There is a famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. It is, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I say attributed because there are no primary sources for him actually saying or writing this, but rather it has been attributed to him by secondary sources. But assuming he did say it, this quote has been tossed around with reckless abandon as a way to point out the hypocrisy that we believers struggle against as we wrestle with our desire to live as Christ did, and our seemingly inability to. We’re told by Gandhi that our failure to be consistent in our outward moral actions and inward spiritual intent is one of the primary reasons why he himself and so many people don’t take us seriously, and that a failure to practice what we preach is what is driving the masses away.
We need to stop using this quote and we need to be far more discerning when we voluntary subject ourselves to this man’s criticism of our faith and spiritual walk.
Why? Because Gandhi did not like our Christ. When he said that he likes our Christ, he was not referring to the deep affections he had for the Biblical, historical Jesus as revealed in his entirety in both the Old and New Testament. He was not referring to the whole and sum of the blessed hypostatic union- our God who came in the flesh to seek and save the lost by bringing salvation and reconciliation to his people. He was not referring to the Christ of scriptures who made radically exclusive about how through him alone was the only way to the Father and to everlasting peace and life. He was not referring to the immaculately conceived son of God who died for the sins of the world and then rose again after three days for our justification, sanctification and glorification.
No. Gandhi did not like that Christ. Instead what Gandhi did is something that people have been doing since the beginning of time- he changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things… Gandhi spent his life fabricating a Jesus of his own invention-one who acted and behaved like he wanted him to. He sliced through the scriptures with his metaphorical scalpel and created a cut-and-paste collage of theological agglomeration- a homage to idolatry and absurdity. In this Gandhi picked out and lauded all the teachings that he liked and which agreed with his Hinduism, particularly his belief in Jesus’ non-violence and teachings on turning the other cheek. For Gandhi these were the highest and best manifestations of who Jesus was- a moral teacher who served as our highest example of principled ethics and exemplary friend to all mankind.
At the same time he categorically rejected any of Jesus’ claims to divinity and salvific exclusivity. He did not like our Christ; he liked his own caricatured version of Christ. Jesus was a good man. A good teacher. A good moralist. But he was not God, and his goodness only went so far as his inclusive claims extended. His Jesus was kind and tolerant of all religions and spiritual persuasions, having understood that there was truth in all religions and that they all led to the same place. If he had been asked by Jesus “who do you say that I am?” he would never have responded “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” There was no place in his concept of Jesus as one who came not to bring peace, but rather a sword, who came to divide and set a son against his father, and a daughter against her mother. There is no place in his worldview of Jesus as one who “is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” or “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
To offer just three quotes from Gandhi
I regard Jesus as a great teacher of humanity, but I do not regard him as the only begotten son of God. That epithet in its material interpretation is quite unacceptable. Metaphorically we are all sons of God, but for each of us there may be different sons of God in a special sense. Thus for me Chaitanya may be the only begotten son of God … God cannot be the exclusive Father and I cannot ascribe exclusive divinity to Jesus.” [Harijan: June 3, 1937]
It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in Him, would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. [His Own Story. Page 141.]
For, he [Jesus] was certainly the highest example of one who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient. I am sure that if he were living here now among men, he would bless the lives of many who perhaps have never even heard his name, if only their lives embodied the virtues of which he was a living example on earth; the virtues of loving one’s neighbor as oneself and of doing good and charitable works among one’s fellowmen. [The Modern Review, October 1941]
Did Gandhi like our Christ? No, he didn’t. Did he like his fabricated version of Christ? Very much so, apparently. For that reason we don’t need to quote this man as if he were in any way any kind of authority over us or as if he had any idea what he was talking about. He was no profound commentator on Christianity. He was hardly an authority on Jesus, had fundamental misunderstandings of himself and the rest of humanity, and he denied the very essence of what made Jesus our Lord. Why should we care if we do not attain to this falsified version of Jesus?
I do believe we need to be more like Christ, but I want to become like the real Christ, not this fabricated version of Gandhi’s imagination. So next time someone uses this quote on you, don’t accept the premise. It’s important that we hear the message that we ought to be more Christ-like, but I’d rather take an exhortation from John or Paul or anybody who knows who the real Jesus is, than Mahatma Gandhi. That is where I want my rebuke and chastisement and encouragement to come from- from the scriptures, and not a morally reprehensible, Christ-hating man who denied our great God and Savior and thereby showed himself to have the spirit of the antichrist.