Christian Living

When Spiritual Heroes Fall

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/19/2021

It is now fairly common knowledge that Ravi Zacharias—a spiritual hero to multitudes—had for many years been living a secret life of manipulative, vile, and even predatory sexual immorality, spiritual deceit, and professional duplicity.

It’s hard to imagine that a person of such influence ventured as far into evil as he did. Even on his deathbed—surely suspecting his disgusting deeds would eventually come to light after he was gone—he did not repent. It knocks the wind out of us, gives ugly opportunity to our critics, and leaves many furious to the core.

Stunned, shocked, and shaken, some don’t know how to process this kind of news and don’t even know where to start. If that describes you, I’d like to offer five principles to help you get going again.

First, guard your own soul. The details of any pattern of immorality are important for the main players to know. Agreed. Paul says dark deeds must be exposed (Eph. 5:11)—partly to rebuke the guilty as a warning to others (1 Tim. 5:20), and also, in this case, to determine the extent of the damage so victims can be vindicated and cared for. He says next, though, that “it is disgraceful even to speak of those things done in secret,” that is, to dwell on the evil that has come to light.

Solomon warns that a whisperer’s words penetrate deep into our hearts (Prov. 18:8). When you hear vile things about anyone, the words and images stick. Even when true, the information can still sully your soul and corrupt you.

Trust me on this. For most of us, the less we know about the specifics, the better. “Be innocent in what is evil,” Paul counsels (Rom. 16:19). When you dig into the dirt, you’re going to get dirty. Sin is ugly, so steer clear of the sordid details unless you have a genuine need to know. Most of us don’t. It won’t help you, and it won’t help the victims.

So, guard yourself by staying out of the skirmish. It’s a principle I’ve followed for years, and I’m the better for it. The less the talk, the less the damage. “Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,” Proverbs says. Let the proper people right the wrong; the rest of us can let it go.

Second, do not be surprised when sinners sin. When a spiritual icon tumbles, I’m shocked, but I am not shaken. I’m shocked because it’s inexcusable for someone in Christian leadership to sin egregiously and continuously. I’m not shaken, though, because I am aware of what human beings are capable of.

From the beginning, Jesus did not entrust himself to those who believed in him since he knew what was in man (Jn. 2:24–25). We know, too, if we take our Bibles seriously.

Sin crouches at the door of even the “greatest” among us. Everyone is vulnerable. Everyone is capable. How could a major figure suffer a major fall? Easy, if he is not vigilant, so be on your guard.

Christ is good, but he is the only one. Paul warned even “spiritual” Christians who were properly correcting others to look to themselves lest they also be tempted (Gal. 6:1). It is healthy to have heroes, to have people we look up to and aspire to emulate. It is not healthy to forget we’re all deeply, radically fallen, even our heroes.

Third, remember, truth is still true. It is tempting—especially to outsiders—to denigrate Christianity because of the failings of a Christian leader. The impulse is understandable, but it’s a false move. One’s witness may be disqualified, to be sure, but the truth taught is not nullified.

Nothing about our convictions regarding God or salvation rests on the shoulders of any human being save Jesus of Nazareth.

The noble words or sound instruction of any fallen hero are no less noble or sound because of his failures. Whatever is true about Christianity or Christian virtue is just as true after a moral defeat as before. Whatever is true when spoken or written by a good man is still true when spoken or written by a bad man.

So, no one’s sin invalidates truth. Indeed, Paul rejoiced when Christ was proclaimed by anyone, even duplicitous men (Phil. 1:18). If you benefited from a hero who later fell, take heart. God uses even the worst of men to help the rest of us.

Fourth, do not become cynical. The impulse is strong to cast a jaundiced eye towards other Christian leaders, wondering what secrets they may be hiding. Don’t do that. Do not allow failure of the few to cause suspicion of the many.

Yes, when respected leaders falter badly, it’s natural to wonder, Who can I trust? The answer is simple. Trust everyone you have no reason to mistrust, which is most people you know.

Will you be wrong sometimes? Yes, but rarely. The vast multitude of spiritual leaders live noble lives and serve the Lord with honor. Thinking charitably of them is a virtue and a healthy habit to nurture.

Finally, firmly resolve to finish well. The goal of my life is to complete the course. When I finally cross over, I want to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Make that your goal, as well.

Of course, we need help to do that. If there is darkness in your life, bring it into the light with a trusted friend, and its hold on you will weaken considerably. The Holy Spirit is committed to making you holy, too. Your part is to be vigilant and to fight sin to your last breath.

I cannot promise that these five principles will alleviate all your pain, quiet all your confusion, or quell all your anger when one of your spiritual heroes falls. These points have served me well for many years, though, and I trust they will guide you well, too.