The line was long, snaking its way back and forth from the four cashiers who were checking customers through.
Kathleen whispered to me, “Look at that man up ahead eating grapes out of his bag before they’re weighed.” The man was making a snack of it.
A woman ahead of us overheard Kathleen’s comment. She too had seen the man snacking as he waited. She turned and said, “I suppose you’d call that stealing.”
Then she added, “Maybe stealing doesn’t matter for an older person in the way it might for someone younger with a fresher conscience.” But, after a pause, she corrected, “You’d think it would matter more because he’s closer to the judgment.”
It was an unexpected comment. And it identified her immediately as someone whose thinking was shaped by Christian truth.
We were total strangers, but we shared the conviction that our conduct in this life, whether good or bad, will come under judgment in the life to come (Rev. 20: 11-15).
Even hundreds of years before Christ, the Preacher wrote, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed” (Ecc. 3:17).
Not all Christians think that way. There’s an idea afloat that the death Christ died on our behalf at Calvary gives us a complete pass as to any final judgment. And in one sense that is indeed true (Rom. 5:9,10). By faith we are justified — that is cleared of the penalty for our sins — because Christ has paid that penalty for us.
But there is another truth that goes with it. The Apostle Paul made this further point to a young congregation in the city of Corinth, a metropolis that was notorious for its moral looseness. He reminded young Christians there that, “… we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9). His “all” includes believers.
If we take his words to heart, they mean that, although we are justified, we will nevertheless be judged for the quality of life we have lived as Christians. That is one of several reasons why Christians take the commandment against stealing seriously. And the issue turns out to be about more than a handful or two of grapes.
Think of some of the ways stealing can be a way of life. Fudging on taxes, failing to pay legitimate debts, not returning library books, stealing grades in school. The list could get long. It’s a much larger issue than a mere handful or two of grapes belonging to a large corporation.
On this matter, even the Apostle Paul did not absolve himself. He said in his defence before the Roman Governor Felix in Caesarea that at the end of time he believed there would be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. “So” he went on, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16).
Our brief conversation with a stranger in the WalMart check-out line was good for us. It made us freshen our thinking on the relationship between believing in Christ and behaving as Christians.