Living a Legacy“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother... and in your mother... and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5, NIV).
Ernest’s family had a rich Christian heritage. His grandfather Anson, after serving in the Civil War, attended the evangelical Wheaton College. Described by author Jeffrey Meyers as a “formal, serious and deeply religious man,”1 he served as general secretary of the Chicago YMCA, where he met and became friends with Dwight L. Moody, a soon-to-be- famous evangelist.
Anson insisted that his family should attend church every Sunday and share morning devotions six days a week. He and his wife Adelaide raised four sons and two daughters in the Christian faith. Their son Ed married Grace Hall, who was another product of a Christian home. Ed and Grace raised their children in the faith, and their son Ernest not only attended church every Sunday with his family but sang in the choir and joined the youth group. He served as the youth group’s treasurer, helped to run the program committee and was an occasional speaker at their evening services.
But a strict Christian upbringing and an active church life apparently were not enough to implant the faith firmly in Ernest’s heart. Despite his mother’s entreaties to stop “neglecting your duties to God and your Savior, Jesus Christ,”2 he eventually rejected the faith on
his way to becoming a literary icon and an international celebrity. In his later years, he suffered from mental illness and became so bitter and despairing that in 1961, at the age of sixty-two, Ernest Hemingway ended his life with a shotgun blast.
Though he had achieved the pinnacle of literary achievement, capturing a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize for his writing, Ernest Hemingway died unhappy and hopeless. How different things might have been for him—and for the literary world—if he had received his family’s priceless heritage of faith in Jesus Christ.
God Has No Grandchildren
We know, of course, that “God has no grandchildren,” as the saying goes; children from the best Christian families must still make their own decisions to follow Christ. But God made it clear very early that it is our responsibility to live and leave a legacy of faith to future generations. The Shema, the central tenet of Judaism and foundation of our monotheistic faith, exhorted God’s people to pass on the faith actively and systematically to each successive generation:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the door-posts of your house and on your gates.Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV
That passage provides a divine model for passing on our faith, a model that involves three crucial steps.
1. Build a Relationship
Living a legacy requires healthy relationships. Family life has changed so drastically in recent decades—with the urbanization of society, the rising numbers of two-income families and the advent of new technologies that isolate family members instead of drawing them together—that it is harder than ever to build strong relationships with others, even in our own families. But we must try. We cannot impart truth apart from honest, meaningful relationships. We are to teach diligently when we sit, walk, lie down, and rise up. In other words, God wants us to teach His truths in every relational interaction with our children—even the most mundane.
A prerequisite to passing on the faith to the next generation is to spend time with them and rub elbows with them. It may not be as easy as it once was, but it is just as necessary, even if it means making an extra effort to enter our kids’ worlds, adopt or adapt to their interests and seize any opportunity to build stronger relationships with them. For example, take your children on “dates.” Tiptoe into your child’s room after “lights out” and sit down on the bed for a chat. Pitch in to help with a chore occasionally, just for the chance to talk. Strong relationships can be built out of such small, seemingly mundane moments.
2. Be an Example
Living a legacy entails example. Whether you know it or not, you’re being watched. And the things you model—by design or by accident— powerfully communicate your beliefs and convictions.
If we want to pass on a strong, vibrant faith to those around us, we must model that kind of faith in our own lives. God’s command required that “…these words… shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6, emphasis added); His words must be on our hearts before we can impress them upon the hearts and minds of anyone else. And if God’s words are truly on our hearts, they will drive us to pray for and with our children daily. We must let them see that we believe God’s words ourselves, for our example is the most effective apologetic for the faith. This does not mean that we must live perfect lives; on the contrary, honesty and vulnerability will have a greater impact than any illusion of perfection.
One woman, who strayed from the Church as a teen and later returned, said that one mistake her parents made was not sharing their own spiritual lives—including their struggles. She said, “I never heard about what sins they were dealing with, what they were reading, what they had studied in Sunday school. I wasn’t insightful enough to see that it was real to them and assumed that they were just “doing” church and not really living it. I don’t think a parent realizes how children ache for real honesty when it comes to spiritual things.”
3. Share the Truth
Living a legacy includes instruction. Instilling a strong Christian faith in the next generation requires a commitment to “teach,” “talk” and “write” the things we want our children to learn.
Long ago, parents and children spent hours in the field or the kitchen together. This presented opportunities for a parent to teach a child and for a child to see a father resist temptation or hear a mother’s prayer. Such teaching opportunities may no longer come easily amid gymnastics, soccer games, piano lessons and other things that shape our daily lives, but that only makes it more important to seize every opportunity to teach and train our kids.
Teaching our kids will involve every resource we can summon.
We must not only create and seize teachable moments ourselves but also enlist the support of a strong church family. However, while the church family is an indispensable support, Christian parents must be careful not to delegate their responsibility to bring up their children “… in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV).
Training our children is just as important. We must not only tell them what they need to know; we must also help them practice it. Even the youngest children can be taught simple prayers, and as children grow, they can be trained to lead family devotions and assist in teaching younger children. Teens can be trained to mentor younger teens, lead youth Bible studies and serve others in a variety of ways. And, of course, kids of all ages can be trained alongside their parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers and youth workers in sharing their faith—a practice which will confirm and strengthen a young person’s faith better and faster than anything else.
The task of passing on the faith to successive generations is more crucial than all the programs we may produce, all the sermons we may preach or books we may write, all the church services or Bible study classes we may attend. And, God helping us, we look forward to the day when someone will say to someone we have influenced, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother… and in your mother… and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5, NIV).
This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of The War Cry.
1 Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers. New York: Harper and Row, 1985, 2.
2 Quoted in Yancey, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace? Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997, 38.