Reflections on Ravi Zacharias

Posted: Apr 12, 2024

By now many of you are familiar with Ravi Zacharias’ story. Ravi was a brilliant, skilled apologist and defender of the faith with a worldwide ministry. He died in 2020 at the age of 74. Shortly after his death it came out that Zacharias had sexually molested massage therapists in the US and abroad for more than 10 years. His smartphone had contacts of more than 200 massage therapists in the US and Asia that included pictures of naked women that he received up until several months before his death.

When I reflect on Ravi’s tragic ending, the following comes to mind.

I know what it feels like to live a double life with sexual sin. At some level Ravi must have felt tormented and trapped, if not awash in shame. That is, unless his heart had become so hardened, his conscience so seared, that he was throwing himself into lust with abandon. Ravi was a talented, experienced speaker; it wouldn’t have been hard for him to go on autopilot at ministry events. Somewhere along the line a split in his character must have taken place. How can anyone have a prayer life or a vital connection with God in that situation? We may be able to fake it in front of men, but faking it to God? That sounds like spiritual suicide to me.

Did Ravi have anyone in his life asking him the hard questions on a consistent basis? “Hey, how are you doing with lust? Where were you last night? How’s your prayer life? How is your walk with God?” In a time when most modern Christians are isolated, Ravi’s story is a warning to a church that has failed in this area that we must not live in isolation or disconnected from others. (Social media doesn’t count; people rarely share their weaknesses online).

Zacharias was known by millions, a Christian celebrity. Did the people around him roll out the red carpet and give him a wide berth? Worship the ground he walked on? Christian celebrities have the same fallen flesh as the rest of us; they are not gods. If they start buying into the praise of man, they open the door of their heart to pride and it gets dangerous. Pride strolls in and invites its friends to join the party: lust, greed, anger, shame, bitterness… and lies. Pedestals are for plants and trinkets, not people.

Ravi was married. I can only imagine how painful and traumatic it must have been for his wife when his sexual sin was sprayed all over the news.

Ravi had a powerful mind, a strong grasp on theology, and he understood the Bible, but… knowledge and gifting aren’t enough. The heart drives the Christian life, not the mind. Once the heart is heavily influenced by or corrupted with sin or lies it doesn’t matter how much of a doctrine-head one is, the flesh-driven heart will eventually have its way.

“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”
-Proverbs 4:23

Ravi’s story is a warning for every believer, especially those in ministry, to stay away from, and keep short accounts with, sin. We are always one or two decisions away from being ensnared to sin—remember how quickly David fell with Bathsheba. It doesn’t matter whether it’s lust, gluttony, pride, selfishness, bitterness, arrogance, or greed. The church doesn’t warn people of the dangers of sin enough, nor does it emphasize how critical it is that no believer can live the isolated life.

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
1 Peter 4:17

These are terrifying words. Ever since covid blew up in 2020 there has been a constant stream of daily stories in the news of Christians being exposed for sexual sin, many who are leaders. It’s almost as if God is saying “There will be no more playing games with sexual sin in My church. You may hide from the topic, but you won’t avoid the consequences. I will expose your sin in My time, My way, unless you turn from it.” (Read how Jesus confronted the churches of Thyatira and Pergamum in Revelation 2 for their refusal to the deal with the sexual sin in their midst; His words are much stronger, and the consequences more severe, than what I’ve pictured here).

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
Galatians 6:7

Shudder. The fear of the Lord. I can barely write this because I know that “But by the grace of God, there go I”… I could fall hard just as Ravi did—and as many others are today. Ongoing accountability and a strong prayer life are critical. Having other believers in our lives who ask the hard questions can keep us from a long fall to a hard bottom, if we let them. What would Ravi’s story have looked like if, early in the game, he told a brother, “I visited a massage parlor last night and am struggling. Please pray for me” and then continued to be in daily touch with his friend until he broke away from it, and beyond? Yes, it’s not often safe to share failures in the modern church (too many arrogant doctrine-heads or shallow believers who won’t face their own sin) but if we ask God for another brother or sister in Christ to meet with, why wouldn’t He provide us one knowing it’s His will?

“but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:27

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
Galatians 6:1

Ravi knew these verses, yet, like many believers, it doesn’t appear that he put them into practice.

Ravi Zacharias was in bondage to lust up until at least several months before his death at the age of 74. Many assume that porn is a young adult’s problem, but we see plenty of people coming to us for help from ages 50 to 80. It’s not uncommon to have a sixty-year-old wife tell us that she uncovered her husband’s porn addiction for the first time in their marriage.  I saw one survey that said that half of all sixty-year olds are viewing porn. This is the great tragedy of a church that goes ostrich with sexual sin and doesn’t equip its people to overcome in this arena. The sands of time run quickly; life is precious. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and many are wasting their lives in spiritual stagnation, even into their later years.

As I know after making plenty of mistakes in my own life, having a consistent, strong prayer life is critical if we are to live as an overcomer. It’s nearly impossible to have a prayer life when we’re playing games with sin; our prayers can become a stench to God at that point.

“One woman told the investigators that “after Ravi arranged for the ministry to provide her with financial support, he required sex from her.” She called it rape. She said Zacharias “made her pray with him to thank God for the ‘opportunity’ they both received” and, as with other victims, “called her his ‘reward’ for living a life of service to God,” the report says. Zacharias warned the woman—a fellow believer—if she ever spoke out against him, she would be responsible for millions of souls lost when his reputation was damaged.”
Christianity Today

Ravi’s story shows me how corrupt and delusional we become when sin has had a foothold for years. His is a picture of spiritual death.

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
James 1:14-15

Ravi’s tragic end reveals the intense spiritual battle every blood-bought believer faces today. Our enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy; he doesn’t play games or fight fair, he sees where we’re vulnerable, and knows when to attack. When Ravi’s sexual sin came out it was like a cluster bomb going off. The enemy will use the collateral damage of the sins and failures of others to do whatever he can to cause people to question God and distort His character. Every believer must take up the mantle of a spiritual prayer warrior.

Ministry is not a game to be played to glorify self; it is war. Without the mindset of a warrior who will take incoming fire in the battlefield and be called on to suffer by our Lord, we put ourselves at risk of being one of those who begin our Christian walk with joy yet fall away when times get tough (Matthew 13), which is happening in large numbers today. Some fawn over ministry leaders as “the ones who have it all together.” Far from it. Buy into that lie and you’re going down.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:7-8

Ravi’s story reminds me that how I finish my race is far more important than the beginning. The Bible tells us that for those who belong to Christ, every sin is forgiven, except one (Matthew 12:31). God’s word also says the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21), no matter how much Bible knowledge and gifting one might have, or how nice they are. I don’t know where Ravi ended up in eternity, but I surely wouldn’t want to play spiritual Russian roulette and spend my last years sexually abusing women and hooked on porn.

Paul’s final letter to Timothy brings us back to warfare and keeping the faith until the end. If you want to make your life count for eternity, it will be the hard, narrow road that few will take. The things other Christians do won’t work for you because you’re hungry for more. The lies, seductions, and pleasures of this world will lose their sparkle. You’ll have to face and crucify your flesh and its pride every day. In a time when many spend hundreds of hours in entertainment, you’ll spend hundreds of hours in prayer. You will be attacked with spiritual warfare and it will be confusing and difficult at times, but with God’s help and that of others, you will overcome and press through. You may stumble into sin, but your overall trajectory will be upward and you’ll confess your sins to others and strive against it as needed. You won’t isolate as so many in the body of Christ are doing and paying a heavy price for. You will live your life as broken bread and poured out wine for others, no matter the cost.

And you won’t do pedestals.

And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Luke 13:23-30

* If you’re struggling or in bondage to any sin, please reach out to us.
* Don’t isolate! Ask God for another believer to meet with if you’re alone!
* If you’re a recovering doctrine-head, there is hope. Invite God into your heart to convict, heal, and restore, confess your weaknesses and sins to others, and fire up your prayer life.