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From poison to faith: How the life and legacy of Ravi Zacharias inspire us to love God with our minds

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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From poison to faith
Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias, left, talks with associate professor Lenny Luchetti during the Society of World Changers induction ceremony Wednesday, March 30, 2016. (Jeff Morehead/The Chronicle-Tribune via AP)

Ravi Zacharias, one of the most effective apologists and communicators in the Christian world, died yesterday at the age of seventy-four.

He was born on March 26, 1946, in Chennai, India. His family went to church and observed Christian rituals, but he said he never heard the gospel. “I attended more Hindu festivals and celebrations than I did Christian ones,” he wrote in Christianity Today

As a young man, Zacharias attended a Youth for Christ rally, where he responded to the invitation with what he later termed “a kind of half-hearted commitment.” At the age of seventeen, in response to poor academic performance that he felt brought shame on his family, he took poison to kill himself. 

He was rushed to the hospital, where a representative of Youth for Christ left him a Bible opened to John 14 and Jesus’ statement, “Because I live, you also will live.” 

“Jesus,” he prayed, “if you are the One who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it. Please get me out of this hospital bed well, and I promise I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.” 

God answered his prayer, and Ravi Zacharias kept his promise. 

“Let My People Think” 

Zacharias received a bachelor of theology degree from Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto) in 1972 and a master of divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, four years later. In 1984, he founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). 

Zacharias preached the gospel in more than seventy countries. He wrote or edited more than twenty-five books about theology, apologetics, comparative religion, and philosophy. RZIM has grown to about two hundred employees in sixteen offices around the world with twenty traveling speakers. Their ministry strategies include evangelism, apologetics, humanitarian aid, spiritual growth, and training institutes at Oxford University and elsewhere. 

He wrote the bestseller, Can Man Live Without God? His most recent book, The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind, won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s 2020 Christian Book Award in the Bible study category. 

Let My People Think, a weekly radio program, airs on more than two thousand outlets in thirty-two countries. A television program by the same name is broadcast on thirty-one stations in Canada and Belize, with global coverage into Africa, China, and Europe. A version of the program airs in his native India as well. 

Ravi Zacharias and I were to share the platform at a statewide college ministry event earlier this year, but he had to cancel due to health concerns. It turned out, he had cancer. Despite surgery and further treatment, the malignancy was deemed untreatable. Last week, as news of his condition spread, social media tributes to his life and legacy were posted from around the world. 

Three ways to love God with our minds 

We are focusing this week on finding ways to love our neighbor during this ongoing pandemic (Mark 12:31) by first loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength (v. 30). As we noted yesterday, when we love God with our strength in the practical commitment of our lives to his lordship, we will be empowered to love others in practical ways as well. 

Today, let’s think about ways to love God with our minds so that we can love him more fully with our strength and thus love our neighbor as ourselves. Paul called us to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Consider three biblical steps. 

One: Stay surrendered to the Holy Spirit. 

Paul warned us: “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5–6). 

Begin every day by asking the Spirit to take control of your mind and life (Ephesians 5:18). Read Scripture and think biblically throughout the day. Choose to yield your mind to your Master. 

Two: Refuse unbiblical thoughts. 

There is an old computer programming saying: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). The same is true of our minds. To stay surrendered to God’s Holy Spirit, we must refuse that which is unholy. 

Paul testified, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). He urged us to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). Sinful thoughts will result in sinful actions and lives. 

Three: Seek intellectual excellence. 

Christians should be the best scientists and scholars, since by God’s indwelling Spirit “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). We should therefore be committed to educational and intellectual excellence to the glory of our Lord. As a wise mentor once told me, “The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the trained mind.” 

My personal gratitude for Ravi Zacharias 

When we submit our minds to the Spirit, refuse unbiblical thoughts and lies, and seek intellectual excellence that honors Jesus, others will be drawn to the Christ we serve and the faith we embrace. 

For example, I was never privileged to know Ravi Zacharias personally, but I was especially encouraged by his commitment to Christ. He was one of the most brilliant people I have ever read or heard. If he, with his intellect, could be so certain of the truth of Scripture and veracity of our faith, the rest of us can follow his example with confidence. 

And when we love Jesus with our minds, we will be equipped to love him with our strength and our neighbors as ourselves. 

This is the legacy of Ravi Zacharias in my life and our world. Thanks be to God.

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