When the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Mahatma Gandhi, the political and spiritual leader who led India in its quest for Independence, he asked him, "Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?"
Gandhi replied, "Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."
I wonder how many people like Mr. Gandhi reject the Christian message not because it is not compelling but because the lives and examples of we who claim to follow Christ are not compelling? Many people within the ranks of Christendom today can be described as Christ-likers; few can be described as Christ-like. Yet that is what the title, "Christian" truly means. Literally it means "little- Christs" or "Christ-like."
The message of the Gospel has never been popular. In fact, as early as the first century the Apostle Paul described it this way, "The message about the cross doesn’t make any sense to lost people. But for those of us who are being saved, it is God’s power at work," (1 Corinthians 1:18, CEV). In Galatians 5:11 he labels the message of salvation and the cross as "an offense" to those who refuse to believe it.
We live in an age in which the greatest virtue is tolerance and the greatest sin, intolerance. By "tolerance" we mean the impossible philosophical position that every opinion is equally valid. The fallacy of such a view becomes quickly evident when those who profess to hold such a view of tolerance themselves become immediately intolerant of anyone who holds a view contrary to theirs. But truth by its very nature is exclusive, much to the chagrin and disdain of those who promote the false philosophical view of tolerance.
Now, it is this exclusive nature of truth that causes offense in those whose view of truth might not coincide with the truth being expressed. That is what Paul meant when he wrote about the offense of the cross (Galatians 5:11).
The challenge to the Christian witness is how to bring a message that some will find offensive without being offensive ourselves. That is not an easy task. Seldom can you tell people they are wrong without experiencing some kind of repercussion.
When I write these columns, I am well aware that there are those who disagree with me and with those who take offense at the views I express. Truth at times is offensive. My challenge, as is the challenge of all Christian witnesses, is to hopefully deliver the message of truth without being offensive. I hope it can never be said of me, "He likes Christ but he is not Christ-like."
Years ago, a man told me over lunch, "John, you know we sin and we know we sin. You can’t tell us that anymore — you just have to love us." To which I responded, "I can’t love you if I don’t tell you truth."
On two different occasions now I have heard the horrible news from my doctor, "You have a melanoma." No one wants to hear they have cancer. That’s terrible news. What’s more loving, for the doctor to ignore the bad news and just say, "You are fine" (if he knows full well I am not), or for him to say, "You have cancer but we can remove it"?
The Gospel of Christ is good news, but before we can accept the good news (a remedy for the problem), we have to recognize the reality of the problem (the cancer in our souls). Shoot the messenger if you must, but get the help you need — find forgiveness and cleansing in Christ.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. He can be heard Thursdays on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 p.m.