ver since last summer, when Scotland Yard uncovered a terrorist plot to smuggle explosives onto airliners in liquid form, the agents who work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) here in the United States have been on the lookout for all kinds of gels, liquids, and creams, in addition to knives, scissors, and other weapons. Those of us who’ve traveled by air since then—especially in the days soon after that alarm—have been treated to the sight of trash receptacles filled with toothpaste, perfume, makeup, bottled water, shampoo, and other items that fell under those categories.
The list of banned substances at security checkpoints since then has eased slightly, but TSA officers still treat liquids or gels as much of a threat as weapons and real explosives. In fact, studies have revealed that in some cases agents were so focused on depriving passengers of banned liquids and gels that they missed identifying some articles that posed real security risks. Imagine successfully confiscating a passenger’s bottle of shampoo, but failing to notice a loaded handgun in the same carry-on bag.
When I heard that, it made me reflect on what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is, of course, someone who follows Christ. Ideally, they adopt His values and live by His principles. On a fundamental level, being a Christian means no more than living as Jesus lived, with the same respect and regard for humanity as He had.
Yet it’s often the case that in addition to living like Jesus, some of Christ’s followers have elevated matters of choice and preference to a level that’s both a distortion of the values Christ taught and a hazard to their spiritual health.
Is what we wear important? It must be; gallons of ink are used to print articles in Adventist publications about attire that is appropriate or inappropriate. But what we wear isn’t as important as living as Jesus lived.
Is it important to be careful about what we eat? Of course; we have no shortage of inspired counsels about foods that are good for us and those that are less so. But on occasion Christians get so absorbed by debates about diet they forget our primary purpose is to reflect Jesus’ character in our lives.
How about theology, prophecy, or fundamental beliefs?
All important; but if we spend more time bickering and nit-picking about their finer points, could that pose a barrier to us living as Jesus lived? Indeed, can we become so absorbed in secondary issues that we fail to cultivate the thing most important for our salvation, a relationship with Jesus?
I’m haunted by the experience of the Jews of Jesus’ time. They had the benefit of prophetic interpretations, counsels on diet, Old Testament promises. Yet their religious exercises were often empty and ritualistic. They so misunderstood God’s character that they sought to destroy the One who perfectly represented it.
We have to get away from the notion that being a disciple of Jesus is only about what we don’t do: what we don’t eat, what we don’t wear, where we don’t go, what we don’t watch, read, or listen to. Being Christ’s disciples is more about what we do than what we don’t do.
How are we known in our communities, as a group and as individuals? Do they know us as open, receptive, generous, hospitable? In short, do they know us as disciples of Jesus?
“Do you know, O Christian, you’re a sermon in shoes?” asked the old song we used to sing in Primary Sabbath school. And it’s true: our lives are a constant witness to the things we value. But does the larger society care about what we eat or don’t eat? About what we wear or don’t wear? Isn’t our most important statement that we treat others as Jesus would treat them?
“The Son of Man must be lifted up,” said Jesus, “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14, 15). Our faith in Christ is the only thing that will get us through heaven’s security checkpoint. And reflecting His character is the only way our neighbors will know that we’ve cleared security.
Stephen Chavez is managing editor of
Adventist Review. Once a week he is a Red Cross volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.