will help us concentrate on what’s really important.

Devotional by Dr. James A. Scudder