As we walk through life, we will eventually be forced to consider what we are leaving behind for others, so what does it mean to leave a good, godly legacy?
“I'm just so grateful for Ravi and his life, and our friendship and everything that he has helped and mentored me in,” Tim Tebow said in an Instagram video. “He's been an absolute inspiration, a hero of the faith, and he'll definitely be in the hall of faith. We're just so grateful for his life, for his impact, for his ministry.”
The announcement of Ravi Zacharias’s rapidly declining health was a shock to many who had seen him speaking and traveling on a few months earlier.
The RZIM post confirming that Ravi was coming home for perhaps the last time caused many to pause and reflect on the impact this man has had during his life of service to the church and the cross.
When he passed on May 19th, the Christian community felt his loss keenly. It gave rise to the question of “Who is God going to raise up to carry on the torch of apologetics, unpacking the rationality of our beliefs for both new or uncertain believers and the secular world?”
Moments like this also invite contemplation on how and why someone like Ravi has left the legacy he has. Here we are almost bidden by the circumstances to consider what sort of legacy we will leave for those who come behind us.
Legacy According to a Secular World
Forbes magazine mused on this topic, saying, “We all want to be remembered, to feel that we’ve contributed something to the world. For some, this can be a driving force leading to great accomplishments and extraordinary contributions to mankind. But for most of us with more modest goals, what pushes us is the desire to leave a legacy.
“Your legacy is putting your stamp on the future. It’s a way to make some meaning of your existence: ‘Yes, world of the future, I was here. Here’s my contribution, here’s why I hope my life mattered.’”
The periodical offered four ways to make this happen.
Provide a family history or genealogy;
Give to a charity;
Write a legacy letter about your own life to someone;
Prepare an ethical will, a last testament that isn’t legally binding but explains your rational for bequeathing certain things to specific family members.
While these ideas certainly aren’t bad ones, none of them can really offer us any kind of lasting legacy.
Our grandkids (or great grandkids) may just not care about genealogies; legacy letters can be lost; ethical wills can be ignored and certainly will be if someone is bound and determined to have an heirloom for sentimental reasons (or, less charitably, greedy reasons).
J.R. Miller, Christian author and editorial superintendent of the Presbyterian board of publication, once said, “If parents give money to their children, they may lose it in some of life’s vicissitudes. If they bequeath to them a home of splendor, they may be driven out of it. If they pass down to them as a heritage an honored name, they may sully it.
“But if they fill their hearts 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 rob them of their sacred possessions.”
Our legacy will ultimately have very little to do with what monetary gifts or memories we leave for others.
A Biblical Legacy to Give Others
While Ravi Zacharias has most certainly left his children and grandchildren a tremendous spiritual legacy, no one would argue that it extends far beyond his own family members.
One day, thousands upon thousands of people will stand up and point to Ravi as the one through whom God worked in their lives in seasons of doubt, the one who open their eyes to the terrible lie of ‘intellectually outgrowing Christianity’ that academia had sold to them in college.
Tim Challies wrote, “Paul celebrated this kind of legacy in his friend Timothy’s background when he said, ‘I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well’ (2 Timothy 1:5).
“Timothy had received the legacy of a sincere godliness from both his mother and grandmother. As Timothy grew up, he encountered Paul who related to him as a father to a son, even referring to him as ‘my true son in the faith.’ Paul meant to leave him a similar legacy: ‘You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings’ (2 Timothy 3:10-11).”
This kind of legacy is only possible because of the one that Christ left us, as David Wilkerson explored in a devotion.
“The writer of Hebrews introduces us to the truth that this righteousness is the inheritance of all true believers. It is something Jesus has left for us, a legacy: ‘By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith’ (Hebrews 11:7). Noah became an heir not by building an ark but by what he believed and preached. He grasped this knowledge of righteousness which God had revealed to him, a righteousness that is by faith, and he became an heir of a perfect righteousness.
“Beloved, you and I were given a great inheritance when Christ departed the earth. He left us a title and deed to his very own perfect righteousness.”
With God’s much greater legacy in our hearts, we truly do have something wonderful and worthwhile to leave to our descendants and everyone whom we’ve known and loved in life.
Those in Heaven’s Hall of Faith
While all of this is wonderful, there’s just one little problem.
Those of us who are not globe-trotting missionaries like Paul or incredibly gifted apologists like Ravi can start to feel like leaving a good legacy is difficult for us.
If we’re a store clerk, a construction worker, a stay-at-home mom, an IT manager, what kind of legacy do we have to leave? Worse yet, what if we’ve really messed up? What if we have a past we don’t talk about? What if we came from a family that left us with only grim memories, bad habits or trauma to overcome?
Jon Bloom addressed this using the book of Ruth. “There is a great back-story in Ruth that makes things really interesting. Boaz, who became Ruth’s redeemer-husband, was the son of Rahab…. Remember Rahab? She was another non-Jewish woman, a Canaanite and a former prostitute.
“She and her family were the only survivors of Israel’s conquest of Jericho, because she hid the Jewish spies and helped them escape.
“So imagine the stories Boaz heard as he grew up. And imagine how having a mother who had been a foreigner and a harlot, yet was grafted into the olive tree of Israel by the grace of God, affected the way Boaz viewed Ruth that day he saw her gleaning in his field…. But there was so much more in the works than a fairytale romance. Their union produced a son named Obed, who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, who became the greatest king Israel ever had.
“Until David’s progeny produced a King named Jesus.”
God is not overwhelmed by a difficult personal history, nor is he handicapped by a seemingly insignificant present. He doesn’t shy away from these at all. In fact, Jesus specifically pointed out his descendance from Rahab, Ruth, Boaz and David — men and women with significant issues and failures in their lives — to the chief priests and Pharisees.
God is in the business of taking our lives, if we’ll offer them to him, and creating great legacies with broken people that have far reaching effects beyond what we could ever imagine. Often his plans are bigger than we can foresee, and the things he calls us to do often impact people we may never meet.
Chances are that we won’t know the full extent of our legacy until we reach heaven’s hall of faith and begin to celebrate God’s good work.