Inheritance. What does that word mean to you? Perhaps you think of money, land, a house, or a special piece of furniture. Or it could bring to mind eye color, the shape of your hands, a love of woodworking, or musical ability that runs in your family. “You look just like your mom!” or, “You have your grandfather’s love of singing.” “Good cooks run in that family.” In this case, an inheritance is something good that is passed down through generations.
But, what about the other side of that word? “You’re just like your father…no good!” “Can’t you do anything right?” “That family is just a mess.” “Your (nose, voice, hair, etc) is ugly.” Here too there can be an inheritance – one of disappointment, fear, and embarrassment that is passed down through generations.
Every family has parts of each inheritance, if you look closely enough, although some seem to have a more positive inheritance than others. Even Christian families can struggle with bad patterns that are hard to break. “ I know I shouldn’t lose my temper/waste money/be a workaholic…it’s just how I was raised.” Is there any hope?
The darker side of inheritance didn’t enter my mind much until I had children, and then dealt with a serious illness that could be considered a “family inheritance.” I’d always been proud of and grateful for my family…but suddenly I was resenting it a bit also. Why couldn’t the good things continue to be passed on, and the tough things just… fade away? Yes, I knew the answers: fallen world, original sin. This didn’t make it much easier to deal with.
In this mood one day I happened to be reading in I Peter, and the following verses jumped off the page.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (I Peter 1: 3-6)
Great mercy. Living hope. An inheritance that can never spoil or fade. This was what I was looking for. Although I’d read these words numerous times, they spoke to my circumstances in a fresh way. My family inheritance was mixed. I knew that, of course, but sickness really drove it home. And parenting – what was I passing on to my children? In some ways I had little control over this, in other ways I had a lot.
God knew all of this, of course. He remembered that we are dust. But here, and in every situation, even when it didn’t feel like it, he offered great mercy and living hope to his children. How? Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When Christ broke the power of death, he broke, for eternity, the chains that bind us hopelessly to our past. While we’re on earth, we still live with the consequences of sin and other people’s choices in ways that I don’t pretend to fully understand, but in heaven (and even now, in part) our inheritance is new, perfect, and everlasting.
So what does that mean for life in the here and now? I can’t speak for everyone, but it gave me hope. My family history, my experiences, all the things I inherited that I have no control over – those aren’t the whole story. They are a part of the story, yes. But they are not my complete identity. As Christians, we can have confidence that God is even now preparing a place and an inheritance for us that will be more wonderful and complete than we can imagine. He is working in all the circumstances of my life for my ultimate good and for His glory.
At the same time, through the power of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s resurrection, we have a living hope now, and we are shielded by God’s power till “the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” Yes, the verses are clear that grief and trials will come. We will get sick. We may lose our jobs or struggle with anger, overeating or anxiety. Still, this is not all there is. I do not have control over what has been passed down to me, but I do have some control over what I do with that inheritance. A tendency toward something, whether an illness like cancer or an emotion like excessive anger , does not mean that they are fated to occur and rule my life. Biology is not destiny. If, however, these things do occur, there is help and hope. Nothing is beyond God’s redemption.
Does this all sound lovely, theoretical, and completely impractical? Believe me, it’s one thing to write about this and another to put it into action. If there’s one thing life’s inheritances have taught me it is that for whether good or bad, there is no salvation for good or from evil without sacrifice. This is the meat we are called to digest. This is the cliff’s edge that allows us to see further, deeper, and wider on issues that to a fallen world makes no sense. However, let not your heart be troubled for we are given the perfect example of Christ’s sacrifice. On this common ground, we can meet Him face-to-face and “not offer any part [of ourselves] to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer [ourselves] to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of [ourselves] to him as an instrument of righteousness.” (Romans 6:13).