Is desiring to leave a legacy selfish?

I Don’t Want to Leave a Legacy—Is Legacy Selfish?

I Don’t Want to Leave a Legacy—Is Legacy Selfish?

by Bill High

I write and speak a lot about the idea of legacy. It can be a confusing topic. Some might think the idea of legacy is selfish. If we think of legacy only as achieving a reputation or a name on a building, or just as financial wealth left behind, I’d agree completely.

There’s a popular song by the group Casting Crowns called “Only Jesus” that hasn’t helped with the confusion around this term. The chorus lyrics go like this:

And I, I don’t want to leave a legacy
I don’t care if they remember me
Only Jesus

I had one man tell me that he didn’t care about his legacy. His view was that after he died he’d let his kids sort it out.


Legacy is for Everyone

But the truth is that we will all leave a legacy. And perhaps “leave a legacy” is the wrong phrase. We will all be remembered for something. The memories will either be good or bad. Legacies are not neutral.

David McAlvany writes on this aspect in The Intentional Legacy:

“Legacy is an inescapable concept. We may choose to invest in our legacy, or we may choose to neglect it. But either way, you and I will leave one to our children’s children. Because human action is inescapable, legacy is inescapable.”

We are actually instructed to leave something behind. The scriptures teach that parents are to teach truth to the children we leave behind (Psalm 78.4); we are to tell the stories of God’s faithfulness (Joshua 4.21-22); we are to leave an inheritance (query what inheritance means) to even our grandchildren (Proverbs 13.22); we leave behind a good name, a good reputation (Proverbs 22.1).


Legacy: What Will Last

But the bigger idea of legacy is the notion of what will last forever. It’s what we’ll see and experience in heaven. In Matthew 6.19-21, Jesus commands us to lay up treasures in heaven rather than here on this earth. He instructed the rich young ruler to forsake the riches he trusted in, to sell them, and give to the poor so that he might have “treasure in heaven.”

Paul gives us a picture of legacy in heaven. In I Corinthians 3.10-15, he presents the picture of how our works will be tested by fire. The fire will burn up the wood, hay and stubble—those things done out of selfish motivation or worthless desires. On the other hand, the fire will reveal that which is gold—the works that remain, the works that bring glory to God.

So while it hasn’t helped my efforts to encourage people to build an intentional legacy, Casting Crowns gets it right. I also want nothing to do with a selfish legacy. I’m not wanting to make a name the world remembers. But I am committed to living toward a legacy of good that continues to bless others for generations to come.

The greatest legacy anyone could have is a life that points others to the Life-Giving King.

All the kingdoms built, all the trophies won
Will crumble into dust when it’s said and done
But all that really matters
Did I live the truth to the ones I love
Was my life the proof that there is only One
Whose name will last forever



Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

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Published September 13, 2019

Topics: A Life of Faith | Family Legacy

Biblical LegacyFamily LegacyJesusLegacy

Comments 7

  1. Amen Brother! Well said. For so many years I thought the same way as the man you spoke of earlier about “letting his kids sort it out”. My thoughts were if I could just get them (my kids) to Jesus, everything would work itself out. As I get older, I have decided I do want a legacy. I just want it to be storing up those things where “moths don’t corrupt”.

    1. Post

      Glad to read this, Stan! The kind of legacy you’re interested in is not motivated by ego, but by love and a desire to serve (following the pattern of Jesus laid out in Mark 10.45: Even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve…).

  2. Every time that Casting Crowns song comes on the radio, I feel like I need to either turn it off or use it as a teachable moment with our young kids. Thanks for bringing this to light and giving me some good talking points to use with them.

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      Thanks, Chris. Glad it’s helpful. I believe “legacy” still holds value as a word to capture the idea of living for what will last, for what really matters, motivated by love for God and others.

  3. Thanks for this post…I found it when searching for comments about this song…I understand the meaning, but it’s always kind of bothered me. Scripture is full of people who have left a godly legacy. Hebrews 11 is full of people who have left a legacy of faith. I don’t see legacy as selfish – people ARE going to remember things about us (at least for awhile), so we should want those memories or legacies to be ones that honor God and point people to Jesus. I talk frequently about people who have left this earthly life that have left a positive influence on me and others – because of their faith and commitment to follow Jesus.

    1. Post

      Thanks for your comment, Robert. I share your perspective on the value of considering what kind of legacy we want to leave for others. For us who belong to God, hopefully the legacy we want to leave is one that points others to Christ, through living a life that is pleasing to God. Knowing that we can impact people beyond our own lives, and acting with purpose to do so during our days on earth, seems a good application of Jesus’ parable of the servants entrusted with the talents. To ignore legacy seems like burying the talent.

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