There is no shortage of scandals in the evangelical church these days. Many of our leaders are stealing from churches and associations, cheating on their wives, or outright abandoning them. Hypocrisy abounds and it seems like every month or so there is some other high-profile, Christian superstar whose gross, secret sins find him out and bring significant damage to marriage and ministry. Such news always catches my attention, but it has little impact on me personally because I do not know these men, and generally have not heard for them until their scandal. What has had continual, significant impact on me throughout the years is seeing men I know, and have looked up to, fall from grace. I have watched a zealous, evangelistic, biblically informed friend give up and jump head first into a life of immorality. He never denied the gospel to be true, but claimed he was never truly converted and just walked away. I watched another young man who formerly appeared to be walking with Jesus with great care reject it all for the things the world offers. I had a close friend who was a great theologian, a good teacher/evangelist who produced some very good fruit grow to be so overtaken by pride that he left his family and little children to pursue his own sinful interests. I have seen other leaders, men that I knew well and admired, abandon their spouses or lose their ministry because their secret moral failure had found them out. At one point in my life I honestly felt like I was left almost all alone, standing by myself, covered in the blood of my friends who had fallen and died - asking, "Why am I still standing? I am just as screwed up as everyone else, just as tempted with sin. What have I done to protect myself?" I certainly was never foolish enough to think of myself as more spiritual than those who fell morally. Watching my friends fall was not only frightening, but discouraging. Perhaps, I often thought, it is only a matter of time before I fall in the same way.
Over the years I have talked with a lot of Christians who have shared the same fear. How can they stand when so many others have fallen before them? Is it even possible to persevere in faith and godliness when surrounded not only by temptation but by so much failure and moral collapse among men formerly held in high esteem? William Gurnall said that many Christians lose hope of persevering when,
seeing such, whose gifts they so much admired, lie before them, wallowing in the blood of their slain profession: [from being] zealous professors, to prove perhaps fiery persecutors; [from being] strict performers of religious duties, [to prove] irreligious atheists: no more like the men they were some years past The Christian in Complete Armour (pp. 14, 15)
But the failure of the men we know should not only be a discouragement to us. We should let it have a positive effect on us as well.
When we see those who have fallen morally:
1. Mourn over it. See the awfulness of sin, and the devastation that comes from a self-directed life. Learn to hate the sinfulness of sin. The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. (Pr. 8:13)
2. Be warned by it. Yes, you too can fall. The potential for every wickedness lies in your heart, just as it does in mine, just has it did in those who have fallen. Be stirred to greater care of your soul, life, family and church.
3. Repent. Take the opportunity to examine yourself and confess your sins carefully and precisely; addressing both those sins of omission and of commission. Look to those "root sins" that bear fruit in your lives and tear them out.
4. Let it draw you close to Jesus. Let the failure of others compel you to cling more tightly to the Savior. Men will fail both God and let us down, but our hope is not the men who go before us. Our confidence of continuing in the faith is not rooted in becoming more like those we admire, but in abiding in Jesus (see What Jesus Demands of the World, Demand #7 by John Piper).
5. Surround yourself with men who will encourage you and hold you accountable. When men are walking with Christ together, not attempting to go it alone, they are much more likely to remain strong and persevere. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Ecc. 4:10)
And be encouraged that though many may fall, many more - even Jesus himself - will cheer you on as you persevere in holiness.
Christians, God and angels are spectators, observing how you [conduct] yourselves like children of the Most High; every exploit your faith doth against sin and Satan causeth a shout in heaven; while you valiantly prostrate this temptation, scale that difficulty, regain the other ground you even now lost out of your enemies' hands. Your dear Savior, who stands by with a reserve for your relief at a pinch, his very heart leaps within him for joy to see the proof of your love to him and zeal for him in all your combats; and will not forget all the faithful service you have done in his wars on earth; but when thou comest out of the field, will receive thee with the like joy as he was entertained himself at his return to heaven of his Father. William Gurnall, 'Armour (pg. 17)