Restitution vs. Reconciliation

We recently had an issue with one of our kids who thought that by doing extra chores after they sinned rebelliously they would avoid the consequences of their sin. This is what I explained to them.

I want to talk with you about this sin. I think it is good that you did some chores after your sin. It is a sign that you recognize your sin and wanted to make restitution in some way. This is a key theme in the Bible and I am glad you want to follow it. I also want you to understand that nowhere in the Bible does restitution – even where it is made perfectly – eliminate the guilt from the sin that required the restitution. This is also true today, especially considering that you did do something but it did not truly restore what was lost from your sin.

God wants your heart, not your restitution. Restitution is something God in His mercy provided to make civil society work better. If people went around sinning all the time with only eternal consequences life for the righteous would be pretty hard. We see that today in countries where certain types of people are allowed to be sinned against without any kind of consequence. In lots of countries, those people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Restitution is God’s invention and a way He shows his mercy to those who have been sinned against, but it is not sufficient to save anyone.

Many people try to use restitution to say they don’t deserve consequences for their sin. You see this all the time in the news. Someone does something wrong but they want no punishment because of all the good they have done. Or they tell the judge “I’ll never do it again”. These people miss the point. The Bible is clear that there is a big difference between discipline and restitution. Restitution is to protect the heart of the victim against bitterness and restore his/her loss, not to save the sinner from the kind of consequence that will drive him or her to Jesus. Sacrificing something of our own choosing does not in any way remove the guilt of our sin.

The most famous Bible account of this is in 1 Samuel 15. Here God commanded King Saul to destroy everything of the people he was going to war against. After the victory, Saul had a better idea. He decided he would “obey” God by keeping the livestock but sacrificing the best ones to the Lord. God condemned him for that and actually said He was sorry He ever made Saul king. This is the place where we find the verse “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” God wants us to do what we are told to do, not find ways to make up for our failures. This one “little” sin is what caused God to rip the kingdom away from Saul and give it to David.

Think about the implications of that for you. You cannot go through life believing that you can disobey and find a way to “make up for it” later. God loves you too much to let that happen and we love you too much to let that happen. This next point is extremely important. To believe that restitution somehow eliminates your guilt is to deny Jesus Christ, because the truth is His death is the only thing that can eliminate your guilt. The guilt for our sin is not gone because we got better or made up for it but because Jesus paid for it already on the cross. You cannot make past sins go away by future good works.
I hope you know how much I love you. I pray that you will consider these things and how important it is to confess your sin to the Lord and to those your sin against. Ask for forgiveness. It waits for you at the foot of the cross, not in a sink without dirty dishes or a freshly vacuumed floor.

Selfish is as selfish does

I was recently in an online exchange with a lady justifying her family’s shooting off fireworks nearing midnight. She responded to a post where I said that I was thankful that the blood of Jesus covered the sins of people pursuing selfish pleasure like using fireworks late at night when people are trying to sleep. Her response to my initial note about this (on a public bulletin board):

What a ridiculous thing to say. How about we show a gracious attitude one or two days a year (4th of July and New Years’ Eve) to the families and friends enjoying each others company and celebrating the holiday. It wasn’t even completely dark until 9pm last night. It took us over an hour just to set off the little package of fireworks and sparklers we bought to entertain our 2 and 3 year old. The big fireworks at the lake were still going off when we went inside so I am sure there were those who came home from that and set off a few more at home. My kids were excited, our 3 dogs were crazy, my husband needed to get to bed so he could get up at 6am this morning. Big deal. It is one day a year.

Saying that doing fireworks 2 hours after dark on the 4th is sinful and the comments about selfish pleasures, horrible death of Jesus on the cross and repentance in relation to fireworks 2 hours after dark on the 4th of July (yes, that needs repeating) is absolutely asinine. It is those sort of comments that lead non-believers to think that Christians are a bunch of judgmental yahoos. A gracious attitude goes much further.

I didn’t know whether she was saying she wasn’t selfish, that selfishness wasn’t sin or that Jesus’ death isn’t required to cover sins like selfishness. Based on her thought on graciousness, she clearly doesn’t understand the Gospel at all. I am stuck by how many people in the south are just like this – defending their own righteousness rather than simply embracing the free gift. Grace only makes sense in the light of our sinful unworthiness. The simple fact is this lady loved her pleasure more than the peace and well being of those around her. She could have chosen to stay home so her husband could do their fireworks earlier, could have chosen to do their fireworks at another time or place, could have taught her kids that the laws about fireworks and disturbing the peace should be honored, even if it cost them something. She chose none of these but rather to feed her own desire to see smiles on her kids faces and good “family time”.

I have sinned worse than most people and I never killed anyone to my knowledge. Most sinners are not axe murderers. Most sinners are selfish or unkind or angry with their spouse or like impurity. To God, sin is sin. He will punish all sin the same way. The best news is that all the punishment for all these simple sins, as well as the big ones, was already poured out on Jesus on the cross for all those who put their trust in Him.

“Nothing is worse for a family than to have a father whose word cannot be trusted.”

The following is the text of a paper written during a Christian Counseling Education Foundation course I took, Dynamics of Biblical Change. The course has my highest endorsement.

“Nothing is worse for a family than to have a father whose word cannot be trusted.” Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God

This sentence hit me as a continuing theme of my meditations during this course is my performance as a father verses our heavenly father’s example. Generally I think I do a good job of keeping my promises to my kids but as I read this quote yesterday images popped into my head of times when I promised one of our littler ones I would do something that brought them much joy but annoyed or bored me and when I failed to keep my word or procrastinated to keep it long enough that following through was no longer a possibility.

What does this do to me when I consider it more closely? It begs me to either be an honest dad who simply tells his kids he loves his leisure more than he loves to see their joy or to be much more purposeful about keeping my word when it is asked of me. Our heavenly father does not recoil at our silly requests and He does not find even the slightest ones annoying. Rather, He asks us to bring whatever petitions we have to Him knowing that He cares for us.

I’m also reminded that our Father’s example provides me the discretion to withhold specific purposes or reasons for decisions when wisdom dictates. I need to be aware that even when God has initially withheld the reason for an answer He provides, He often very graciously sneaks it in the back door when I’m not looking in the form of circumstances that conveniently line up for me, the witness of a brother or sister who fills me in on “the rest of the story” or some other manner.

While I am a poor substitute, I am the closest thing my kids have to an example of God the Father. If they are to believe all the precious promises our Father has provided in His Word, it begins with them developing a trust in loving fatherhood, and that begins with me. As I write this I am comforted that it is not me but the Spirit of God within me that will make it happen and that the One who began a good work in me is faithful to bring it to completion.