Someone has well said, “Your reputation is written on your tombstone; your character is your legacy!” So, I must ask, what will our legacy be?
Everyone leaves a legacy. Some leave large (or small) sums of money; others are remembered for their vices or even for evils they have committed. When a Christian man died unexpectedly and later the family found a stash of pornographic magazines in his closet, his daughter was so devastated that she abandoned her Christian faith and lived a worldly life. Others might have had a more positive opinion of her father, but for her at least, her father’s hypocrisy was his legacy.
Thankfully, most Christians will leave an honorable legacy. We may never be remembered for having our name on a building or for leaving large sums of money, but we will be remembered for our acts of love, our life of faith, and whether or not we lived sacrificially—pointing others in the right direction. When a godly man died, his daughter said, “This world just lost a righteous man, and in this age this is no small thing!”
This year at The Moody Church we’re celebrating our 150th anniversary and have been reflecting on the legacy of D.L. Moody. At the mention of his name, you immediately think of his great crusades with thousands of conversions, but more than likely, you think of The Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute. Today, these organizations are his best known legacy.
How we handle adversity is part of our legacy. When we suffer it’s not merely to strengthen our own faith, but our suffering is intended to benefit others as well. The late Charles Colson said that when an unbeliever gets cancer God lets a believer get cancer so that the world can see the difference. Our ability to receive suffering from the hand of God speaks volumes to those around us.
When, in 1958, a hailstorm took the entire crop on our farm in Canada, our parents asked us to get on our knees to thank God for His goodness. “We will make it somehow!” they told us. Although I was very young, I not only remember this incident, but have reflected on it often. Their ability to accept their poverty as from the hand of God was part of their legacy.
When the famous German artist, Gustav Dore, was crossing the border into another European country, he had forgotten his passport. He gave the custom official his name, but of course, they had to verify who he was. So they handed him a piece of paper and a pencil and said, “If you are Gustav Dore, sketch your surroundings.” He did so quickly and accurately; he had convincingly verified who he was.
If we claim to be Christians, we should leave a portrait behind that reveals our identity. It is right and proper that people should expect us to live differently, to reflect a life of faith and confidence in God. A seminary professor of mine said, “The world can out number us, they can out entertain us, and they can out finance us, but let it never be said that they can out love us!”
Let it be said of us, “He or she loved well; and lived for Jesus Christ.”
That is a legacy.
Practical Advice on Leaving a Godly Legacy
In the Q&A section below, Dr. Lutzer shares further insight into the possibilities and power of a legacy.
Q: You spoke about a man who left a disappointing legacy and, as a result, his daughter rejected her Christian upbringing and lived aimlessly in the world. What would you say to those who had parents who left a very negative and, perhaps, a devastating legacy for them?
A: I would point them to the inexhaustible grace of God. The first thing I would say is that they do not have to be negatively affected by their parents, even if they were evil. I think, for example, of Hezekiah who did what was right in the sight of the Lord even though his father, Ahaz, was evil (2 Kings 18:1-8). God’s grace often appears at times and places that are unexpected. Second, remember that how others treat you—including your parents—does not reflect negatively on your self-worth. If you’re a believer, you are especially loved by God and are precious to Him, regardless. But grace does not enter through closed doors. We must open our lives to God and what He offers us freely in Christ.
Q: In the article you refer to your own parents and their godly legacy. When you think of your parents, both of whom are now in heaven, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
A: I see my mother at the kitchen table leading us in singing, “Take the name of Jesus with you,” and I see my father sitting in a wheelchair at the age of 105 saying his last complete sentence in German, “We have been speaking about the present, now it is time to speak about eternity and the glory of God.” He died a few months later at the age of 106. My parents were real people, by no means perfect, but real—no hypocrisy; no deceit, no nonsense. Very plain, straightforward, and prayerful.