One of the more common questions I receive in ministry sounds like, “What sort of restitution do I need to make for sins I committed before becoming a Christian? How much do I need to try to make right after getting saved?”
Here’s a message I received recently that I have permission to share…
As I reflect on my past and my many sins I am more aware of how wretched and worthless I am. I am also convicted of sins I wonder If I need to undo.
For example, when I was 16 and I worked at Ross I stole clothes. I am pretty sure I don’t own any of those clothes now, nor do I know the amount or worth of what I took. However, will I go to hell if I don’t find a way to pay them back? There are so many other things I could list.
I feel like my past is like Humpty dumpty, and I can’t fix it.”
Here’s my response…
I’ve never thought much about going back and making right all – or even some – of the sins I committed before my conversion. The closest I can think of relates to a girl (and her family) I hurt badly about fifteen years ago. Two years ago, I decided to message the mother on Facebook and ask her to forgive me. I would’ve messaged the girl too, but I thought hearing from me would probably cause more pain than comfort. I did invite the mother to share with her daughter how sorry I was if she thought that best.
Here are three reasons restitution doesn’t need to follow conversion.
First, there are too many sins to count.
Nobody can remember all the sins they’ve committed. Even if they could – like your theft from Ross – we wouldn’t have the means to make them right. When I was saved I knew the importance of living for Christ and dealing with the sin currently in my life, but past sins were in the past.
For most of us it would take the rest of our lives trying to “fix” our previous sins. My heart would really have to break for any deathbed conversions: “I want to be saved, but I know I don’t have the time to…”
Second, Zacchaeus is descriptive, not prescriptive.
Zacchaeus chose to pay back the people he ripped off: “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8). Zacchaeus is meant to be a model for all of us though, because he did this on his own and not at Jesus’ encouragement.
Third, salvation involves repentance, not restitution.
Repentance means turning from our sins, and it must accompany salvation; therefore, when we’re saved great effort should be made to ensure patterns of sin are broken. We should have changed lives after conversion, but nothing in Scripture says repentance also means going back and fixing the mistakes we’ve made.
If restitution was required for salvation not only could nobody be saved, salvation wouldn’t be by grace through faith.
The point of the famous hymn, “Just As I Am” is God wants us as we are, not as we would be after we made some number of things right. We don’t have to do anything to be accepted by God, except repent and turn to Christ in faith.
With that said, if the Lord convicts…
The Holy Spirit could burden you to make some form of restitution for past sins:
- Ask for forgiveness from someone you’ve hurt.
- Repay someone for something you’ve stolen.
- Tell someone the truth after a lie you’ve told.
- Try to fix the reputation of someone you’ve slandered.
If God convicts you about some form of restitution, by all means obey the Lord.
Has the Lord ever burdened you to make some form of restitution? Can you share the details? Can you think of some other ways God might convict people to make restitution? Share your answers below.