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The Anatomy of a Failure

By February 15, 2021No Comments

By Kevin Carson

Many people are asking, “Why?”

With the revelation of Ravi Zacharias’ secret lifestyle of sexual sins, Christians and even non-Christians publicly wonder what went wrong. Why would this man who many would consider a brilliant apologist for Jesus Christ, faith, and the Church fail in such a secret yet devastating way? What happened here? How could none of those who were so close to him see this, catch it, or seek to hold him accountable?

As I begin to answer some of these questions within this article, let me first say that I do not stand here with any stones in my hands (John 8:1–12). I recognize the significance of Jesus’ teaching about first getting the log out of one’s own eye before seeking to splinter pick in another’s (Matthew 7:1–5). Our hearts fail us (Jeremiah 17:9). We are warned about our own heart’s deception over and over (1 Corinthians 10:12; James 1:16; James 1:22; Galatians 6:7; 1 John 1:8). I do not write today as a perfect person; I write today seeking to help those of us who live. My purpose is not to stomp on this man’s grave and highlight his sin; instead, I seek to remind myself and others of the possibility of failure, as well as failure’s consequences.

The anatomy of failure involves at least four necessary stages or ingredients.


Sin deceives.

Throughout the Bible, biblical writers warn us of deception. Notice these three key texts:

14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (James 1:14–16)

12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12–13)

12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Again, stated simply, deception always accompanies sin. None of us can minimize the deception, as it is possible to develop an evil heart of unbelief—hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

We ask ourselves, “How does a leading evangelical apologist end up in this kind of sin with this kind of secret lifestyle?” The inevitable answer includes the fact that he was deceived by his own heart and sin.

What is haunting for each of us is the fact that we are just like him. These warning passages call out to each follower of Christ. Deception potentially looms for each one of us. These warnings exist because of the possibility. As Paul Tripp says, “We are imminently entrappable.” In other words, any one of us faces the potential of getting entrapped in sin through deception.


Knowledge confuses.

As each follower of Christ continues to learn and grow in the knowledge of the Bible, confusion becomes a greater and greater threat. Notice how these passages describe this phenomenon:

16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)

1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:1–3)

To be clear, doctrine is essential. Every follower of Christ is compelled to learn and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18; Romans 12:1–2). As we grow in the faith, our pastor-teachers demonstrate faithfulness (Ephesians 4:11–16). We grow into Christ. In fact, Paul compares salvation to “learning Christ” (Ephesians 4:20–21).

Therefore, we must grow in the knowledge of the Word of God, which necessarily includes doctrine.

However, at this point, each believer must be aware of confusion. Notice what Paul wrote to Timothy. “Take heed to yourself, and to your doctrine.” In the immediately preceding text, Paul warns Timothy of false doctrine. However, he tells Timothy to take heed to the heart first before the doctrine.

By my own experience in counseling pastors, missionaries, and others over the years, I have never yet had a Christian leader who is involved in sin who could not explain the major doctrines (and many minor doctrines they had figured out or in which they were experts) to me.

In other words, you may be able to describe the great Bible doctrines but not apply them to your heart. Why? You confuse Bible knowledge with maturity, biblical insight with wisdom, and biblical talk with walking in the Spirit. You confuse yourself thinking that the “what” of the Bible insulates you from yourself, your own flesh, and notions of great pride. Instead, confused by your own knowledge, you fail to walk with the “Who” of the Bible. Therefore, we must take heed to our own hearts in priority over the specificity of our doctrine.


Laziness forgets.

In an effort to honor the Lord in everything we do, we are required to put forth effort to become like Christ. Walking with God both requires and takes effort. Diligence is key. Notice these key passages related to diligence and forgetfulness:

5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5–11)

6 If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. 7 But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. 8 For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. 9 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. 10 For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. 11 These things command and teach. 12 Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. . . . 15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:6–15)

In both these passages, two issues present themselves together. Laziness or a lack of diligence causes you to stumble. If you do not give yourself entirely to growing in Christlikeness, then you open yourself up to stumbling. Stumbling in this text means that you will commit the kind of sin or sins that make others wonder whether or not you are saved. This is exactly what has happened now. Many are wondering if in fact Ravi Zacharias is a true follower of Jesus Christ.

Peter explains that this happens when we forget the Gospel. We fail to clearly see what transpired in salvation. We close our eyes to the depths of our own sinfulness, the necessary and gracious substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ as payment for our sins, and the subsequent adoption into the family of God through forgiveness of our sins. As we forget this, the love of Christ ceases to motivate and control us (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).

No person who sins as Ravi Zacharias at noon woke up at 6:00 am giving all diligence to walk with His Savior. Sins which we would refer to as stumbling never happen when at 5:00 am the follower of Christ gives himself or herself entirely to exercising for godliness. Instead, the person who forgets the Gospel becomes lazy. The inevitable consequence of laziness is ineffective and unproductive living—which will include living for the flesh instead of walking in the Spirit (cf., Galatians 5:13–26).


Lust misperceives.

As one chooses sin and a sinful lifestyle that is driven by lust, the lust helps the person misperceive reality. God warns us that the pleasures of sin are only for a season. Sorrow is for the wicked. Sin always brings consequences. Sin hurts us and others. Notice these key texts:

7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (Galatians 6:7–8)

24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24–26)

15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:15–16)

9 Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you. 10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him. (Psalm 32:9–10)

15 Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard. (Proverbs 13:15)

14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:14–15)

14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. (James 3:14–16)

Do you see the refrain in meaning of these various texts? The one who practices sin misperceives the real consequences of sin. He or she believes that the pleasures of sin are greater than the consequences of sin. This misperception creates havoc, destruction, and further chaos.

Ravi Zacharias misperceived the depth of the hurt he would bring on the name of Christ, his family, his victims, and the body of Christ when he chose sin’s pleasures. He miscalculated the significance of his sin. The wake of his sin will produce damage to the shores of many in their walk with Christ.

What about You, Me, and Us?

Friends, we just reviewed that the anatomy of failure is deception, confusion, forgetfulness, and misperception. These four necessary stages or ingredients accompany every story of failure. It may be someone like Ravi Zacharias whose story is told, is used against the body of Christ, and produces layer after layer of hurt. However, it may be someone like you or me whose commitment to sin or to godliness also brings consequences to the name of Christ, ourselves, our families, others, and the body of Christ.

Today, we need to respond in three ways: 1) Pray for ourselves, Ravi’s family, Ravi’s victims, the work of Christ, and the body of Christ; 2) seek authentic accountability with others where we can be honest, repent, and work toward restoration where it is needed in our own lives; and 3) renew our efforts toward faithfulness to Christ in every way possible, including our diligence, discipline, and discipleship.

Kevin Carson is pastor of Sonrise Baptist Church, Ozark, Missouri, and department chair of Biblical counseling at Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri. You can follow him on Twitter at @pastorkevinc. This article was first posted to and is reposted here by permission. Photo credit: RZIM Ministries.