The Paradox of Legacy

Yesterday, R.C. Sproul left this earth and went to be with the Lord that he had served for over 60 years.  Having never met the man, his death still struck me as a great shift.  Almost immediately after the announcement, I began seeing letters and tributes flood in all over social media, from other men I greatly respect, from people I know personally, and from complete strangers who have been impacted by his teaching and writing in ways similar to how I have been impacted.  How does this happen?  How does someone reach such a status that their death is felt by people they’ve never even met before?  And more importantly, what happens to the work they did while they were alive after they’re gone?

I think of the celebrities of today, and how when they die, usually after some period of relative obscurity, they’re thrust back into the headlines for two more weeks, everyone watches their movies or listens to their music again, and then we all move on.  I think of politicians and business leaders, and how if they aren’t involved in some sort of scandal before their death, they’re regarded as a hero.  And then I think of people like R.C.  Like Charles Spurgeon.  Like Jonathan Edwards.  What causes those men to be different?  How are they still changing lives, even hundreds of years after their death?

A Long-Lasting Legacy is a Side Effect, Not a Goal

Those men, and many other men and women throughout the course of history, are great role models.  But I think there’s one thing in common with all people who have left such long-lasting legacies: that wasn’t their aim.  I don’t know of one person whose name is still spoken hundreds of years after their death who said during their lifetime, “I want people to speak my name hundreds of years after my death.”  No, the paradox of legacy is that it’s a side effect of living a life worthy of such a legacy.  Let’s go back to R.C. to see a fresh example of this in action.


R.C. had a passion for teaching and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ that is hard to match.  He founded Ligonier Ministries in order to teach and explain biblical concepts in terms that everyday people could understand, in the hopes that his passion would spark a chain reaction in other peoples’ lives.  He wrote over 100 books and over two dozen hymns, hosted radio shows for over 30 years, and taught classes at various seminaries for almost 40 years.  R.C. lived a life that would squash any doubt that he was passionate about Jesus Christ.  He poured all he had into what he loved.


R.C. didn’t do all of this to solidify his own spot in history.  In fact, he began moving the pieces necessary to keep his work going almost ten years ago, when he stepped down from overseeing the day-to-day operations of the ministry he founded.  He established a teaching fellowship filled with men he trusted to carry on the work he started.  He even founded a college focused on teaching all the things he’d learned and grown passionate about in his own studies.  He knew he wouldn’t live forever, and he needed to make sure that other people were well-equipped to do what he’d soon no longer be able to do.  It wasn’t about him, it was about advancing the gospel.


In all the books, magazines, sermons, and lectures R.C. produced, he always had one goal: to help other people know, understand, and love the God he loved.  He wasn’t a man who shied away from serving other people.  He knew he fulfilled a role that was needed, and he was happy to fill that role for however long it was necessary.  He never considered himself “too important” to go and do where and what people needed.

I suppose there’s only one way to know for sure how far into the future R.C. Sproul’s legacy will reach, and that’s to wait it out.  But when we compare him to the many other men and women that stand out from the halls of history, I have a feeling we can take a pretty good guess.  When I was younger, I used to look at certain figures of history and say “I want to be like them.”  It was a good aspiration for a child to have, but now that I’m a little older, I can see it’s incomplete.  Instead, what we should say is “I want to live how they lived.”  We can’t end slavery in America.  We can’t give women the right to vote.  We can’t be the first person on the moon.  All that has been done already.  But what we can do, and the way we can use those heroes’ examples, is adopt the virtues they had that enabled them to achieve those great things.  We can be passionate and pour our entire lives into the things that matter to us.  We can be humble and recognize that if we never allow our passions to be bigger than us, than whatever we live for will die at our funeral.  We can serve faithfully, according to all the talents God created us with.  I read a quote once, I don’t know who by, that said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  Focus on doing something you love, and doing it to the best of your ability, day in and day out.  Living with purpose, with humility; that’s what creates a legacy.  If you spend your life trying to get in the history books, you’ll likely fade away.

R.C., you were a great example of stewarding the gifts you were given for God’s glory, and of how rewarding a life lived as a slave to the perfect Master can be.  Thank you for dedicating your life to helping people like me all across the planet understand and live out our faith better.  I hope to live as you lived.

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