Is restitution also required in the New Testament? Yes. Zacchaeus returned fourfold to the people he had cheated. Restitution is repentance in action. Repentance is more than just a word.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’” (Luke 19:9-10).
David knew this truth when he responded to Nathan’s story of the rich man who stole his poor neighbor’s pet lamb to feed his guest: “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity’” (2 Samuel 12:5-6).
What if we cannot find the person we stole from?
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: “When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. 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 has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the LORD and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for him”’” (Numbers 5:5-8).
If the original owner or his relatives cannot be found, make restitution to the Lord.
One Sunday after teaching on this, I was approached by a student and his wife. They wanted to see me urgently, so I made an appointment to see them at my home that afternoon. When they arrived, I asked what the problem was. The conversation went something like this:
Student: “It is what you talked about this morning.”
Me: “Wasn’t it clear? Didn’t you understand?”
Me: “Then why do you need to see me? You know what to do.”
Student: “Let me tell you anyway. I stole seventy rock music tapes that cost $6.99 each. I do not like that kind of music anymore, so I threw them away. I’ve got a leather fringe coat that I don’t wear anymore because it bothers my conscience to wear it. I have a pair of gym shoes I found at the boat races in the Tri-Cities; I have a basketball that I got from the men’s gym; I stole a bicycle ten years ago in Spokane.”
Me: “What is your problem? You know what to do.”
Student: “I don’t have any money.”
Me: “What are you and your wife living on if you do not have any money?”
Student: “The money I earned last summer. I have it budgeted for the rest of the school year.”
Me: “Oh. You do have money, but it is not your money. It belongs to the people you stole it from.”
Later he told me the success of the restitution.
Another student had been a heavy-equipment driver for a construction company. At the beginning of the summer, he had told his boss that he planned on going back to college in the fall. When he came to work the next day, the boss told him, “Since you are leaving in the fall, just don’t come back tomorrow.”
The student was angry that the boss had only given him one day’s notice when he had given the boss three months’ notice. He figured that the company owed him something, so he took a few tools with him. In the fall, he heard the message on restitution and realized he had to return the tools. At Christmas, he put the tools in his car. While driving to the construction company, he was listening to Christian radio. The Bible teacher on the radio said that restitution was an Old Testament concept and that people under grace did not have to return things.
He was so glad! He turned around and went home. Then he put his initials on the tools. Later he was again convicted by the Holy Spirit. This time he had to take the tools back with his initials on them.
To be continued on March 15.
Excerpted from Repentance & Restitution—the Missing Ingredient in Repentance, available at ccmbooks.org and Amazon.com.
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