When Jesus asked his disciples at Caesarea Philippi who people thought he was (Mark 8:27-30 and parallels in Matthew and Luke), it sounds to the modern ear as if he was asking what people thought about him. Was he liked? Were his ideas popular? Was he starting to catch on? Did his message need to be tweaked a little to be more acceptable?

You and I know that was not what he was asking. He simply wanted to know if people understood who he really was or did they have some misunderstanding about him or his role as the messenger of God.

I’m not sure we fully grasp today how foreign that concern is from the interests of most people. We are not as worried about whether people know who we really are as we are with whether they think we are who we want them to think we are. Those are two very different things.

Jesus was the most authentic person who ever lived. There was no pretense, no facade, no desire for people to think of him as anything other than who he truly was. His goal was not to be liked or even agreed with, just understood and followed.

Let’s face it. Jesus would never have made it as a politician. He would never have been elected to anything. The only time he ever stood for election he lost (“Give us Barabbas!”). Today, leaders of every political stripe seem desperately concerned with figuring out what people want them to be and pretending to be that, whether it is a reflection of their true humanity or not.

Christians today can be as inauthentic as anyone else. We all like to be liked. We have figured out that the path of agreement is the path of popularity so we water down the message of the Gospel so it could be accepted by almost anyone.

The Gospel is not a party platform. It is a radical lifestyle of service and sacrifice that is counter-cultural. Paul spoke of the foolishness of the cross (1 Corinthians 1) and who among us likes to look foolish? Yet, in the eyes of the world that is what we are called to be — authentic followers of Christ who aspire to nothing except to be like our Savior.

Whenever you find yourself in conversation with anyone (in other words, often) consider whether you are trying to be like Christ, or whether you are trying to be enough like the person to whom you are talking that you will be liked by him or her. It is an important distinction. For the Christian, it is the difference between authenticity and pretense. Will all know which Jesus looks for in his followers.