Gandhi admired Jesus Christ, but found it difficult to reconcile how the Christians he encountered seemed to represent Jesus so poorly. In his mind, this is what kept him from becoming a follower of Jesus.
As Jesus’ ambassadors, we need to listen very carefully to statements like this one. We must carefully and lovingly examine the common barriers that stand between the real Jesus and people’s false impressions of him—impressions which, unfortunately, have been projected to a watching world by sincere yet misguided Christians. Let’s consider some of these things that keep people from Jesus, shall we?
The Barrier of CONDEMNATION
The Christian writer, Philip Yancey, often asks people he meets what they think about Christians. Sadly, the answer he hears most often from people is that Christians are judgmental, intolerant, and holier-than-thou.
A Christian friend of mine invited a gay friend to dinner with him and his wife. Their guest soon realized (from the Bible on the coffee table, as well as several books on their bookshelf) that they were Christians. He then said to my friend, “You are a Christian, and you actually like me?” This kind of story causes my heart to sink. Does it yours?
Are we serious about being Christ’s ambassadors in the world? Then we must humbly wrestle with, and fight with love to reverse, the idea that Christians are against people who don’t believe like we do.
Whether this impression is true or merely perceived, it is still our starting point in the minds of many non-Christian people. If we are not guilty ourselves, then we are at least guilty by association with believers who have misrepresented the biblical Jesus with harsh, abrasive, condemning or withdrawn attitudes. We must take personal responsibility, as far as it depends on us, to replace pictures of a false Jesus with pictures of the real Jesus—the Jesus who came full of grace and truth, and who even welcomed “sinners” and ate with them (Luke 15:1-2).
The Barrier of SEPARATION
I believe that Christians who want to separate themselves and their children from secular people, secular things, and secular ideas make a big mistake. Christ’s ambassadors must resist this “us against them” and often fear-based mindset. We must do everything in our power to become friends with as many non-Christians as we can—no conditions attached. This must be a central, core value of our lives and our Christian communities.
Consider Jesus. It was only the religious proud who withdrew from Jesus, criticized him, took offense at him, and wished to rid the world of him. But what about the prostitutes, crooks, drunks, gluttons and sinners? These all wanted to be near to Jesus, and they wanted to hear what he had to say. And Jesus obliged gladly—so much so that he became guilty by association, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunk and a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).
We know that these accusations of drunkenness and gluttony were false—Jesus was tempted in every way but without sin. But Jesus was unapologetically a friend to the least and the lost—to all who felt ostracized and belittled by the religious communities of his day.
Jesus was willing to offend strict religious people if that’s what it took to convince broken sinners that he loved them and had hope for them.