Mahatma Gandhi’s brush with “Christianity”

Øyvind Johnsen

In his search for the truth, Mahatma Gandhi came into contact with Christians. But did he get to see true Christianity?

Mahatma Gandhi is described in history books as the man who was at the centre of India’s fight for freedom from the British Empire, which led to its independence. What is perhaps not so well known is this man’s lifelong search for the truth. In his writings he always searches for three main virtues: Truth, love and purity (Satya, Ahimsa and Bramacharya).

Gandhi grew up as a Hindu, and he confessed this faith his entire life. He spent several years in England while studying the law, and later moved to South Africa for some years, where he worked as a lawyer. He met and conversed with many believing Christians in these countries, particularly in South Africa. He listened to these people with an upright mind, one that was seeking the truth without prejudice, and also read many books about the Christian faith which were available to him.

Seeking freedom from sin

In his autobiography he writes:
“I was together with some Christian friends when one of them said something I was not prepared for.  

The argument utterly failed to convince me

‘You cannot understand the beauty of our religion. From what you say it appears that you must be brooding over your transgressions every moment of your life, always mending them and atoning for them. How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear the burden of sin? We can out throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless Son of God. It is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God’s infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must, It is impossible to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life of restlessness is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.’

“The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied: ‘If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.’”

Gandhi writes further about this person:
“And the brother proved as good as his word. He knowingly committed transgressions, and showed me that he was undisturbed by the thought of them.” (from “An Autobiography, or The Story of my Experiments with Truth,” by M. K. Gandhi, 1927-29).

What Gandhi heard from his “Christian friends” in his youth was not true Christianity

Conscience instead of Christianity

Gandhi was never converted to the Christian faith. Like Socrates before him, he chose instead to listen to the “inner voice.” He followed a political career, and writes that he made it his religion to serve people.

What Gandhi heard from his “Christian friends” in his youth was not true Christianity. It was not the entire gospel. Paul, on the other hand, writes about true Christianity in Romans 6:11-12: “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.”

It is written about Jesus that He was “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin”, which proves that it is totally possible for a human to come to victory over sin. We are encouraged to approach Him to find help and grace so that we can win the same victory. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

 

This post is also available in: Norwegian Bokmål

You might also be interested in our theme page about Overcoming sin.

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