This week we’re talking about the failure of Ravi Zacharias. In the first post, I wrote about how Zacharias was for me and many others a mentor from afar, but how it has been revealed that he lived a double-life. In the second post, we looked how Jesus’ disciple, Peter, wrote about the story of transformation that Christians not only tell, but also, and I would say, more importantly, live. Because we are people who can experience new life in God’s family, Peter says, we live a new way. Zacharias powerfully told the story of new life available in Jesus, but he lived something different and insidious. We all know this battle. In fact Peter wrote about it using the imagery of a battle. Let’s continue to hear what Peter has to say about winning the battle.
In 1 Peter 2, verse 11, he writes that Christians abstain from sinful desires. It is a war Peter says, a war against the soul. Notice in that one short phrase how he combines both the physical and the spiritual. We have an inner part and outer part. We have a material part, our body, and an immaterial part, our soul. A human person is both. We cannot compartmentalize ourselves. If we think, for example, that our church part is something that does not relate to our work part, we have misunderstood our humanity. If we think that our private life doesn’t affect our public life, we are fooling ourselves. If we think that we can be one person at church, but another person at home, we are deceived.
We are called to live a new life, a new life of choices and actions that show we are truly members of God’s family. Furthermore, Peter says, when we enter God’s family, we become aliens and strangers to the world around us. We take on the identity of God’s family.
I wonder if your family has an identity. Most do. What I am referring to is family tendencies. For good or for bad. One of my Kime family identities for generations now is being in involved in ministry, and specifically, teaching. My grandfather on my mom’s side was an ordained pastor and long-time professor at Lancaster Bible College. Then my dad became a pastor and a long-time professor at LBC. Then Michelle and I got married. Michelle’s dad is also an ordained minister and was a long-time professor at LBC. Now I became an ordained pastor, and I teach courses from time to time as an adjunct pastor at LBC. I’ve joked that it is the family business. Now we have a son married to a teacher and another son engaged to a teacher.
Or it could be a different tendency in your family. Maybe a tendency that you are trying to build into your family. When our kids were younger, and one of them got frustrated at a board game or a puzzle or playing sports with the neighbors outside, they would storm into our house declaring, “I quit!” If you have kids, you are likely familiar with this scenario. But in response I would say, “Kimes aren’t quitters.” I wanted to build persistence into their lives. It wasn’t just a phrase, though. The phrase had the right content, but to make it meaningful, it would require me and Michelle to make the kids to get back out there, to not be a sore loser, keep at it, and finish what they started. Even if they lost the game.
The family of God has tendencies like that. Tendencies that are not just beliefs, but actions. Because, Christians, our identity as children in God’s family is our primary focus, our primary identity, we not only have content that we believe, but more importantly we make choices and we perform actions in our lives that show what we really believe.
Authentic Christians are Christians more than just during the one hour per week that we attend a worship service. It is a very good thing to attend church worship services, but I have to ask: Is it possible that our attendance at worship service is covering up a different reality in the remaining 167 hours each week? The choices and actions of our lives in those other 167 hours are where we show what we really believe. That is why Peter says we abstain from sinful desires, we live good lives, we do good deeds.
Does this mean that we have to be perfect or we aren’t really believing in Jesus? No, that is not what I am saying. What I am asking you to consider is this: What is in your heart? What is the culture you are creating and working to create in our lives? A culture of secrecy? A culture of deceit? Of hypocrisy?
We are to be creating a culture of consistent goodness, both in our own hearts and in the organizations we participate in.
What I am talking about is practicing a humble teachable faith, such that our hearts are being transformed so the fruit of the Spirit flows from us.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that I talk about the Fruit of the Spirit often. But that is because it is such an important principle. So let’s talk about it again. I think you’ll see the link between what Peter taught in 1 Peter 2:9-12, which we looked at in the previous post, and what Paul talks about in Galatians 5:16-26. Let’s read that:
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
While a person like Ravi Zacharias proclaimed boldly and powerfully the authenticity of faith in Jesus, in his private life he demonstrated the regular, purposeful acts of the sinful nature which were destructive to other human beings. He also set up a lifestyle and a culture that allowed for him to continue in that way without accountability.
So what do we do in response to this? How do we turn away from the sinful nature and grow the fruit of the Spirit?
We cannot turn a blind eye to sin. In ourselves and others. This is especially important and difficult when a poorly behaving person is also respected and successful. It is so easy to become starry-eyed by the powerful speaker, the wealthy person, the leader with power and influence, or the person who makes you feel great. It is so easy to be dwell on their perceived success. I mean, they are bringing in people, they are building buildings, they are writing books, they are on TV, the radio, and have tons of followers on social media. They can’t possibly be giving in to the acts of the sinful nature, can they?
We look at people that appear to be successful and we assume that they are golden.
Instead we should ask a different question: What is success?
Or more precisely: What does God’s Kingdom-minded success look like? How is that different from the version of success so typical in many cultures around the world?
The world’s version of success is often, “bigger is better.” More people paying more money at more events in more buildings. We Christians can use these metrics or measurements of success too. We can even spiritualize these metrics. “God must be blessing that big church down the road because of how big they are.” I recently was talking to someone about a new church building that their church completed in recent years, and that person said, “They did it right.”
They did? How do we know that? Did it right according to what standard? God’s standard?
Let me clarify. Sometimes Kingdom-minded success will lead to that which the world calls success. Ministries growing large is not inherently evil. The early Christians, as we studied last year in the book of Acts, grew and grew and grew. And we are thankful they did because the good news of Jesus through the centuries eventually reached us!
What I am suggesting is this: if you turn your eye away from evil, just because a person or group is bringing worldly success, then those who turn their eyes away are culpable in the evil. That is what happened with Ravi Zacharias and so many others. They were incredibly successful, and there was a willingness on the part of the people around them to allow bad behavior to continue because, “the ministry is flourishing.”
Instead our goal is to do exactly what Peter and Paul teach. Walk in step with the Spirit, so that the Fruit of the Spirit is flowing out of our lives. That should be our standard for measurement. Not how many people are viewing our YouTube videos. Not how many people are attending our worship services. Not how many people are getting baptized. Not how big our budget is, or whether or not we have a fully funded budget at the end of the year. Not how many events we had. The measurement that we seek is how much we are filled with the Spirit so that acts of the sinful nature are decreasing in our lives and the fruit of the Spirit is increasing in our lives.
(Author’s Note: I’m thankful for the book A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer for introducing me to this concept. I’m just scratching the surface in these blog posts. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and read it with your small group, class or church leaders. Another excellent resource is The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives by Peter Scazzero.)