Jack Miller: Don’t Seek Repentance; Seek Christ

I’ve been getting to know the teachings of Jack Miller thanks to the recent biography by Michael Graham titled, Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller. As I’ve read some of Jack’s writings, I’ve been particularly helped by The Heart of a Servant Leader, a compilation of his letters to pastors, missionaries, friends, and family. It is one of the wisest books on humble leadership that calls leaders to learn to rely on Christ for strength that I’ve ever read.

Here’s a letter that Jack wrote to a woman questioning whether she is really a Christian.

April, 1983

Dear Elise,

Thank you for your recent letter concerning your desire to know whether you have had a God-centered repentance. So set aside any fears that I might be unwilling to take time to help you. Perhaps I can help you if you will recognize that all I can do is be a small finger pointing to a large Christ. But if you trust yourself to Him be confident He is not only willing to help you but has the power to help you.

What do you need to know? First, repentance and faith are not like a sidewalk that you must travel on to get to the house of salvation. They are the door or, perhaps better, God’s ways for being near Him. When you turn to Christ, you don’t have a repentance apart from Christ you just have Christ. Therefore don’t seek repentance or faith as such but seek Christ. When you have Christ you have repentance and faith. Beware of seeking an experience of repentance; just seek an experience of Christ.

The Devil can be pretty tricky: He doesn’t mind you thinking much about repentance and faith if you do not chink about Jesus Christ. He wants you to worry a great deal about whether you have really repented. Examining yourself is fine–if you relate it to the cross and Christ’s love for you. But the point of my little book is that any surrow for sin apart from Christ is not going to help you. So don’t even seek sorrow for sin or to see whether your repentance is genuine. Seek Christ, and relate to Christ as a loving Savior and Lord who wants to invite you to know Him.

You raise the question whether or not you are saved, and rightly suggest that maybe what counts for you right now is not that question so much as getting to know Christ. You are definitely on target. Get to know Christ and you will be sure of your relationship to Him.

But how do you get to know Christ? Keep two things in view: first, you cannot know Him unless you are sure He loves you and died personally for Elise’s sins, your sins. To give you faith that redeems you, Jesus gives you a promise. He promises to save you. The gospel is not only a fact, but a promise that Christ who died for sins and rose again lives to welcome you. That is the whole point of John 3:16 and the many promises in the Gospel of John. You trust God and His Son because God loves you and gave His Son for you (fact) and then commits Himself by way of promise to receive you (John 1:12). It’s sometimes cheapened by evangelical Christians but it’s breathtaking in its simplicity and awesome wonder. God loves you very much.

Secondly, Christ calls us to abandon trust in our own strength and righteousness. We do not have the strength to improve ourselves morally or the righteousness with which to justify ourselves. “At the right time when we were without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.” Faulty, blind, degraded, we can do nothing but depend on Christ alone to give us assurance of salvation. So repentance and faith entail coming down from our thrones of self-dependence and pride and simply giving ourselves in surrender to Christ. Still, the devil may say to you: “You do not yet have sufficient conviction of sin to come to Christ.” Tell the devil to get away from you. Do you have a sense of shame over your sins? I think you do. That is a conviction of sin, not a feeling depressed or whatever. If you are ashamed of living a life independently of God, then the Holy Spirit has already convicted you of sin. Simply claim Christ as your Lord and Savior. Base your simple prayer of acceptance on His promise. Claim John 3:16-17.

Back to the question whether you are already saved. Don’t spend much time on this one, but spend your time getting to Christ. Speak to Him simply in prayer and ask Him to show Himself to you. He loves to reveal Himself to people. Then make sure you are cultivating a forgiving spirit toward others. Bitterness, condemnation of others, will rob a genuine believer of his or her fellowship with Jesus, and raise questions about assurance. Jesus does expect you to see what a forgiveness you have received and then to forgive others and keep on forgiving others. Put on forgiveness as your whole new life.

I would especially commend to you the study of Romans 10 to see how faith works. I would like to hear from you again.

Most cordially,

Jack Miller

The Heart of a Servant Leader, pp. 244-246

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