I was discussing the news about Ravi Zacharias over dinner with some friends recently. The discussion brought light to a serious but subtle sin—not Ravi’s, but ours. This sin needs to be brought into the penetrating gospel light. The revelations about Zacharias have been incredibly confusing and painfully destructive. It is not an overstatement to say that his sin has hurt people in ways that only the new creation can undo. Without making little of the lives Zacharias ruined, I’ve noticed that many conversations about his serious moral failings are wide of the mark. I worry that our primary concern in these matters may have shifted. Has our thinking about our sin become centred on ourselves and on our salvation, rather than on God and his glory?
Has our thinking about our sin become centred on ourselves, rather than God’s glory?
The questions that came instinctively when we thought about Zacharias’ sins are probably the very ones that come when we think about our own sin. Many people are asking the same question: “Will Ravi be saved in the end?” This is not surprising. For it is the question that naturally haunts us in our own private encounters with sin: How will this affect my eternal fate? Does this sin endanger my salvation? But in focusing on these sorts of questions, we skew biblical priorities.
God’s Glory Matters Most
As people who have been brought into relationship with God, there exists a far more important question. We can ask this both prior to and in the wake of personal sin. That question is: “Will this glorify God?” Put another way: “How will this affect God’s glory?” The glory of God, not our eternal fate, is the most important thing at stake when we are confronted by sin. Could it be that we have reversed God’s priorities? We often worry about the injuries we suffer because of our sin rather than the damage it does to God’s glory and fame.
The glory of God, not our eternal fate, is the most important thing.
This reversed priority is very likely one of the reasons we flounder in our fight against sin. Because we fixate on ourselves (how sin will impact us) and quickly forget God’s glory (how does this look before God’s holy presence?) sin thrives.
Sin Is Easy When God’s Glory Doesn’t Matter
If you have made this unfortunate reversal of placing yourself at the centre of your obedience and disobedience, you will probably ask yourself: “If I did this act, would I still retain my salvation?” But what we should first be asking is: “Will this honour God?” The tragic conclusion we make is that if sin is not consequential for salvation then it is not consequential. If I can do the act and retain my salvation, then it doesn’t really matter whether I do it or not.
Glorifying God has become subservient to getting saved.
Often this means that I will go ahead and do it. This is done without considering that it doesn’t honour God. God’s glory is simply not a category we use when we evaluate the seriousness of an action. Therefore we may be tempted to conclude that Ravi’s sins were not as significant or consequential if they did not jeopardise his salvation. Glorifying God has, in this case, become subservient to getting saved.
In reality, it ought to be the other way round. We are saved as a subordinate means for the greater end of glorifying God. If it dishonours God then it is tragic and worth recoiling from, whether the sinner himself will be saved or not.
Honour God Above Fearing Hell
It therefore comes as no surprise that when the apostle Paul is asked the ambiguous questions of whether people should eat meat or observe special days or not, he responds by removing the question from the realm of sheer obedience and disobedience. Instead he focuses it on God’s honour. Thus Paul writes: “The one who observes the day observes it in honour of the Lord. The one who eats eats in honour of the Lord” (Romans 14:6).
God’s glory should be the primary consideration when we weigh an action.
In a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul again locates obedience within the glory of God, rather than whether it brings spiritual qualification or disqualification. “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Paul orders priorities. God’s glory should be the first and primary consideration when we weigh an action, thought, or attitude.
Do You Desire God’s Greater Glory?
We can trace this priority back to the Old Testament. David’s primary burden in his great psalm of repentance is God. David recognises that he did evil in God’s sight (Psalm 51:4). He wants a new heart for himself, yes. But only so that he can teach fellow sinners about God’s ways of righteous mercy (Psalm 51:14).
The prophets are primarily burdened by God’s glory
The prophets of Israel, similarly, are primarily burdened by God’s glory. Hosea exhorted Israel to see herself as an idolatrous and unfaithful bride to her true and faithful husband, God (Hosea 2:8). Not to say that they were not be concerned about impending exile, as a consequence of their sin. But the sting of their idolatry is that they spurned their loving God. They shamed his name. They raised questions over his ability to protect his own people.
An Illustration: Infidelity In Marriage
The injustice we commit against God when we make sin primarily about ourselves can be illustrated in the story of the husband faced with a temptation to infidelity. Should he be worried about the cost of divorce, before he asks how the action would destroy his family?
Both thoughts may, and should, cross this husband’s mind. But if the losses that accompany divorce is what deters him, rather than the betrayal of his wife, then he does not love her but himself. He is selfishly concerned for his finances rather than committed to fidelity. The dreaded question is then: what if infidelity had no personal cost?
Disordered Spiritual Priorities
And so it was with me and my friends that night. Our disordered spiritual priorities, more concerned about our safety than about God’s glory, permeated how we spoke about Ravi Zacharias. The question was asked: “If Ravi is a believer, and is in heaven, does that mean that the sins he did have been of no consequence?” If we instinctively answer “yes,” then what about the great injury to God’s name? Isn’t that more consequential than Zacharias salvation? Could Ravi be saved yet we still mourn because God was dishonoured by his grievous actions?
We cannot be content when God is dishonoured, though we be saved.
Because of God’s glorious and gracious gospel, Christians can live without fear of death or judgment. Christ suffered the penalty for sin on our behalf. My sins of yesterday, today, and tomorrow are all part of the future he foresaw and atoned for on the cross. Just as the law could not justify us (Romans 3:20), Paul says that it can no longer condemn us (Colossians 2:14). The law has been satisfied. But this does not mean we can be unconcerned about his glory as long as we are saved.
Live For God
The Scriptures teach that we have been saved so that we might live for God (Romans 6:10-11). The gospel doesn’t free us to sin, to live for ourselves (Galatians 5:13-14). We must instead walk by the Spirit, imitating the obedience of the Son by pursuing the Father’s glory.
Holiness is not what we are saved by but what we are saved for.
Holiness, understood as loving God, is not what we are saved by, but what we are saved for. We therefore mustn’t be content when God is dishonoured, though we be saved. Do not make little of sin because the consequences are slight, even invisible. Remember that we will give account to God, both in this life and the life to come.