The Legacy of Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias was a brilliant man who rarely…if ever…got bested in a debate. In spite of his profound intellect, though, he never came across as egotistical, condescending, or aloof. This combination made Ravi Zacharias an effective, passionate spokesman for his faith, a man who traveled the world proclaiming Christ and the hope that is found in Him alone. And yet, just like the rest of us, we are now reminded that Ravi Zacharias was also a sinner.

With the allegations regarding his pattern of sexual misconduct being recently confirmed by the ministry that bears his name, Ravi Zacharias’ behavior adds a troubling, saddening epilogue to an otherwise impeccable legacy that will now forever be remembered like Barry Bonds’ home run record or Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France dominance: tarnished. His tale becomes yet the latest example of a prominent Christian leader whose dramatic fall both shocks and appalls us, a jolting reminder that everyone needs accountability. It underscores the maxim that power in all of its many forms – whether political, economic, or spiritual – can be dangerously deceptive and self-destructive. And it is a sobering testimony to the fact that none of us is above temptation.

Certainly Scripture is clear on this point, and you need look no further than David’s affair with Bathsheba or Paul’s lament in Romans 7 to understand that it is utterly futile to place our hope in individuals, even someone like Ravi Zacharias. Because whenever we elevate someone and place them on a pedestal, we are effectively setting them up for a fall. We have taken our eyes off the One who truly deserves our reverence and transferred our confidence to the messenger, who quite frankly, will always disappoint us in the end.

Sadly, Ravi Zacharias is not able to answer for his actions and thereby make any kind of restitution to the women he took advantage of. I’d like to think that if he were here he would face the music by owning up to his behavior and stepping down; that he would publicly apologize and repent, without placing blame or trying to make excuses. Granted, this may be “wishful thinking” on my part since these are things he could have done while he was alive, but if we are brutally honest with ourselves we know that more often than not we do everything in our power to cover up and hide our sins, rather than willingly expose them. We are all like David who tried to hide from his sin until Nathan finally called him out…

Indeed, I trust that if he were still alive, Ravi would be actively seeking to heal the wounds which he has caused, even as he sought to exonerate the Lord whom his sin has cast a shadow upon. He would want everyone to know that his actions reflect solely upon himself and not upon his Savior. In short, he would use the reality of his sin to both deprecate himself and to exalt the glory of Christ, who sacrificed His own life precisely because none of us is above reproach.

Regardless, this episode will undoubtedly provide ammunition to many who will attempt to refute the claims of Christianity on the basis of one man’s transgressions. Just as David’s sin gave “great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Samuel 12:14, NKJV) so too will Christianity’s opponents seize upon the actions of one Christian as they try to discredit the Christ who had to die because of those actions…not to mention countless others. As such, it’s imperative that we take heed from Ravi’s fall, not from the standpoint of judgment, but one of reverent fear:

“If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.  The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

1 Corinthians 10:12-13

Thus in the final analysis, perhaps the most important take away from these sad revelations is not how quickly a reputation can be lost; but rather, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” For just as David’s sin brought severe repercussions upon all of his descendants, we need to remember that each sin of a believer – whether “big ones” like the fall of Ravi Zacharias, or our own, seemingly “small” failings – does untold damage to the Body of Christ. The world is watching all those who claim the name of Christ to see if there is any truth in what we profess, and it is therefore incumbent upon every believer to “walk the talk.”

Actions indeed speak louder than words, which is why everything we say and do should flow out of a heart that genuinely desires to honor, to serve, and to glorify our risen King. Our willingness to reach out and love others as ourselves is what draws people to Christ; nevertheless, whenever we fall short and miss the mark…as every messenger is destined to do eventually…we need to bring our failures into the light sooner rather than later, repent of them, and strive to make amends to those whom we have wronged. And just as important, once confession has been made it is the responsibility of the rest of us to forgive. This is the only way to keep small sins from festering and growing into the kind of scandal that – once again – has ruined the reputation…if not the testimony…of another Christian titan.

What, then, can we say about all of this? Words cannot adequately express the profound sense of disappointment and betrayal that so many are feeling right now; neither can they hope to truly atone for the damage that has been done in the lives of everyone at the epicenter of this tragedy. That being said, it’s important to unequivocally condemn the actions of a man who outwardly professed sexual purity, yet secretly objectivized and mistreated these women. Furthermore, while we may certainly lament the fall of this once-revered leader, our sympathy should lie with the victims, with his family, and with those who are now faced with cleaning up the mess that he has left behind. Because Ravi Zacharias has not only brought disrepute upon himself and his ministry, but in the eyes of many, upon Christ by association.

So regardless of how this whole situation eventually plays out, the one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that in spite of one man’s failings, the message of the Gospel will endure. Indeed, the very essence of the Good News is that our sins don’t have to define our destiny! For even though our guilt will justly condemn us for all eternity if we remain estranged and alienated from our heavenly Father, for all who are in Christ there is forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal life. It’s a message of perfect hope that has been entrusted to imperfect individuals, a promise that is both magnified and exalted even by our worst transgressions…and even by those of Ravi Zacharias. A sinner like us, who has been saved by grace, through faith.

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