Stop Obsessing about Your Own Personal Legacy
“The Christian life is not easy. The Christian life is not hard. The Christian life is impossible.” These oft quoted words of Major Ian Thomas, the founder of the Torchbearers Bible schools, were words that would stick with me for a long time to come. I wondered, what could this mean? How exactly is it that the Christian life could be “impossible” as Major Thomas had put it? And if it’s impossible, then shouldn’t I just give up?
This startling phrase points out that the best life—and the one Christ has intended for us—is the life that can’t be lived under one’s own power.
Personal Legacy—a Popular Obsession
It’s normal to question our work, to consider whether we’re doing all we should be doing, and if we’re doing it right. We wonder if our efforts really are leading toward something ultimate and lasting. This question has been canonized into cascading volumes of leadership books authored by business gurus who tell us how to leave a legacy and make our mark on the world. Experts guide us in efficiency tactics to “win the day,” best-practice blogs proliferate, and an ever-increasing world of productivity assists a booming caffeine industry. We’re a culture that’s obsessed with our own legacy.
Alien Legacy—a Joyous Mystery
But the life of the Christian is not, at its root, the Christian’s life at all. The life of joy, this side of heaven, is the life of joy that is lived in the wake of what Christ has done and continues to do for us, not in what we have done or will do. It is the life that receives, as opposed to takes. It is a life that is lived “in” Christ, connected to the life-giving sap of his word and Spirit, producing the fruit of his Spirit through us. The fullness of joy in our Christian lives is found in receiving the legacy of Christ for us, not in making a legacy for Christ.
Yet, how frequently do we take the time to consider the legacy of Christ for us? I want to shift our gaze from the cultural conversation of our works to focus our attention on the legacy of Christ for us—from understanding our works and their legacy to focusing on the work and legacy of Christ and its effect on us. I make this shift not to be contrary, but because I think it’s where Jesus begins in John 15:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
There are two main points I want to draw out:
Any understanding of God-glorifying work in the Christian life must begin with Christ.
Knowing that our lives are lived by abiding in Christ produces joy in our hearts.
The Living Out of Christ’s Legacy
First, our discussion of legacy in the Christian life must begin with Christ and the inheritance that he has left for us. Legacy must first be retrospective if it is to be effectively prospective. Central to the conversation in John 15 is the idea that the fruit of the branch, that is, the good works of the Christian, are fully dependent on Christ the Vine. The branch is absolutely hopeless to produce any sort of good work apart from the life-giving sap given to it by the vine. Jesus’ words in John 15:4 are startlingly clear. Apart from Christ, we are able to do nothing. That “nothing” mentioned in 15:5 is bearing fruit. Christ is saying that apart from him, we are unable to produce any fruit, to do anything that is pleasing to the Father.
Jesus takes this idea a step further:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8)
Christ says that our good works, the fruits of the Vine, are often the product of answered prayer. Just stop and think about that. The first human “work” that Christ mentions in John 15 is a work that is produced by asking someone else to do it for you. I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically consider making a request a “good work.”
Verse 7 emphasizes the point that we are to ask in the name of Jesus, and it will be done. Verse 8 reminds us that this request produces fruit that makes God look like the hero.
God Is the Ultimate Doer
Perhaps an analogy would be helpful here. Suppose I’m sitting at my desk at work and suddenly realize that my coworker needs some lunch. His schedule is packed, and he won’t be able to run out to the nearby Mexican joint for some midday sustenance. Upon my realization, suppose I call on a friend of mine to bring my coworker a surf-and-turf burrito. At my request, my friend runs out, purchases the burrito, and delivers it to my coworker’s desk. My request has been granted, my coworker has been fed, and workplace productivity and satisfaction levels skyrocket!
Jesus says that my prayer, or request, is a work that is obedient to the Father. What?! I didn’t drive my car to get the burrito; I didn’t pay for the burrito; I didn’t hand the burrito to my coworker. All I did was make the request in good faith and for good reason, asking for what was needed. My friend did all the rest. The “fruit” that I have produced, the work that I’ve done is, according to Jesus, a result of the Father answering prayers as I remain in the vine trusting him to provide and produce what is necessary. The fact that Christ calls this prayer a “work” should have a sobering effect on how we conceive of our own works. For God is the ultimate doer—not us.
The Life-giving Sap Found in Christ, the True Vine
Our works, Jesus says, have their origin, their energy, and their completion in the life-giving sap of the Vine. As we remain in the Vine, we receive. As we abide, we bear fruit. Scripture grounds all of our obedient fruit in Christ. Calvin even adds in his commentary on John 15 that the prayer of those in Christ is for the sap of the Holy Spirit, which enables them to bear fruit.
Ephesians 2:10 reminds us: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Thus, any conversation about our works or our legacies must begin for the Christian not in our work but in the work of Christ. The apostle Paul points to Christ’s work in us in his letter to the Galatians:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal.2:20)
But Jesus isn’t finished yet. After making his point that good works come from the Vine alone, he moves on to tell us why it should be important to us.
Full Joy Because of Christ’s Work, Not Ours
The knowledge that our good works are ultimately animated by the life-giving sap of our true Vine produces joy in our hearts: “'These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.'” (John 15:11)
Because we abide in Christ, we know that it is ultimately his work that we need. We learn as Christians not to be dependent on our own work, but to stay close to the one who has already done it all for us and will continue to produce fruit in us. What is required of all people (Gen. 2:15-17)—to render perfect obedience to the Father—has now been completed by the Son on our behalf (Rom. 5:18-19). The point is this: our joy doesn’t come merely from some subjective sense that Christ loves us, but from the objective fact that Christ has completed a task that the Father initially gave to us.
Let us rejoice that the fullness of our joy and the obedient fruit of our lives are found as we abide in Christ and bear the fruit of his legacy now and forevermore.
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