WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN LEGACY?
There is something almost ludicrous about inheritances in a world of financial prosperity and an increased lifespan. The Baby Boomer generation worked hard and saved diligently, stuffing untold billions in savings and retirement accounts, hoping to leave their children financially stable. Meanwhile, lifespans are increasing in the West, and many of these Boomers lived for a long time in the 80s and 90s. When they die, their children will be grown and well established in life. Whatever inheritance, the parents have passed along might well be superfluous at that time. Their children will stuff the cash into their bank accounts and leave it unused before passing on to another generation who will still have no use for it. Inheritances that were once important to establish and provide financial stability are increasingly redundant.
This does not mean that what we leave behind is useless. The Bible has many things to say about the inheritances, about the legacy from one generation to the next. It commends hard work and sincere savings. It praises the man who gives everything to his household. But it also reminds us that there is something you can leave behind that is much more valuable than money. My friend, you’re running the race of life, and if you’re going to run to win, you need to consider your legacy.
MORE THAN MONEY
Christian financial planners are fond of citing a specific proverb: “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” (Proverbs 13:22). You don’t need a degree in Bible interpretation to understand the meaning of the proverb: it is suitable for a man to think ahead and live in such a way that he provides not only for himself but also for his descendants. Many contemporary writers regard this verse as a guideline for financial preservation and estate planning. But before we apply the proverb to our own lives and times, we need to set it in its context.
In ancient Israel, the land was holy, for God had told the people of his covenant that they would inherit the Promised Land. Owning many lands was a symbol of God’s blessing, while owning no land was a symbol of God’s disfavor. So the land had a special meaning. Not only that, but the Israelis were mostly subsistence farmers. Without a ground, they would starve, become dependent on charity, or even be slaves. A hardworking father was responsible for maintaining his land and passing it on to the next generation.
That is a very different context from our own. Since then, Jesus Christ has been born into the universe. He lived, died, and was raised, and as he did so, he fulfilled the promise of God. He fulfilled the specific promise of people inheriting the Promised Land. Ownership of land no longer suggests God’s blessing or disfavor, for Jesus himself “had nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Besides this, the world has changed, and few of us are subsistence farmers who devote our lives to the family homestead. Land and heritage are far less significant than they once did.
Although we must be careful about applying this proverb to our times, we must be equally careful to heed its advice and consider our legacies. There’s wisdom in looking to the future and in deciding how we would like to be remembered. There is importance in knowing the legacy we will give to those who live after us, what we want to leave behind after we die sets the course for how we expect to live. What legacy would you love to leave for your children and future generations? What kind of inheritance would you want them to receive? Have you considered your legacy?
A BETTER INHERITANCE
The New Testament continues to talk about inheritance but in a very different way. In the first letter of Peter, he praises God for the inheritance left to us. This isn’t a financial or physical inheritance, but something much greater than that.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)
As a good father, God planned far in advance what he would give to his children, and he worked diligently to get it. He has provided the gifts of salvation, glorification, and sanctification through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has made us his heirs, and we are coheirs with Christ. In the end, he gave us himself. Our greatest inheritance is God — peace with God, friendship with God, life with God. This inheritance has been given, set aside, and is kept safe while we wait for the day when we will completely own it. Paul says that we have been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14). We have begun to receive what God has set aside for us, but we will receive it entirely and completely only in God’s everlasting kingdom.
Like God, you are responsible for planning ahead of time what you plan to leave your children, and you, too, should work diligently to get it. God expects you to leave an inheritance to your children. But he expects more than that. He also wants you to consider your spiritual family, the Church, and decide what kind of inheritance you would like to leave to them. This inheritance, this legacy, may include finances, but it must include artifacts that are far more precious than that. Here’s how J.R. Miller says, “If parents give their children money, they can lose it in some of life’s vicissitudes. If they offer them a home of splendor, they will be forced out of it. If they pass on to them as a heritage and an honored name, they will sully it. But if their hearts are filled with the holy influences and memories of a happy Christian home, no calamity, no great sorrow, no power of evil, no earthly loss, can ever deprive them of their sacred possessions.”
Your first legacy is the Bible. If you leave your children with full pockets but hollow hearts, you have failed your most important duty. You cannot, of course, compel your children to turn to Jesus Christ. But you should teach them the Gospel and ask them to embrace it. God calls you to teach and train them faithfully, “…bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) and to trust that, as you do, they will respond to the Gospel by placing their faith in Jesus Christ. And you’re going to spread the same message with your relatives, neighbors, colleagues, and whoever else listens. There is nothing more precious in the world than a man’s soul, and no greater legacy than the souls won for Christ.
Your second legacy is godliness. Paul appreciated this kind of legacy in his friend Timothy’s history when he said, “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” (2 Timothy 1:5). Timothy had inherited the gift of godliness from both his mother and his grandmother. As Timothy grew up, he met Paul, who related to him as a father would to his son, even referring to him as “my true son in the faith.” Paul meant to leave him a similar legacy: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions” (2 Timothy 3:10-11). He would say to Timothy, as to so many others, “Follow my example,” or “Imitate me.” Paul followed a godly character so that he could call Timothy to follow his example.
There is a lot you can leave behind. You may leave your property, your land, or your income. That is good. But nothing is more valuable, more precious, or more praiseworthy than the legacy of the Church and godliness.
REWARD AND LEGACY
We know that nurturing a legacy of life-based on biblical and moral values has a profound spiritual significance that blesses us well beyond any financial benefit we may obtain. Professional financial planning based on a lifetime commitment to personal responsibility not only gives us better stewardship of our wealth but also provides a solid example of what it means to live a life for the kingdom purpose.
But living this life is not without its questions and concerns.
How do we overcome the tension that may occur as we consider how to properly balance and appreciate the rewards that we are blessed with in life against those we are expected to receive in heaven? Are we going to be judged by our fellow Christians, and more importantly, by God, if we place too much value on the worldly gains we receive?
This final look will give some thoughts that might help address these and other difficult questions that emerge when considering the many benefits of a well-lived life.
When considering the idea of legacy and reward in the sense of a well-lived life, it is essential to examine how to conscientiously handle the resources and gifts entrusted to us by God. Do we, as Christians, feel guilt or shame for the riches that we have gained on earth? Alternatively, is it better to regard wealth as having a higher purpose and a result of a well-lived life in God’s service?
It is normal to value possessions gained, such as a medal for winning a race, or a certificate of achievement that honors hard work for a job well done. Living well is also its reward. However, for these earthly achievements to have a higher meaning, they require a greater good source.
Although individuals can remain faithful under any circumstances (through God’s sustaining power), financial stability offers a forum through which we, as Christians, may fulfill God’s kingdom purpose.
Using our time, talent, and money for a good reason, such as helping those in need, taking the time and energy to be kind to others, and being generous with your tithing to the Church, and contributing to charities, are ways of using your rewards to be cherished by others. This goodness cannot be purchased or sold, but it must be lived.
Although we as Christians are taught that faith isn’t about reward, the Bible speaks of heaven’s reward for living out our faith on earth. The promised rewards that wait for us in heaven do not keep us from receiving rewards on earth. That said, these rewards may be easy and may not necessarily require substantial financial gain. You can leave a legacy even though you’re not a rich man. Building a good legacy is just as much about relationships as it is about financial responsibility.
Most of your history will be published after you’re gone. Putting your affairs in order now will make financial decisions simpler for your family and loved ones when they are called upon to handle your assets.
When you consider your final wishes, take the time to express the things that are at the center of your belief system. Most people want to make sure that the positive impact they’ve worked for and believed in doesn’t just go away, but that the good work continues.
Investing in a way that is truly Christian involves a specific worldview. We can’t know what the future holds, but we do trust that God has our future in his hands as Christian investors. Our investment in our faith and our trust in the love of God is never misplaced.
DO IT RIGHT NOW!
Let’s discuss a few practical steps that you should take right now.
PLAN FOR YOUR LEGACY: What kind of legacy would you like to leave for those who follow you? Having considered this, start considering how you’re going to do that. The man who desires to leave his children a million dollars must intend to generate enough income and set aside enough to achieve his goal; the man who wants to leave his children a legacy of godliness must plan how he will grow up in godliness and share the Gospel.
ASSESS YOUR LIFE: Get an accurate evaluation of whether your life is in line with the legacy you want to leave. Think about the last job you quit or the last place you moved from: what kind of legacy did you leave? Do people miss your presence, or was your departure good riddance to bad rubbish? The legacies you leave now may be identical to the ultimate legacy you would leave when you die. Ask those closest to you for truthful feedback: what comes to their mind when they think of you? Do your spouse, children, and close friends think of godly traits or worldly traits? For better or worse, your past now decides the legacy that you will leave behind.
GO TO THE CROSS: Because of Christ’s cross, there is no sin that cannot be washed away, and there is no legacy that cannot be redeemed. Saul of Tarsus was commonly regarded as a Christian persecutor. But because of Christ’s intervention, he became known as the one who “…now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed” (Galatians 1:23). While you’re alive, you still have time to change your legacy. It all starts with receiving the forgiveness from Christ. It starts with accepting before Christ that your sin has destroyed your legacy and believes that He can transform you. And after you have received his forgiveness, you can put off the old self with its destroyed reputation and put on the new self, which is growing into godliness and depositing the Gospel to others.
WORK HARD NOW: Every day, with every passing minute, with every little step; you’re building up your legacy. It isn’t the grand moments of life, but rather the unremarkable, unnoticed endurance that forms a legacy. Your detailed plans and good ideas will do no good if you do not follow them with action. If you wish to leave a godly legacy, get started right away. Do not waste another moment and give yourself to everlasting investments that will be your children’s greatest legacy.
RUN TO WIN
I believe I speak for several people when I say that I don’t care a lick, whether or not my parents leave me as much as a penny of inheritance. They’ve already given me a far more significant and lasting inheritance. They introduced me to the Gospel and celebrated as I gave my faith in Christ. They demonstrated godliness, setting an example of how I was to behave like a Christian. Is that the inheritance you want to leave for your children? Are you working on this? If you’re going to run to win, you must consider your legacy.