Earlier this week, Christianity Today magazine released reports that the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries board had concluded an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by the late apologist Ravi Zacharias.
Its findings were Zacharias had been guilty of numerous transgressions over his years in the public spotlight including several cases of marital infidelity, many instances of abuse and gross misuse of ministry funds. While much of the world has never heard of Ravi Zacharias, those of us in the Christian community who have will remember his unique ability to defend the Christian faith against skeptics, which he did for decades through books, conferences and public debates with renowned atheists.
Unfortunately, now we must also remember him for his tragic fall from grace.
One thing we are reminded of every time a Christian celebrity’s hidden sin is exposed is that we should not be elevating any man or woman to celebrity status in the first place. No pastor, evangelist or theologian is without sin; only Jesus was. If we want to see what Christianity is all about, we must look to Jesus, not to our favorite preacher or Sunday school teacher.
Secondly, we are reminded that any person with a platform for proclaiming the gospel is a target for the spiritual attacks of the enemy. Pastors and other Christian leaders need us praying for them and offering them our friendship. They also need us to keep them accountable. When any one of those things are lacking, the likelihood of a fall like we have seen too many times is much greater.
When looking for a lesson from Zacharias’s fall that can help us in our own walk with Jesus, I would suggest a couple steps to take as well.
First, be convinced that what God says in the Bible is true and trust that He knows better than we do. God’s Word is the authority for how we are to live our lives. The wise person reads what God says and believes it. Once he believes it, even when what he is reading is contrary to what he would like for it to have said, he trusts God enough that if God says it, then he will follow it. That is the starting point to living a holy life that pleases God. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Regarding the temptation of sexual immorality, we read what God says about it, believe it and obey it. There are places in the Bible that exhort us to fight head on against our sin, but I believe Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22 are helpful when talking about the specific sin of sexual immorality. Paul says, “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” His advice here is two-fold, and, yes, the “youthful passions” he is talking about here are sinful sexual desires.
First, Paul says, run! Don’t try to fight this one out; instead, get as far away as possible. Second, he commands Timothy to replace those unholy passions with a passion for good things, things that please God. In doing so, he will find victory over the passions within him that don’t honor God by developing a much greater desire to serve God with his whole being.
When we ignore the red flags in a fellow Christian’s life and decide to withhold judgment, we are doing him no favors. Jesus told us to “judge with right judgment” (John 7:24) and Paul reminded us that it is “those inside the church whom you are to judge” (1 Corinthians 5:12). Judging helps a person when done rightly.
When we ignore the red flags in our own lives and refuse to address them, we are doing ourselves no favors. David asked God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24). Self-examination guided by the Holy Spirit keeps us in check.
I was saddened and angered when I found out the things Ravi Zacharias has done in the dark all the while he was showing us how to lead a person into the light. I will use it, however, to help others and help myself from falling into that same darkness. I pray that all of us will.
Mark Wingfield, pastor of First Baptist Church in Grottoes, is a columnist for The News Virginian.