When you admit you’ve done something wrong and that you’re truly sorry for doing it, you want to make it right. If you had run over your neighbor’s bicycle, you’d buy him a new one. If you had never returned a wrench that you’d borrowed years before, you’d take it back to the owner. If you said something untrue about someone, you’d contact those you talked to and straighten it out. These actions are called restitution.
To become a Christian is to admit to God that one is sorry for his sins. God in turn forgives him. So is that the end of the matter? If the new Christian had never in any way harmed any other person or organization, then yes, the slate would be completely clear. But if that isn’t the case, then God expects him to straighten out the past wherever possible.
Now some will take issue with the subject of restitution and say God’s forgiveness is so far-reaching that He does not expect a person to take care of the past. The only problem is that the Bible says no such thing, nor does it even imply that this is the case. Furthermore, it just doesn’t make sense!
Picture a new Christian, aglow with a fresh, born-again experience. As he excitedly tells his friends what the Lord has done for him, he thinks of his childhood friend, John. He hasn’t seen John since high school. So he calls him and tells of his new life in Christ. John is moved by the change in his old friend’s life, but after listening for a while, he finally asks, “Hey, what about all those tools you stole from your neighbor? And that farmer’s gas tank you shot full of holes. Are you going to make those things right?” The new Christian then says, “Oh, John, Jesus forgave me for everything I did wrong, so I don’t have to make the past right. Isn’t that wonderful? Now, don’t you want to become a Christian also?”
Preposterous? Of course it is! And yet some are misled into thinking that God sanctions their defrauding others. Not so! Paul the Apostle said, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). Not just toward God, but toward his fellowman also.
If you are not a Christian, you may be saying, “Well, that makes sense. I wouldn’t think much of someone who said that God had made him an honest man but that he wasn’t going to make the past right. But what about me? I owe people thousands of dollars for things I’ve done. Does that mean I can’t get saved until I pay it all back?”
No, it doesn’t. As long as you are honestly willing to make restitution as soon as you are able, God will save you the moment you ask Him to. If a person has many restitutions to make, it may take him years to pay them all back. But God will certainly not withhold salvation from him until he can.
If you don’t remember all that you need to take care of, God will gently remind you. And more than that, He will go before you when you make things right. Some of the most convincing testimonies are given by new converts who are making restitution. Once you’ve straightened out the past, you will rejoice in the peace that comes with a “conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.”