How should I respond when a prominent Christian falls into grievous sin?

The first thing I think of whenever I hear of a prominent Christian who has committed some terribly wicked action is the rebuke the prophet Nathan gave King David when Nathan confronted David about his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his arranged murder of her husband Uriah:

“…by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme…” (2 Samuel 12:14, NKJV)

I grieve for the families and ministries directly impacted by the failures of their loved ones and leaders. I grieve for the victims. I also grieve for the cause of Christ. I hate it that atheists, skeptics, critics, and cultists are laughing. I hate it when a brother or sister in Christ hands the Lord’s enemies a box of ammunition. I mourn for those who are turned away from the Christian faith due to the blatant hypocrisy of one of its famous adherents. I am terrified at the possibility of having to possibly answer for someone being pushed away from Christ due to my failures (Luke 17:1-2).

How do I respond when a prominent Christian falls into grievous sin?

Anger. Sadness. Self-reflection. Renewed commitment to not make the same mistakes.

What is my message to those struggling with the fallout of a prominent Christian who has sinned in a heinous way?

(1) Focus on the message, not the messenger. This is hard, I know. After all, the Bible says, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18, NIV). If the tree is proven to be bad, can we trust any of its fruit? In some cases, yes. At the same time, I completely understand never wanting to eat from that tree again.

(2) Never allow yourself to idolize or revere a fellow follower of Jesus. Only God is worthy of our worship. No matter how godly a man or woman, no matter how long he or she has been faithfully serving Jesus—human beings will always eventually let you down. No one is perfect (Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8). If you get close enough, or dig deep enough, everyone has committed sins that will disappoint you, or in some cases, shock you. Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

(3) Don’t forget to pray for prominent Christians. In no sense am I making excuses, but Christians in prominent leadership roles experience a lot of pressure, temptations, and spiritual attack. Our enemy delights in achieving those “great occasions for blaspheming.” Pray for Christian leaders. Pray for them to have discernment, humility, integrity, accountability, courage, protection, and victory.

(4) Remove the plank from your own eye. See Matthew 7:5. The saying, “there but for the grace of God go I” is true. Never allow yourself to believe, “I could never do something like that.”

(5) Strive to continue to be salt and light. See Matthew 5:13-16. Whenever someone who was previously a light goes dark, who was previously spicy goes bland, redouble your efforts to declare the gospel by the words you say and the life you live. The more Christians the world sees who faithfully follow Christ, the less damage is done when a Christian betrays the faith he/she previously proclaimed.

(6) Long for that glorious day! “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

S. Michael Houdmann

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How should I respond when a prominent Christian falls into grievous sin?