How to leave a legacy that matters

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How to leave a legacy that matters

August 4, 2022 - Dr. Jim Denison

© Wirestock /stock.adobe.com

© Wirestock /stock.adobe.com

On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” arguably the most famous sermon in American history. This message played an instrumental role in the First Great Awakening, one of the most significant movements of God’s Spirit in human history.

When I think of Edwards’ remarkable influence on American history, I long to make a similar impact. I long for God to use my preaching and ministry to change lives and influence our culture. Every pastor I know similarly wants their work to matter, to make an eternal difference with the people and the nation they serve.

None of us wants our words to go “into the air,” to be forgotten as soon as they are heard. Each of us wants to leave a legacy that glorifies our Lord.

As I am reading through the book of Jeremiah in my personal Bible study, I was greatly impacted by a chapter that speaks directly to this quest. I believe this text is as relevant for you and me as it was for the prophet and his people twenty-six centuries ago.

“See if you can find a man”

Jeremiah 5 begins with God’s call to his prophet: “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her” (v. 1).

“Does justice” in the Hebrew means “makes righteous decisions.” “Seeks truth” could be rendered, “strive to be faithful.” This is good news: God will “pardon” (“forgive” or “spare” in the Hebrew) our people if he can find just one person like this.

However, the prophet’s search was unfruitful: his people “swear falsely” (v. 2), “refused to take correction” (v. 3a), and “refused to repent” (v. 3b). The prophet then turned to “the great” who “know the way of the Lᴏʀᴅ, the justice of their God” (v. 5a). However, “they all alike had broken the yoke; they had burst the bonds” (v. 5b).

Later in the chapter, God’s indictment against the spiritual leaders of the nation becomes even more tragic: “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?” (vv. 30–31).

Is the Bible wrong on sexual morality?

When I read about prophets who “prophesy falsely” and priests who “rule at their direction,” my thoughts went to the ministers in recent years who have endorsed homosexual behavior, same-sex marriage, and LGBTQ ideology. Some are friends of mine. Each has led those they influence into tragic heresy.

Some are convinced that the Bible is wrong on this issue. I once heard a well-known bishop say, “I readily concede that Paul condemned homosexuality, but we now know that Paul was a homophobe.” It is more common, however, for these spiritual leaders to claim that the church has been wrong on this issue. Just as antebellum white supremacists heretically misinterpreted the Bible to sanction slavery, so those who oppose LGBTQ ideology are misinterpreting God’s word today, or so we’re told.

As I have written frequently, both positions are categorically wrong. The Bible is not wrong on this or any other issue. And thirty-five centuries of Judeo-Christian teaching on sexual morality have not been wrong, either.

Next, my thoughts went to ministers who endorse abortion and even pray for God’s blessings on abortion clinics. They have marshaled theological arguments in support of their tragic position, each of which is unbiblical and illogical. (For more, see my “Abortion and the Mercy of God.”)

Does God take sides in politics today?

However, there is more to God’s indictment than we have discussed thus far. In Jeremiah 5:28, the Lord condemns those who “judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper,” and who “do not defend the rights of the needy.” God responds, “Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lᴏʀᴅ, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?” (v. 29).

If we defend biblical sexual morality but do not defend the poor and marginalized, we face God’s indictment today. We can be right on the former, but we must also be right on the latter.

This is the point many “progressive” faith leaders have been making in recent years. They view themselves as being more biblical than “conservatives” with regard to immigrants and the poor. In their minds, they are right and we are wrong.

In a similar vein, Tim Keller generated much controversy when he declared that God does not have a favored side in the partisan divisions of our day. He illustrated by noting that the conservative “side” is typically more biblical with regard to sexual morality, but the liberal “side” is typically more biblical with regard to immigrants, the poor, and the oppressed. Keller concluded, “The historical Christian positions on social issues do not fit into contemporary political alignments.”

His point was the point I am making: we must be biblical in every dimension of our preaching and ministry. When we get one part “right,” we can feel justified in ignoring the rest. But God disagrees.

“I am making my words in your mouth a fire”

In contrast to the faith leaders God indicted in this chapter, the Lord said to his faithful prophet Jeremiah, “Therefore thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ, the God of hosts: ‘Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them” (v. 14).

When we seek and speak biblical truth to every dimension of our culture, God uses our words to convict sinners of their sin and lead them to repentance and transformation. When we embrace personally and embody publicly the word and will of God, we earn the right to be used by the Lord and to be heard by those we address. If we are right with God in every dimension of our day, we can lead others to be right with God.

Such faithfulness is absolutely crucial to the spiritual awakening we need so desperately today.

So, I’ll close by asking you: Is God making his words in your mouth “a fire” these days?

Is he using you to draw people to contrition and spiritual awakening?

If not, why not?

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