There is something almost absurd about inheritances in a world of financial abundance and increased lifespans. The Baby Boomer generation has worked hard and saved diligently, stuffing away untold billions in savings and retirement accounts, with the hope of leaving their children in a comfortable financial position. Meanwhile, in the West, lifespans are increasing, and many of those Boomers will live long into their 80s and 90s. By the time they die, their children will be grown and well-established in life. Whatever inheritance the parents pass along may well be superfluous by that time. Their children will stuff that cash into their own bank accounts and leave it untouched until it is passed to yet another generation who will also have little use for it. Inheritances that were once necessary to establish and provide are now increasingly redundant.
This doesn’t mean that what we leave behind is useless. The Bible has a lot to say about inheritances, about the legacy one generation leaves to the next. It commends hard work and diligent saving. It praises the man who passes something along to his children and grandchildren. But it also reminds us there is something you can leave behind that is of much greater significance than money. My friend, you are running the race of life, and if you are going to run to win, you need to consider your legacy.
More than Money
Christian financial planners are fond of quoting a particular proverb: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22). You do not need a degree in Bible interpretation to understand the point of the proverb: It is good for a man to think ahead and to live in such a way that he provides not only for himself but also for his descendants. Many contemporary authors take this verse as a mandate for financial saving and estate planning. Yet before we apply the proverb to our own lives and times, we need to set it in its context.
In ancient Israel, land was sacred, for God had assured his covenant people that they would possess the promised land. Owning much land was a sign of God’s blessing while owning no land was a sign of God’s disfavor. Thus, land had unique significance. Not only that, but Israelites were largely subsistence farmers. Without land, they would soon starve, become dependent upon charity, or even be enslaved. A diligent father bore the responsibility of maintaining his land and passing it to the next generation.
That context is very different from our own. Since that time, Jesus Christ was born into the world. He lived and died and was raised, and as he did so, he fulfilled God’s promises. He fulfilled the promise of a particular people inheriting a promised land. Ownership of land no longer indicates God’s blessing or disfavor, since Jesus himself had “nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Besides this, the world has advanced and few of us are subsistence farmers who commit our lives to tending the family homestead. Land and inheritances have much less significance than they once did.
While we must be careful about the manner in which we apply this proverb to our times, we must be equally careful to heed its wisdom and consider our legacies. There is wisdom in looking to the future and determining how we would like to be remembered. There is value in considering the legacy we will leave to those who follow us. What we aim to leave behind after we die sets the course for how we intend to live. So what legacy do you wish to leave to your children and to future generations? What inheritance would you like them to receive? Have you considered your legacy?
A Better Inheritance
The New Testament continues to speak of inheritances, but in a much different way. In Peter’s first letter, he praises God for the inheritance bequeathed to us. This is not a financial or physical inheritance, but something far greater. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5).
Like a good father, God planned far in advance what he would leave to his children, and he worked diligently to obtain it. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he has provided the gifts of salvation, sanctification, and glorification. He has made us heirs of God and coheirs with Christ. Ultimately, he has given us himself. Our greatest inheritance is God—peace with God, relationship with God, eternity with God. This inheritance has been granted, set aside, and is being kept safely as we wait for the day we can fully possess it. Paul tells us 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 fully and finally only in God’s eternal kingdom.
Like God, you are responsible to plan far in advance what you plan to leave your children, and you, too, should work diligently to obtain it. God expects you will leave your children an inheritance. But he expects more than that. He expects you will also consider your spiritual family, the church, and determine what inheritance you would like to leave to them. This inheritance, this legacy, may include finances, but it must include treasures far more valuable than that. Here is how J.R. Miller says it: “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.”
Your first legacy is the gospel. If you leave your children full pockets but empty souls, you have neglected your most important duty. Of course, you cannot force your children to turn to Christ. But you can teach them the gospel and plead with them to accept it. God calls you to diligently teach and train them “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) and to trust that as you do so, they will respond to the gospel by putting their faith in Jesus Christ. And you are to share this same gospel with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and whoever else will listen. There is nothing in the world more precious than souls and no greater legacy than souls won for Christ.
Your second legacy is godliness. 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). He would say to Timothy, as to so many others, “Follow my example,” or “Imitate me.” Paul pursued godly character so he could call Timothy to follow his example.
There is much else you can leave behind. You can leave possessions, land, or money. Well and good. But nothing is more precious, more valuable, or more praiseworthy than a legacy of gospel and godliness.
Do It Now!
Let’s consider a few practical steps you can take beginning right now.
Plan for your legacy. What legacy would you like to leave for those who follow you? Having considered this, begin to plan how you will accomplish that. The man who wants to leave his children a million dollars must plan to generate enough income and set enough aside to reach his goal; the man who wants to leave his children a legacy of godliness must plan how he will grow in godliness and share the gospel.
Assess your life. Get an accurate assessment of whether your life is in line with the legacy you want to leave. Think about the last job you left or the last place you moved from: What kind of legacy did you leave there? Do people miss your presence, or was your departure good riddance? It’s likely that the legacies you leave now will be similar to the ultimate legacy you leave when you die. Ask those closest to you for honest feedback: What comes to their mind when they think of you? Do your wife and children and closest friends think of godly traits or worldly traits? For better or for worse, the life you’re living now determines the legacy you’ll leave later.
Go to the cross. Because of the cross of Christ, there is no sin that cannot be washed and there is no legacy that cannot be redeemed. Saul of Tarsus was widely known as a persecutor of Christians. But because of Christ’s intervention, he became known as the one who is “now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23). While you have breath, you still have time to change your legacy. It all begins with receiving forgiveness from Christ. It begins with admitting before Christ that your sin has ruined your legacy and trusting that he has the power to transform you. And once you’ve received his forgiveness, you can put off the old self with its ruined legacy and put on the new self, who is growing into godliness and depositing the gospel to others.
Work hard now. Every day, with each passing minute, with every tiny decision, you are forming your legacy. It’s not the grand moments of life but rather unremarkable, unnoticed persistence that forms a legacy. Your detailed plans and good intentions will do no good if you don’t follow them with action. If you want to leave a godly legacy, get started now. Don’t waste another moment and give yourself to eternal investments that will leave the greatest legacy for your children.
Run to Win
I think I speak for multitudes when I say I don’t care a lick whether or not my parents leave me as much as a penny of inheritance. They have already given me a far more important and enduring inheritance. They introduced me to the gospel and rejoiced as I put my faith in Christ. They modeled godliness, setting an example of how I was to live as a Christian. Is that the inheritance you intend to leave your children? Are you working toward it? If you are going to run to win, you must consider your legacy.