by Paul Linden
Synopsis: Recognizing that devoted disciples of Christ will endeavor to leave a spiritual legacy, Paul focuses on the big picture, and offers practical admonitions on how to achieve this noble goal.
These lessons emphasize the importance of making faith our own and leaving a spiritual legacy. What could be more important?
Have you ever been to a cemetery and looked at a tombstone? Typically, you see a name and two dates separated by a dash. Our life is a dash—short but significant.
In the US, the average lifespan is 78.7 years. While this represents a small increase from previous decades, it remains amazingly close to the average lifespan given in Psalm 90:10, which says, "As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away." By some measures, a lifespan of 70-90 years may seem long, yet, it is a passing vapor when compared to the One who inhabits eternity (Isa. 57:15; cf. Ps. 39:5; James 4:13-15).
So, you have a dash—you have a life. What are you going to do with it? Are you leaving a spiritual legacy? What is a legacy? If you look up the word in a dictionary, a legacy may refer to a bequest or gift (She left us a legacy of a million dollars), something received by an ancestor (Our civilization is built on the legacy of the Greeks and Romans), or the lingering effects of some past event (The war left a legacy of pain and suffering).
Many are concerned with the legacy we may leave at work, in contemplating retirement, or with estate planning. In these lessons, we focus on something different. Are you leaving a spiritual legacy?
If you have not yet become a Christian, how can you even seriously ponder the question? Each one of us comes to a point where we have to make a decision. Some of us have already made that decision; others have not. To leave a spiritual legacy, you must first be a Christian. You have a choice to make.
Apart from obeying God's word, you will not leave a positive spiritual legacy. Therefore, you need to hear the word, believe in Jesus Christ, repent of your sins, and be baptized for the remission of sins. Afterwards, you need to live a faithful life.
Yogi Berra once said, "If you don't know where you are going, you will end up someplace else." In our lives, we have to make a choice. We are given a gift: the ability to decide. You need to become a Christian.
You are responsible for yourself. In life, we make a continuous stream of decisions. Every day, you should reflectively say, "I'm getting ready to make a decision: will it be helpful or harmful?" Will it help me get to where I need to go, or will it hinder my progress?
Some decisions are small and inconsequential: What will I eat for lunch? Others are huge: Where will I live? Whom shall I marry? Others may seem small, but are really momentous. Am I going to attend every night of this gospel meeting? Am I going to do what is right when no one is looking? We should honestly examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5), and personally work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).
Once you become a Christian, you should spread the gospel: "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!'" (Rom. 10:14-15). Note that this passage should describe, not only "the preacher," but every faithful Christian. It is a beautiful thing to spread the gospel.
We can have a positive influence on others in various ways. Are you helping people be saved? Are you helping people stay saved? The gospel message is not only one of peace and glad tidings; it also involves reproving and rebuking. We should have the conviction and courage to admonish one another. If such warnings are administered out of love, you may help the weak to grow stronger, snatching them out of the fire, saving a soul from death and hiding a multitude of sins (James 5:20; Jude 21-23).
Don't see a crisis as an insurmountable problem. Abraham was told, "Leave home!" After 25 years, he is given a son; afterward, God instructed, "Sacrifice your son!" If someone tells me to do that, I am in crisis mode! What did Abraham do? He arose early and obeyed. What is amazing is that Isaac asks the question, "Father, where is the sacrifice?" Abraham answered, "God will provide." Abraham followed through to the point of raising his knife. Abraham faced a crisis, but it was not insurmountable because he was empowered by God.
When you become a Christian, you are going to undergo constant and continuing change. If you are doing it right, you will keep growing and learning. People with whom you once associated may see the changes wrought by Christ and may speak evil of you (1 Pet. 2:11-12). That's okay. Keep changing, because that change glorifies God. No matter what sin we may have committed, no matter what false path we may have followed, God will receive us.
Note the moral depravity of the Gentile world of the first century: Paul said, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." After describing corrupt and despicable behavior, the apostle continued, "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:9-11). In other words, the Corinthians had changed—putting off the old man and putting on the new man.
You are not perfect; neither am I. While all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, we all can be justified through the grace of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22-23).
Maintain a hopeful outlook. Why? You are promised heaven! Think of how heaven is described in the Bible: it's going to be phenomenal!
Remember, you are not alone. Great servants of God needed this reminder. So also do we. When Elijah said, "I alone am left, and they seek my life," God comforted the demoralized prophet, revealing Himself "in the sound of a gentle blowing" (1 Kings 19:12), and affirming, "Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him" (1 Kings 19:18). Paul needed this reminder. When persecution cut short his Macedonian ministry, he arrived in Corinth dejected and depressed. Appearing to the apostle in a night vision, the Lord said, "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9–10).
As you stand in the fork of the road, what legacy can you leave? Did you do bad things in your past? Despite having previously lived an unrighteous life, Rahab cast her lot with the people of God, and left a good legacy. Through God's pardon and plan, you can rise above the sinful choices of your past.
Have you had a difficult life? Are you bitter? In her life, Naomi experienced trials and turmoil, sadness and death. Call me not Naomi, but Mari, because God has dealt bitterly with me." Yet, in the end, she goes from "Bitter" to the blessed grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:13-17).
Romans 16 contains many great examples. Could you be like Phoebe (v. 1) or Mary (v. 6)? What about Ampliatus, Urbanus, and Stachys (vv. 8-9)? Paul said, "Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ" (v. 10). What more needs to be said? He was "approved in Christ." That is sufficient. Note Narcissus, whose household was "in the Lord" (v. 11). Isn't this what we desire for our own families?
We live 2,000 years after the first century, and the Scriptural canon is complete. We might not be included in the hall of heroes (Heb. 11), but our names can be written in the book of life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 21:27). If we properly apply the text of Romans 12:9-17, Paul's concise exhortation of 124 words could be our "Dash," our spiritual legacy.
Author Bio: Paul serves as an elder at the Adoue St. church of Christ in Alvin, TX. He is a Environmental, Health, and Safety Leader at The Dow Chemical Company in Freeport. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.