Over the years, we have found out that many people in the spotlight of popular culture have issues. Countless news stories highlight that a movie, TV, music, or Internet star has an addiction, a hidden failure, a secret sin, or did something completely inappropriate. This may ruin our faith in people (see (Almost) Everybody Will Let You Down), or cause us to think that people in the spotlight somehow sin more than the rest of us (see Those Who Sin Differently).
However, when this happens to those who portrayed positive values in their public persona (whether a star from a family TV show, or even a leader in the church), I find myself conflicted, and I think that many others feel the same. What should my attitude be towards the good things that these people did, even if they also had secret sin?
Many years ago, a pastor that I knew was removed from his position for confirmed immorality. Still, I had previously found help in his teaching. So, should my spiritual growth from this man be nullified?
When other public figures are shown to be human – that is, when we find that they sin and don’t live up to God’s expectations for righteousness, just like the rest of us – what should our reaction be? Do their human limitations mean that their other messages are invalid? Should their previous contributions to society – whether writings, sermons, shows, or movies – be expunged from our memory, or can we we learn valuable from fellow fallen people (and not just to avoid getting caught in our own sins)?
I can’t give you all of the answers, but let’s consider some possibilities, and see what we can learn from the Bible.
When someone points us towards God, and the truth that God shares with us, what we find to be true about God should not canceled out by a human failure. When people are found to have done bad things, some may mistrust their previous statements. If we have already found that those statements stand on their own, though, then we can have confidence in a faithful God, even if our trust in people is eroded. If we have gotten to know God, and found that our own research, observations, and experiences confirm that He is exactly who He has shown Himself to be, our faith is no longer based on the testimony of a mere human being. God’s nature can stand on its own. While we can – and should – testify to His faithfulness, God doesn’t need us in order for Him to be good.
The apostle Paul wrote:
If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
2 Timothy 2:13 NASB
This is also a reminder that followers of Jesus aren’t called to polish their own crowns, but to bring glory to God. Having integrity and being a good witness is a good idea, to testify to the change that Jesus can bring to our lives. However, when we imply that our testimony about Jesus has merit based solely on our trustworthiness, rather than admitting that we are also sinners and the only thing we can count on is Jesus’ faithfulness, we risk tying His image to our own (rather than the other way around).
Secondly, it is still appropriate for followers of Jesus to live like He commanded us. Jesus made it clear that this was the result of loving Him:
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:15 NASB
When our our lives match our words, this is (after all) the definition of “integrity” – where every part of our lives has consistency. While we may still be imperfect, and challenged by our sinful natures in a fallen world, we should still strive to live according to God’s instructions and guidance as much as we can.
Finally, regardless of the shortcomings of the rest of us, Jesus perfectly matched up both His words and His actions. Nothing that He said was invalidated by His behavior. In fact, His life perfectly confirmed His words, whether through His exact fulfillment of righteousness, or through the miracles that confirmed His relationship with God the Father (including the ultimate miracle – Jesus’ being raised from the dead after His perfect sacrifice for fallen humankind).
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
Isaiah 53:9 NASB
So, can we benefit from (and reuse) God-honoring lessons that we learn from people with faults, even those with significant faults? Well, when they point us towards God, the glory given to God is still valid, and so we should always give the glory to God, and not ourselves. In a sinful world, imperfect human beings don’t live up to the perfection that Jesus demonstrated for us, but praise God that His words outlast our own failures.