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.

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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.

Lawbreaking is lawbreaking

So I’m driving from a client in Nebraska to the airport taking a little liberty but not too much with the speed limit when I see those flashing blue and red lights in in my read view mirror. I get pulled over and get a ticket for going 8 MPH over the speed limit.

What are my initial reactions? “I wasn’t going that fast. Are you kidding me, a ticket for 8 MPH over? Don’t you guys have any illegal immigrants to catch? Must not be any donut sales today. The state must have a large budget deficit.” I could add to the list.

What is the reality? The reality is that I probably was going that fast and nothing else really matters. I was breaking the law. In fact, people going 1 MPH over the limit are equally lawbreakers. They simply got grace and mercy from the authorities. None of the other issues matter, even if they are true. I was a lawbreaker.

Christians have to land on this truth! We believe that God demands justice for all sin – big ones and little ones. Trying to argue that 8 MPH isn’t enough disregard for the law to be punished defies everything we believe to be true eternally. The fact that so many professing Christians would have had the same reaction as me is only an example of how contaminated our consciences are by the world’s love affair with self that justifies all lawbreaking so as to live in the fantasy that right and wrong are defined by us and not the chief authority.

If you are not a Christian, please think about this. God has not punished you yet but He has every right to. Today you are receiving mercy but God’s mercy will not last forever. He has told us this and the solution in Hebrews 9:27-28

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so 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.

Are you eagerly waiting for Jesus’ return? He is coming back and when he does there will only be two reactions. Lawbreakers who have acknowledged their sin and turned from it will have endless joy. Lawbreakers who have not confessed their sin and turned from it will have torment forever. There will be no second chances and no partial credit for a life that is only partially lawbreaking. Turn to the Lord while He has given you His mercy and patience.

Please tell us

Again I am writing this to anyone who might be reading this blog who is not a professing Christian.

I am aware one of the most credible criticism against Christians is that we are hypocrites. This topic comes up time and time again and I wish I could say it was unfounded. Recently I was invited (with many others) to comment on whether Christians were bad restaurant tippers and I had to agree that in my experience they really are. It’s shameful that people who have been given so much in Christ would be so stingy with their money.

I am writing this after reading a very short book: Agape Leadership. It is a biographical sketch of a man named R.C. Chapman and you will find the review on this site. It details the character of a Christian who really loved people and trusted God the way the Bible tells us to. It was incredibly powerful to see how little I loved others and trusted God compared to the life of this man.

I have a favor to ask of you. Get this little book and read it (it is available at Amazon.com). If you ever see a Christian acting in a manner inconsistent with the way R.C. Chapman did would you please tell them. They may not appreciate it at the time but if they are a real Christian, God will use it in their lives.

Thank you for your assistance. Christians are like everyone else and too often believe their own press clippings. People who do not consider themselves Christians can be extremely helpful to us in pointing out how we are not walking our talk.

Not in My Home

We have a great home built by a great builder and serviced by a great project manager. His name is Kevin Young. One of the things I love about Kevin is how attentive he always is when he enters our house. Anytime there is even a remote chance there is dirt or mud on his feet he takes his boots off before entering the house. He is concerned that our house is clean and the presence of dirt on his shoes will spoil it. I think most people would expect someone with mud on their boots to take steps to ensure they didn’t track it into their clean house and ruin their clean carpet.

I’m amazed that while most people would see this as an act of both consideration and in some ways reverence, many do not apply the same standard to heaven. We know we want our clean house to stay clean, but somehow we don’t recognize that God wants to keep his perfectly holy heaven that way. People think they can track their sin right into heaven anytime they want and God will be okay with it. He’s not going to do that. The Bible says God is only light and in Him is no darkness at all. He will not tolerate that being spoiled.

Some people might say that their sin isn’t so bad and God will be okay with it. I can’t imagine why He would be. If a contractor came into your house and got your carpet just a little bit stained would you be okay with it? What if he just put a little smudge on your new wall? How would you feel about the whole reason he was careless was because he took for granted that you’d be okay with it?

That is exactly what many people do with heaven. They think that somehow because the Bible says God is Love that He will overlook every other characteristic he has like His justice and His holiness. He’s not going to do that. In fact, in His love he’s provided a way for us to have the dirtiest shoes you can imagine and still enter heaven.

Jesus’ blood is like those little blue cloth footies doctors wear. It doesn’t matter how dirty their shoes are because they are covered by the footies. Our sin doesn’t stain heaven not because it isn’t there, but because it is covered. The footies are one size fits all so they cover bid sins and little sins, public sins and private sins.

There’s one thing that’s required for these footies to work. Someone has to put them on. If you want the Jesus footies so God will let you into heaven you the first thing you must do is see the need for footies. If you don’t put the footies on you will not cover your sin and you will not get into heaven. The Bible says “all we like sheep have gone astray, each of us to his own way, and God has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” The question is not whether you need the footies, only whether you will put them on. Jesus said that all who come to me I will never cast out. You never have to worry about Him running out of footies. They are available for anyone who confesses that they are a sinner and do not deserve heaven.

God will not let you spoil His home anymore than you would let a contractor spoil yours. Repent of your sin, turn to Jesus, put the footies on and come inside.