The Red Mark

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13, NIV).

A preacher was checking out of a hotel room not too long ago and he was curious about the red mark on the forehead of the man at the front desk. Perhaps as a Christian with no knowledge of Hindu customs you’ve wondered the same thing. The man at the front desk was polite and very willing to explain to the inquisitive Christian what the mark represented and why he wore it. When I heard the story I couldn’t help but see some transferable concepts for Christians (even though we clearly have nothing in common with the pluralistic religious tradition of Hinduism).

The mark, known as the tilak, is a unique feature associated with Hinduism, and is said to invoke a feeling of sacredness by the wearer and by those that come into contact with the devotee. The exact nature of the mark identifies the god worshipped by the wearer. With a prayer for piety and righteous deeds, the tilak is applied between the eyebrows (considered to be the third eye) the place most Hindus believe is the entry and exit point of the soul. So, given the incompatibility of New Testament Christianity and Hinduism, what can we possibly learn from this man’s explanation of the red mark?

First, the red mark is applied in honor of the Hindu god the man served. The purpose of the mark is to identify and promote his god and remind him of his commitment throughout the day as he perhaps catches his reflection in a mirror. You and I have also been marked, not with the customary sandalwood paste, ashes, clay, or other substances used to apply the tilak, but with the blood of Jesus Christ. We would do well to remember that we are marked people and redeemed with the highest price possible. How much more should we boldly display the banner of Christ’s love and mercy and be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15).

Second, the man washed thoroughly before he applied the mark because he could not honor his god unless he was first clean. As Christians we tend to be very attached to our religious markings as well like crosses, big black Bibles, and bumper stickers professing our faith, but if we are not living clean in a dirty world what’s the point? Let’s remember to walk sober and clean before the Lord daily and be quick to repent when we blow it. Our symbols will mean a whole lot more to us (and to the world) if we live lives consistent with our “marks.” As James said, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).

Third, the man with the red mark on his forehead could be challenged boldly by a person of the same faith if the man was doing something wrong or inconsistent with his stated beliefs or values. That red dot is permission to hold the wearer accountable. The importance of this principle cannot be overstated. Like other religious systems, Christianity is lived out in community and community requires accountability. As believers in Jesus Christ we must give other believers and leaders the right and permission to challenge and correct us when we begin to stray from the commands of God. Often, individuals that claim they want to be mentored get really upset when someone actually takes them up on their offer. If we desire to grow and become effective, fruitful servants of Jesus Christ, we must receive and respond to godly correction for “he who heeds correction shows prudence” (Proverbs 15:5).

Remember you are marked by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Live your life openly, boldly, and honorably for the Lord and remember who and what you are as you go throughout your day. Ask the Lord to give you a very tender heart and conscience so that you will stay clean body, soul, and spirit. Finally, invite someone into your life to say, when necessary, the tough and hard things you need to hear. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).