“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” — Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
My trip to Perth in October was my third visit there. However, it was the first time I was stopped by the customs officer for a bag check. Australian customs are a lot stricter than Singapore’s and there was a platoon of inspection officers even though my flight touched down at midnight. The following is my account of what happened.
According to the customs officer who stopped me and requested to check my luggage for contraband items, a bag check is performed every 30 minutes on a random individual. And since I had nothing to hide, I decided to make conversation with him. I told him that it’s a great thing that the customs procedure was so strict because not every airport is so vigilant.
As I interacted with him, I observed that he’s professional and proficient in what he does; he knew by heart the contents of the declaration card and was familiar with the bags inspection procedures. He asked for my name and went to retrieve my declaration card, then he verified if I had filled up the card and packed the luggage myself.
I offered to help him as he opened my luggage, but he insisted on doing it himself. He was meticulous and checked every single corner of every available space (without messing up my belongings). He conducted the search under my supervision and as he rummaged through my things, he articulated everything that he was doing.
Once again, he asked if I had read the rules and regulations in the declarations before I signed on it. I nodded. Then he brought out the card and pointed to the section where it read that dairy and wood were banned. I nodded. Of course I knew that those were prohibited items.
But what I didn’t realise was that there was milk powder in the 3-in-1 coffee sachets I brought over and there was wood in Liang Zhi’s Gibson Les Paul electric guitar (7.8kg of wood – duh!) that I had helped him lug over.
I was caught off-guard at my negligence; I took these things for granted because they didn’t look dangerous or like a prohibited item. At least, that was what I had assumed.
Thankfully, the customs officer perceived that I had made a genuine mistake and that I didn’t do it on purpose. He asked what I did for a living and I think my occupation did help to prove my credibility and honesty.
Well, I readied myself to pay taxes for the guitar (and perhaps charge it to Liang Zhi later), as well as to have the eight sachets of coffee confiscated and discarded. I even said to him in jest, “Oh well, there goes my morning coffee for the next week…”
He flashed a wry smile, then he described the penalty of my error. The severity of my oversight hit me hard and I gulped at the seriousness of the offence. So I asked him what would happen from here and what would happen to me (and these items).
For some strange reason (read: grace of God), he decided not to pursue the matter.
“I’m going to let you pass this time but this check will be recorded. If you make such a mistake again, I can’t guarantee that you’d be let off the hook”, he asserted.
I was surprised by his demonstration of grace but I sincerely thanked him for dropping the case.
As I pushed my trolley out of the airport, I thought about the grace of God in this scenario.
All Bible-reading believers would know that the wages of sin is death – it’s spelt out clearly for everyone in Romans 6:23. And any responsible evangelist would have explained its severity – eternity without God. (I know reading “eternity without God” doesn’t sound as scary, but if you think about it, it’s a rather petrifying thought!)
Yet we take no heed to it, be it through taking God’s grace for granted or being negligent about our salvation. And when we get into trouble, all we can do is to plead innocence. But how innocent are we, really? A good number of us are callous and careless about abusing the grace of God.
Yes, I believe God will be like the customs officer – “This time, I’ll let you off…” But more importantly, what is our response towards His grace? I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve repented repeatedly about abusing the grace of God – I’m guilty as charged.
For me, I will take extra caution to ensure that I do not make the same mistake again when it comes to packing dairy or wood (or any other contraband items) without declaring it. I learnt, from my first-hand experience, that the grace of God shouldn’t cause us to sin some more, but to sin no more. What a timely reminder.