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

Spurgeon: The Coming of the Lord is at Hand

I’ve been working my way through Spurgeon’s lesser-known devotional, The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith (1893), recently revised and updated by Tim Chester and published by Crossway as The Promises of God (2019).

Today’s entry demonstrates Sprugeon’s mastery of the Scriptures and unmatched ability to comfort people from God’s Word (often in 300 words or less).

“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:8)

The last word in the Song of Solomon is, “Make haste, my beloved” (8:14). And among the last words of the book of Revelation we read, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’”; to which the heavenly Bridegroom answers, “Surely I come soon” (22:17, 20). Love longs for the glorious appearing of the Lord and enjoys this sweet promise: “The coming of the Lord is at hand.” This reassures our minds about the future. We look out with hope through this window.

This sacred “window of agate” lets in a flood of light upon the present (Isa. 54:12 KJV) and gets us in shape for immediate work or suffering. Are we tried? Then the nearness of our joy whispers patience. Are we growing weary because we do not see the harvest of our seed sowing? Again this glorious truth cries to us, “Be patient.” Do our multiplied temptations cause us to waver? Then the assurance that before long the Lord will be here preaches to us from this text, “Establish your hearts.” Be firm, be stable, be constant, be “steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Soon will you hear the silver trumpet which announces the coming of your King. Do not be in the least bit afraid. Hold the fort, for he is coming. Indeed, he may appear this very day.

(The Promises of God, June 26)

Jerry Bridges on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

What role, then, does the resurrection of Jesus play in the overall story of redemption? There are at least four major truths about the resurrection that teach us about its absolute necessity.

First, it proved that Jesus was indeed the divine Son of God. Paul wrote that “[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Actually it was impossible for Jesus’ body to remain in the grave. Just as it was impossible for the divine nature of Jesus to die because God cannot die, so it was impossible for the human nature of Jesus to remain dead because of its union with His divine nature. Peter said on the day of Pentecost: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). So it was not possible for Jesus’ body to remain in the grave. And in raising Him from the grave, God declared beyond all shadow of doubt that this Jesus whom lawless men crucified was indeed the divine Son of God.

Second, the resurrection of Jesus assures us of our justification. Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17). If Christ were still in the tomb it would mean God’s wrath was not satisfied, and we would still stand guilty before God. But as Paul also wrote in Romans 4:25: “[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” It is not that the resurrection accomplished our justification — Jesus’ sinless life and sin-bearing death did that — but rather it assures us of our justification. It was God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11), and by that act God declared that Christ’s atoning sacrifice had been accepted. The penalty for our sins was paid in full. The resurrection was God’s declaration that He had cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands (Col. 2:14).

Third, the resurrection assures us that we serve a living Savior who even now is interceding for us. The writer of Hebrews wrote that He always lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). Paul was even more emphatic when he wrote, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34). The One who died for us now lives to intercede for us. When you are going through struggles of any kind, be it adversity that you face, or sin you are struggling with, remember that Jesus is interceding for you.

Fourth, the resurrection of Christ guarantees our future resurrection. In his extensive treatment of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:12–58, Paul wrote, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vv. 20–23).

So … not only can we say, “He is risen indeed,” but we can also say with Paul: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command. …And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive…will be caught up together with them…and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16–17). Maranatha! “Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16:22).

(Jerry Bridges, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ“)

Thomas Watson: The Amazing Humility of Christ

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Thomas Watson describing the humility of Christ:

“Christ had all sin laid upon Him, but no sin lived in Him. ‘He was numbered among transgressors,’ (Isa. 53:12). He who was numbered with the persons of the Trinity, He is said ‘to bear the sins of many,’ (Heb. 9:28).

Now, this was the lowest degree of Christ’s humiliation. For Christ to be reputed as a sinner, never such a pattern of humility! That Christ, who would not endure sin in the angels, should Himself endure to have sin imputed to Him, it is the most amazing humility that ever was!”

(Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 197)

Two Ways to Appear Before the Judgment Seat of Christ

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The following excerpt is taken from A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones. In Chapter 49, “Thomas Manton on the Judgment according to Works,” the authors summarize Manton’s excellent comparison of the two states people will be in at the final judgment.

As judge, Christ will be a TERROR to those who have…

(1) despised God’s kingdom (Luke 19:27)

(2) refused God’s grace (Psalm 81:11)

(3) despised God’s benefits (Heb. 2:3)

(4) abused His grace and turned to lasciviousness (Jude 4)

(5) broken His commandments (John 15:10)

(6) questioned the truth of God’s promises (2 Peter 3-4)

(7) perverted God’s ordinances (Matthew 24:48-51)

Christ as judge will be a COMFORT to those who have:

(1) believed Christ’s doctrine (John 11:25)

(2) loved Christ (Ephesians 6:24; 1 Corinthians 16:22)

(3) warred against Christ’s enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh (Revelation 3:21)

(4) obeyed His commandments (1 John 2:28)

Believers will be comforted because the judge is their friend, their brother, their high priest, and the one who died for their sins.

The Precious Promises of Christ

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There are times in life when we have to fight to believe what we know to be true. We may become bogged down by the disappointments and trials of life and slip into seasons of doubting and questioning our hope. If you’re discouraged and downcast in spirit, this post is for you.

Thomas Brooks once wrote, “Three things are called precious in the Scripture: the blood of Christ is called ‘precious blood,’ 1 Peter 1:19; and faith is called ‘precious faith’ 2 Peter 1:1; and the promises are called ‘precious promises,’ 2 Peter 1:4.”  Are the promises of Christ precious to you today?

I recently compiled a list of all Christ’s promises (Download the PDF). I highlighted conditions of the promises in red and the actual promise in yellow. This has become a sweet document to me. I regularly come and let the promises of Christ wash over me. Christ’s people are a blessed people. When I read through the promises I quickly become overwhelmed. There is so much the Lord has promised to do for us in his Word.

Here are a few of the the precious promises of Christ I’ve been savoring recently:

Matthew 5:8  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Matthew 6:3-4 “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

John 8:31-32 “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'”

John 10:9-10 “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 14:12-14 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:7 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Revelation 22:12-13 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Revelation 22:20  “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

 

“Furnish thyself with arguments from the promises to enforce thy prayers, and make them prevalent with God. The promises are the ground of faith, and faith, when strengthened, will make thee fervent, and such fervency ever speeds and returns with victory out of the field of prayer… The mightier any is in the Word, the more mighty he will be in prayer.” ~William Gurnall

10 Things Jesus Really Said About His Return

Another false teacher recently joined the historic cohort who’ve arrogantly thought they had figured out when Christ will return. This is tragic on two levels. First, there are many who were duped. Tons of people believed the prediction and invested time, energy, and money spreading it.  Secondly, it’s tragic that many will now move toward the opposite extreme. They suspected Jesus wouldn’t return anytime soon and now see this false prediction as confirmation he really isn’t. This is an equally tragic mistake. Jesus said a lot about his return and one of the overarching messages was His followers should keep themselves ready and waiting.

Here are 10 things Jesus really said about his return.

1.  No one knows the day or the hour of my return.

In Mark 13:32, Jesus had been teaching his disciples about his return and says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Luke records it this way, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Lk 12:40).

Jesus told his disciples even He didn’t know exactly when He would return.  At this point in history, God the Father knew the exact number of years, months, days and seconds until Christ would return and Jesus didn’t. We need not speculate about future details Christ himself didn’t know.

Also, Jesus applied this truth to their lives, “Be ready.” Jesus didn’t know if he would return in their lifetimes, but his command to them is his command to us almost 2,000 years later. Keep watch. Stay awake.

2.  There will be several signs, increasing in intensity, as my return draws near.

Christ’s followers should pay attention to the signs of his return. They should speculate about the exact day or hour but should pay attention to natural events and recognize the potential fulfillment of Christ’s words as they happen.

Jesus promised there would be wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes in various places (Matt 24:6-7). And also, “signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Lk 21:25-27).

Additionally, Jesus used the term “birth pains” to describe these signs. Like the pain of childbirth, these signs will get more intense and frequent as the day draws close. When we see increasing numbers of earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and other natural disasters, Jesus instructs, “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). Once again, Jesus instructs us to pay attention to the signs of His return in order to be ready when He comes.

3.  Pray for the strength to escape the things that are going to take place.

In Luke 21:36, Jesus taught his followers, “But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” From the context, the “escaping” Jesus refers to is escaping from the judgment and wrath God will bring upon those who have rejected Christ.  Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for the strength to escape. Too many believe Christians will escape by default, but Jesus told his disciples to pray for strength to escape, and so we must.

4.  It will seem like a normal day.

In Luke 17:26-30, Jesus compared the day the Son of Man will be revealed to God’s judgment in the days of both Noah and Lot. In both these times, people were going about the normal business of life: eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting, and building. In the midst of this apparent normalcy, God’s judgment and wrath fell. Jesus said this is what it will be like when He comes. It will be a great cosmic interruption that will be like lightning which “lights up the sky from one side to the other” (Lk 17:24).

5.  I will repay everyone for what he has done.

In the last chapter of Revelation, Jesus told his followers He is coming and “bringing his recompense…to repay everyone for what he has done” (22:12). Matthew 25 describes the scene when Jesus will sit on his glorious throne and all nations will be gathered before him to be judged (31-33). All people will stand before Jesus and give account for what they did in life. How glorious it will be to stand confidently in the imputed righteousness of Christ in that day.

6.  Not everyone who expects to make it into Christ’s kingdom will.

Some of the most sobering words of Jesus are about those who will not be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” What could be worse than hearing these words from Jesus?

At the end, there will be many people who will think they are in because of their ministry credentials. And Jesus will say, “I never knew you” and call them “workers of lawlessness.” Their repentance was in word only. They acted like followers but didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ based on faith and repentance as the foundation of their lives. Jesus said there will be many people in this terrifying condition, living their lives thinking they were in and finding out in the final analysis they weren’t.

7.  There will be great persecution and many will fall away.

Jesus promised great persecution would break out against his followers and would cause many to fall away (Matt 24:9-10). It’s relatively easy to follow Christ when things are going well, but when times get tough we find out what we’re made of. Is our faith in Christ only as strong as the comfort we enjoy? If God’s enemies come and take everything will we cling to Christ or fall away? Jesus promised many would make the incomprehensible choice to fall away.

8.  Because of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.

Jesus promised that sin would lure many away from Him (Matt 24:12). These are people who once loved Christ warmly who have cooled in their affections for Him. They’ve traded in their desires for Christ for worthless idols. Sex, money, power and other false gods have replaced the love of Christ in their hearts. Their love grows cold as they lose the war against temptations to sin. Stoking the heart’s fiery love for Christ must include destroying the wet buckets of sin that can so quickly quench it. True Christ followers must repent often and much.

9.  Be on your guard. Keep awake.

Jesus continually told his followers to stay awake, to watch their lives, and to be ready for his return. In Matthew, Jesus gave four parables to explain how and why his followers should be prepared for his coming: the homeowner and the thief (24:42-44); the good and wicked servants (24:45-51); the 10 virgins (25:1-13); and the talents (25:14-30). In each of these parables, Christ described readiness with working to complete the work Christ gave us, namely fulfilling the Great Commission. Every Christian is to diligently use the gifts and opportunities God provides to reach the world for Christ.

To be awake is to be ready and willing to do Christ’s will. In Gethsemane, Jesus’ disciples slept instead of joining Him in prayer. They weren’t doing what Christ asked but slept. In the same way, many Christians today are asleep to Christ’s will. They don’t seek him or ask for his direction. Instead, like the disciples in the garden, they sleep. Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Awake, awake, put on strength” (51:9).

Peter says it well, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:7-8).

10.  I am coming soon!

Four times in the book of Revelation, Jesus said to the churches, “I am coming soon!” (Rev 16:15; 22:7,12,20). It was originally meant as an encouraging word to 1st century Christians suffering by the hands of Rome and has continued to encourage Christ’s followers throughout the ages. Christians in every generation are to hold tightly to the promise that Christ will return soon.

As the writer of Hebrews reminds, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28). Like young children eagerly longing for Christmas morning, Christians eagerly wait for Christ to return. In doing so, we live out Paul’s wonderful promise to the church in Thessalonica, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17). Nothing is greater than to be with Jesus Christ always and forever.

Recommended Resources

The Future of Everything: Essential Truths About the End Times by William Boekestein

The Last Days according to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? by R.C. Sproul

Triumph of the Lamb by Dennis Johnson