About a year ago, I answered a question from someone who had sinned against someone else, and wanted to know about making restitution. Read the Article Here. After that question was asked and answered though, we have been surprised to see several people commenting on that one question and answer … mostly with their own sins against someone else, where restitution may be necessary.
I am deeply disturbed by the number of these posts from people who appear to be caught in a prison of guilt and shame, to say nothing of fear. Romans 8:1 tells us that, “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” These people who are suffering are suffering from condemnation. So the logical conclusion might be simply that they are not currently “in Christ Jesus.” If they were they wouldn’t consumed with guilt and worry about something they’ve done in the past.
“Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
How then do we get someone from this state of guilt, worry, and fear … into Christ Jesus? Some may consider it unfortunate that the answer lies in restitution. Restitution can be easily understood as doing whatever it takes – that is in our power – to make right the wrongs we’ve committed. That holds true whether that someone else is an individual, a group of people, an organization, or even a government.
Create in me a Clean Heart
Jesus said Himself, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
Did you catch that? The Lord does not want our worship unless we are willing to make amends to those we’ve wronged, no matter how we’ve wronged them. In fact, unless we have the willingness to make those amends, we have no business worshipping the Lord because our hearts are not pure toward Him. Simply put, God cares much more about our spiritual wholeness than He does about our pride, our freedom, or even our civil rights. He makes it clear in His Word that we are to put spiritual wholeness and purity of heart before all of these other things.
Sometimes, we have committed wrongs that harm individuals, groups of individuals, organizations, or even governments. When our sin has injured others, we need to take whatever action is required – that is within our power – to make it right. So it really doesn’t matter whether our sin has injured or offended individuals, groups of individuals (like families), organizations (like businesses or schools), or even governments, our obligation as Christ-followers is the same. He commands us to “go and be reconciled,” making amends and restitution as it may be.
It is within our power, for example, to liquidate an asset to raise the cash needed to pay someone what we owe them. Similarly, it is within our power to raise that cash to donate to the Lord if the party to whom it’s due cannot be found (or has died and has no heirs). It is within our power to turn ourselves into the police and face whatever civil punishment we may be due for having committed crimes that break the laws of our land.
I know a man who turned himself into the police, and went to jail, when he turned his life over to the Lord. But with Christ as his Savior and the focus of his life, he has peace, serenity, and joy — in prison. Moreover, he trusts the Lord to take care of him while he is in prison. Is it costly to them and their families? Is it humiliating? Yes, of course it is. However, the Lord is more interested in our spiritual wholeness – our obedience and submission to His will, than He is in our pride, our bank accounts, our convenience, reputation, or friendships.
“Is Jesus worth it?”
So how do we get back into Christ Jesus, when we find ourselves living with guilt, shame, anxiety, and fear over our past sins? How do we get back to that place where there is no condemnation … for anyone who is truly in Christ Jesus? Here are some simple steps that I recommend.
Steps to Peace with God, and Others
1. Find someone who is at least as spiritually mature as you are. It would be better if they are more spiritually mature than you are. Ask the Lord to help you identify someone whom you will submit yourself to for the purpose of honoring God with your sin(s).
2. Once you’re confident the Lord has given you the right person, ask them to meet with you, in person, to hear the confession of your sin(s).
3. Make a list of the things that you need to confess. Pray and seek the Lord’s guidance about what belongs on that list – as well as what doesn’t.
4. Tell that individual precisely what you did and when. James 5:16 says “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Be honest, and be thorough. Honor the Lord with your confession.
5. Discuss with that individual what restitution would be appropriate (if any) and when. Ask them to pray with you about it, and assure them of your commitment to obey, and do what you are told regarding the matter. Trust the Lord to answer the prayer, affirming through this individual what His will for you is regarding the need for making amends and/or restitution.
6. After it has been prayed over, be accountable to that person for implementing whatever the Lord directs you to. I would expect that the Lord would also confirm in your heart that what they tell you to do is appropriate. For example, they should NEVER tell you to do something regarding making amends that doesn’t line up with Scripture.
So is your heart in the right place about the sins which the Lord has forgiven? Are you willing to suffer the consequences the making restitution might imply? Are you willing to obey the Lord? Is Jesus worth it?
Jesus said “Blessed (happy) are those who are persecuted (suffer) because they do what God requires.” (Matthew 5:10) For some of us, we may have to suffer pain, humiliation, loss of a degree, loss of a job, loss of friendship, or in extreme cases, maybe even the loss of our civil freedom. But you can be certain that no matter the pain, humiliation, loss of an ill-gotten degree, forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth, loss of a fraudulently obtained job, loss of a friendship, or time spent in jail … we will be blessed (happy) because we do what God requires.
If you are truly ready to pay the cost, then and only then can you consider your repentance complete. Then, and only then, are in “in Christ Jesus,” where there is truly no condemnation.
Exodus 22:1-14 – “A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft. If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession … he must pay back double. If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man’s field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard. If a fire breaks out and spreads into thorn bushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution. . . If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies . . . he must make restitution”
Leviticus 6:2-5 – “… when they sin in any of these ways and realize their guilt, they must return what they have stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to them, or the lost property they found, or whatever it was they swore falsely about. They must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner …” (Leviticus 6:4-5)
Numbers 5:7-8 – “… He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged. But if that person (is not alive and) has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belong to the Lord and must be given to the priest …”
Proverbs 14:9 – “Fools mock at making amends for sin, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation.”
Matthew 5:23-24, “… if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift (of worship to the Lord).