Leaving a Legacy

(Excerpted from the book, Wanted: Extreme Christians)

QUOTE: The way we live our lives here on Earth will determine how we are remembered.

VERSE: The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot. Proverbs 10:7

I’m writing this at sunrise in an airport in Lisbon, Portugal, where we have just completed several days of powerful outdoor crusades. Each night hundreds of people ran to the altars for forgiveness. Our messages were clear and direct: “We’re all sinners. Sin separates us from God, but Jesus came to take away our sins. Come to Jesus! He loves you and has a plan for your life.”

And they came running. Local pastors said they had never seen anything like it. But we have. All over the world the altars are full, people are weeping, and heaven is rejoicing.

A man told me the other day how much he loved the altar calls at our services. It overwhelmed him with joy to see hundreds rushing forward to receive forgiveness from Jesus. To me, such urgency is real. I preach every message as if it is my last.

This is the hallmark of our ministry. People who knew Jeri and me 20 years ago tell us that our message has not changed. We were passionate about souls back then, and we’re still passionate about souls now.

Not only has the Church labeled this ministry as one with evangelistic fervor, but the secular media also seems to agree. Peter Carlson of the The Washington Post wrote, “Hill’s voice was as a trumpet and his words were as fire.”1

Lynn Sherr with ABC-TV’s 20/20 said, “Hill’s urgent call to the altar . . . sends sinners running, a countdown to salvation. Clearly, this is not church as usual.”2

Remember the article from Spin that led to Joshua Seawall’s salvation? This is part of what reporter Mark Schone recorded: “From bell to bell, Stephen Hill has his listeners by the scruff of the neck. . . . You have never in your life experienced religion so fulfilling, total and joyful.”3

Perhaps you’ve heard of the story of David Wilkerson, the man who had boldly interrupted a New York City gang trial back in 1958 and then was swiftly escorted from the courtroom to a group of reporters hungry for a good story.

I keep a copy of that article in my study. The headline reads “Preacher Interrupts Gang Murder Trial: Judge Orders Him Taken Out.” The article says that Wilkerson was trying to help the boys in the gang by sharing with them about God. It also talked about a large group of young people back in Pennsylvania who were fasting and praying for an open door of ministry. Let me tell you what resulted.

Through this radical, extreme behavior, Wilkerson had unwittingly placed himself in the public spotlight, and the timing couldn’t have been better. When the gangs saw the paper, they saw a man who was on their side, and it opened the doors for ministry.

From his fanatical love for youth came the international program Teen Challenge. Little did the media know they were recording the beginning of David Wilkerson’s legacy.

Speaking of New York, I’m sure you’re familiar with The New York Times. Why would such a world-renowned paper make the Brownsville Revival front-page news? Pulitzer-prize-winning writer Rick Bragg wrote: “Stephen Hill reaches for the bleakest sinner with one hand, even as he gropes for the comfortable, social-club Christian with the other. Both, he warns, will bust hell wide open.”4

Lisa Singh, a reporter for the Dallas Observer, followed our team to Houston for a crusade. She wrote: “There’s nothing like a Steve Hill altar call. Nothing like hearing him shout with utter urgency for the sinner to ‘Hurry!’ before he’s condemned to that dark place of weeping and gnashing of teeth—hell. Hill lives to save souls.”5

Friend, I share these quotes for a reason. The secular media is helping document the living legacy of this preacher. Jeri and I have chosen to live our lives in obedience to Christ; to some this is extreme, to us it’s normal Christianity. These reporters recorded the gospel message for everyone to read, see and hear as it is lived out through faithful people like David Wilkerson.

They record my words. They write about my life. What would they write about you?

QUOTE: We are all under observation. We are all being watched. The life you’re living—like it or not—is going to be remembered. What kind of legacy will you leave?

When I speak of leaving a legacy, I am referring to the character of the person and the example they leave for others to follow.

For instance, few people would dispute the fact that Mother Teresa left a tremendous legacy when she passed away. She had no financial wealth whatsoever (all of her personal possessions would have fit into one very small suitcase), but her legacy is perhaps greater than those who’ve left behind vast riches. Her legacy is simple: Give your life to those in need.

Every time Mother Teresa’s name comes up, no matter where, people immediately recognize the name of the humble yet strong little woman who cared for the poor and destitute. Her deeds will be taught 100 years from now. She reached out to the impoverished, to those who were hurting. As Scripture states, her memory is blessed: “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Prov. 10:7).

I imagine most people would prefer to leave the kind of legacy described in the first part of that verse, “The memory of the righteous is blessed.” Many, unfortunately, leave the kind mentioned in the latter part, “but the name of the wicked will rot.” Remember, a legacy is something you leave behind.

No one in history, including Mother Teresa, left a legacy like Jesus. Nobody. Show me anyone who influenced mankind like Jesus did. But who can equal the Son of God, King of kings and Lord of lords? Show me someone whose life has been the subject of books, songs, illustrations and paintings as much as Jesus’ life has.

Pull out a coin and look at the imprinted date. Did you know that our calendar is based on the date of Jesus’ birth? Not only is the year of His birth noted, but He was so important that we also use the abbreviation “b.c.” (i.e., before Christ) to indicate that period of time before His birth. The period after His birth is referred to as “a.d.” and is the abbreviation for the Latin term Anno Domini meaning “in the year of our Lord.” What a legacy!

Who is this Man who has untold songs composed about Him? You don’t hear any songs about Napoleon, Caesar or Abraham Lincoln, but new songs are written all the time about Jesus. He shook this world in His 33 years and made an everlasting impression. During His earthly ministry everybody knew of Him, and when He left, everybody knew He was gone. Now everyone waits for His return.

He left a legacy by the way He lived, by His holiness. “[Jesus] was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15, KJV). He was selfless. Not only did He feel others’ pain, but He also did something about it.

He left a legacy by the way He died. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). What a Lord! What love! What a legacy He left for us as an example to follow.

How do people know you? What kind of person are you? How are people talking about you? If you die tonight, how would people remember you? How do people see you react? Are you a faithful friend who sticks around even when the chips are down? What kind of legacy are you leaving?

It’s easy to live for Jesus when everything is smooth sailing, but when the storm clouds come, are you blown whichever way the wind is blowing?

Will you be remembered as an on-fire, white-hot, blood-washed believer in Jesus who was unashamed to witness to His love? Are you what some would call an extreme Christian? Or will you be known as a lukewarm, Sunday-morning hypocrite? The choice is yours.

You can be a godly parent who raises children in the love and admonition of the Lord or you can be known as one who is lenient, undisciplined and blames society or the school system for the way the child is turning out. It’s your choice.

Teenager, you can be known as promiscuous or as addicted, or you can have the reputation of being a disciplined person who says no when someone peddles sex or drugs.

Yes, you have a choice: Live for the world or live for Jesus. Be ashamed of Christ or boldly declare your faith. Hang with godly friends or hang with those you know are bad news. It’s a choice, friend, and it will determine your legacy.

There are people who stand out in history for positive reasons, because of what they chose to do with their lives. For example, did you know that Abraham Lincoln did not succeed when he first ran for public office? He failed over and over again, losing election after election, yet he didn’t give up. And he went on to become one of our greatest presidents; indeed, he left an honorable legacy.

Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in the late 1800s. The school included over 100 buildings, a faculty of 200 and a student body of 1,500. He amassed an endowment of $2 million dollars—an enormous amount of money back then. His book, Up From Slavery, changed the perspective of thousands of Americans when it came to prejudice. He left a great legacy.

Evan Roberts, the great Welsh revivalist, is known in the history books as a man who went after God.

Helen Keller, though blind and deaf, became a noted author and lecturer and encouraged countless thousands to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

John Wesley, English evangelist and founder of Methodism, endured rotten eggs, rotten fruit, stones and a flurry of bad press for preaching the gospel. He could have amassed a fortune though his ministry, but he chose to leave a different kind of legacy. He once said, “Whenever I get a little bit of money, I get rid of it as quickly as I can so it won’t find a place in my heart.”6

Johann Sebastian Bach, the great German composer, wrote boldly of the Christian faith in his classic hymns, “Jesus, Joy Of Man’s Desiring,” “How Joyful Is My Heart,” “His Sheep May Safely Graze,” “God Alone Should Have My Heart,” “Withstand Firmly Against All Sin” and “What God Has Done Is Mightily Done.” Though he lived a long time ago, his music and his legacy live on, inspiring the worship and adoration of Jesus Christ.

The story is told of another great composer, George Frideric Handel, who wrote his masterpiece “Messiah” with his Bible open to Isaiah 53:5 (KJV),“He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.” Handel’s eyes welled with tears that dripped on the score he was composing. What passion for Christ! What a legacy to leave for us!

You may be thinking, Big deal. What do all these dead folks have to do with me? My friend, look at what’s happened. Decades, even centuries later, we still talk about them and remember their lives, their work—it’s almost like they’re still alive. You, too, can be remembered—on a grand scale or just among your family and friends—as someone who did something for the kingdom of God, somebody whose life meant something.

Or you can leave a negative legacy. Everyone knows whom I’m talking about when I mention Adolf Hitler. His name will rot just as Scripture said. And Jesus made reference to someone else who left a negative legacy when He said in Luke 17:32, “Remember Lot’s wife.” She left a different kind of legacy. When you think of Joseph Stalin, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jeffrey Dahmer or Timothy McVeigh, you think of negative legacies.

Yes, you have a choice of how you live your life.

Death is certain for all of us, unless the Lord returns. No one has a choice about dying. Robert Murray McCheyne said, “It is a solemn thing to die, because if we die wrong, we cannot come back to die again.”7

Sinners laughingly say, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” However, I have been at the deathbeds of sinners who, in their last hours, desperately called for the preacher, not their partying buddies. Your death may be slow or quick, but regardless, your legacy will have been written by the time you depart this world.

QUOTE: The way you treat Jesus down here will determine how He treats you up there. The way you live your life down here determines where you’ll spend eternity.

Your legacy, what people will remember about you, is being written right now.

I have the privilege of holding crusade meetings in Europe with one of the greatest evangelists of our time, Reinhard Bonnke. He has held some of the largest crusades in history. Recently while we were dining together in Munich, I asked him to tell me about the most dangerous moments of his life. He described the massive crusades he holds in Africa and how, at times, his very life has been threatened. His dramatic stories are always followed by this statement, “But Africa shall be saved!”

The zeal and fire of this man of God will forever leave an impression on my heart. Nothing will stop him from proclaiming the good news of Jesus. His legacy is written.

Dear reader, should you die tonight, your legacy is determined. The story has been written and, like it or not, it will be read.

Here’s how Paul felt about his legacy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). It sounds like he knew he was dying but realized he was leaving a God-honoring legacy. He had been shipwrecked, beaten, jailed and persecuted. He had possessed much and he had possessed nothing, and through it all he stood strong.

He then says, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). You can have a similar legacy to that of the apostle Paul’s—the same crown of righteousness.

I wept with the rest of the Christian world in 1982 when the news came that a small plane had crashed on the Last Days Ministries property in Lindale, Texas. Keith Green and two of his children, Josiah and Bethany, were among those killed.

Keith was one of my heroes. I observed his life and felt his zeal while at Twin Oaks Academy in Lindale—he was one of those people who irritated the Body of Christ. He would tell a congregation, “Everyone here is called to the mission field. You’ve got to be called not to go.” Keith bothered ho-hum Christians. He was not one to be passive about anything, and from other Christians He expected no less than total commitment to Jesus.

In one of his Last Days Ministries newsletters he wrote this challenge: “To be a servant of Jesus Christ, an ambassador, a missionary, is the highest calling a man or woman can attain to! What are you waiting for?”8

He was buried with Josiah and Bethany in the same casket, one in each arm. “Gone to be with Jesus” is the simple epitaph inscribed on their gravestone. Even though Keith has gone to be with Jesus, when I hear his songs today I realize his music is still preaching the gospel message—all over the world. What a legacy!

Even more recently, like thousands of others I was saddened when I heard about an accident on a stretch of interstate in rural Illinois. A Jeep carrying two men swerved off the road one night and flipped over. The driver was flung out of the window, and the impact killed him instantly.

Before his sudden death, Rich Mullins had become one of the true poets in the Christian music industry and one of the greatest Christian songwriters of our time. His well-known song “Our God Is an Awesome God” appears in many different denominational hymnals and is sung around the world. Rich’s legacy will be with us a long time.

Remember, a righteous man’s legacy will be blessed. Every one of these people I’ve introduced you to—and millions of others too—left behind lasting, godly memories in the hearts of those who knew them. Many have touched the world with their legacies. How about you?

If the story of your life has been dominated by sin, remember that Jesus is willing to erase your past legacy. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

God changed my legacy. If I had died during my drug and crime days, I would have left a horrible, wasted legacy—one that would rot and be forgotten in time. God changed all that. When you repent and start walking with Jesus, God promises to restore the years that the locusts have eaten (see Joel 2:25). He will blot out your past legacy.

I was once known for criminal activity, I’m now known for Christian activity. Once a desperate beggar, I am now a dedicated believer. I went from being a young man wasted on booze to a new creature washed in His Blood. Once perishing with the crowd, now I am preaching to the crowd.

Friend, leave a powerful, righteous, devil-defeating legacy. May words like “radical,” “intense” and” beyond-the-norm” characterize your life. Be one of those who dare to obey Christ completely. Heaven is hanging posters all over the world that read “Wanted: Extreme Christians.” Yes, these are the days for extreme Christianity!


  1. Peter Carlson, “What in God’s Name . . .,” The Washington Post, April 27, 1997, section F, pp. 1, 4.

  2. Lynn Sherr, 20/20, October 9, 1997.

  3. Mark Schone, Spin (September 1997), pp. 112-120, 171-172.

  4. Rick Bragg, “In Florida, a Revival That Came but Didn’t Go,” The New York Times, May 27, 1997, section A, pp. 1,12.

  5. Lisa Singh, “The Apostle,” Dallas Observer, vol. 912 (August 24-30, 2000), pp. 34-36, 38-40, 43-45.

  6. John Wesley, Brainy Quote. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/q106808.html (accessed January 8, 2002).

  7. Robert Murray McCheyne, “The Spirit Committed to God,” A Basket of Fragments (Iverness, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, n.d.), p. 135.

  8. Keith Green, source unknown.

Downloadable Reading

Straight to the Heart: Prodigals  (Steve Hill)
Candy Coated Gospel  (Steve Hill)
Dark Side of Man  (Steve Hill)
Keep Your Mind Closed  (Steve Hill)
Serious About God  (Steve Hill)
Stone Cold Heart  (Steve Hill)
Fire of Phinehas  (Steve Gallagher)
Desperate For Change  (Glenn Meldrum)
Crossless Christianity  (Steve Gallagher)
A Conversation with Frank Worthen  (Bradley Furges)
Fascination with Evil  (Steve Gallagher)
The Bait of Temptation  (Steve Gallagher)
The Prodigal’s Painful Lesson  (Steve Gallagher)
The Weight of Unconfessed Sin  (Steve Gallagher)
The Will of Satan  (Steve Gallagher)
When the Gates of Hell Prevail  (Steve Gallagher)