Question: What state should a person be in to make restitution; a justified state or a sanctified state? Should they be advised by the minister or let it be the leading of the Lord?
Answer: I am truly glad to have this question presented because it opens the door to give some general instruction on this very important subject which is too much overlooked and neglected by some. Because of this neglect some fail to become established on a solid footing and foundation in their Christian lives and go through all their lifetime in an unstable, up and down state and condition, or sometimes just quit trying and give up altogether. This is really serious and I sincerely hope that every reader will give serious consideration to this discussion throughout.
The Bible teaches restitution, making our wrongs right, straightening up our lives, in both the Old and New Testaments. This has always been a requirement of God for His people. When God’s Word said in Hebrews 12:13, “And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed,” He did not mean for us to just level off and go straight from there on when we get saved. He also covered the ground of the wrong things we had done in our past lives before we were saved; go back and straighten them up, too. This is evident from the fact that reference is made to the person who has been made lame or crippled being turned out of the way. We will not be healed if we do not make straight paths for our feet. In other words, that person whom we have wronged, hurt, or offended, may stumble over that thing and fall and go down to eternal destruction unless we take strong measures to straighten the thing and make it right. Our professing salvation right over it will only intensify his hurt and gouge his sore. If we have wronged someone, or hurt or offended him, or treated him harshly or severely, or spoken sharply or severely to him, all the kindness and goodness we can show to him will not heal that hurt. We will have to confess our wrong and make restitution for it, seek his forgiveness and heal the hurt. Then rebuild the relationship by goodness and kindness.
I had an experience once (at least) that illustrates what I am saying here. There was a brother in our congregation that did some rather unwise things at times and it got to be quite a trial to myself and others. I had been praying about these things and thinking to talk with him about them. Well, it so happened that something occurred in the Sunday night service that struck me funny and I laughed. It offended this brother though I did not know it. I was working with him and the next day when we were working he brought this up and reproved me for laughing as I did and said it was not a proper example for a minister to set. Well, in the course of the conversation while we were on the subject, I just admonished him a little and went on back to work. The Lord smote me heavily and told me I surely should not have said that to the brother and should have said nothing at all to him at that time because he was reproving me and that appeared as retaliation. I just dropped what I was doing and went right back to that brother and said to him, “Brother, I want to acknowledge to you that I spoke very inadvertently and what I said was very much out of order and I was wrong, dead wrong, in saying anything at all to you under the circumstances and I beg your forgiveness for it.” He graciously forgave me. The way that case worked out was interesting. In a camp meeting that brother went to the altar for some help. I went to pray with him and then the door was open for me to talk with him about everything I had on my heart to say to him and he received it very graciously and humbly. The wound had already been healed.
In Ezekiel 33:15, it says, “If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.” In this text we see that restitution involves giving back anything of a material substance which one has wrongfully taken; appropriating anything to his own use which did not belong to him. It matters not if it belongs to some member of one’s own family or a close friend or a group of which he is a member, etc.; if he took it wrongfully without permission, he must confess his wrong and give it back. All such things must be made right when one becomes a Christian, regardless of who is involved. I had to make some things right with my own parents. God required this of me. Also, this text involves one going back and making restitution for those broken pledges and reckless, irresponsible promises one may make and never perform or fulfill. Some people make reckless promises to people who then make their plans accordingly, counting on those promises. Then when the time comes to perform that promise it is not just convenient for the party to fulfill the promise he has given. Many times they do not even bother to contact the party who is depending on them and just leave them “swinging.” Then they wonder why that party doesn’t have confidence in them. Let me announce to you that people are not supposed to have confidence in you if you do not fulfill your word and are irresponsible. God’s Word declares this to be wrong and that it must be confessed and restitution made for it. Psalm 15:4 says, “…He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.” We see here that God actually requires saints to be dependable people and people of their word. If one has been reckless and careless on this line, he needs to confess his wrong and make restitution for it and straighten up his life.
How urgent and important is this? We read in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” It is just that urgent and that important. God will actually refuse to accept our gifts and sacrifices to Him material substance, spiritual sacrifices (prayer, devotion, worship) which we bring to offer unto Him, if in the process of doing this He brings to our minds and convicts us of something we need to clear up with a fellow man and we refuse or neglect to do it. He requires us to clear things with our fellow man and makes it clear in verses 25 and 26 what will be the result with us if we don’t. You will be put under bondage and will not come out until you have paid the uttermost farthing. In other words, when one commits a trespass against another he is required to go all out to clear the matter with him even if he is unreasonable and overly exacting. God wants us to remove the stumbling block out of his way over which he might stumble and help him get to heaven, too, if possible.
Zachaeus understood this from the law under which he was living. In Luke 19:8, we read where he stood before the Lord Jesus and said, “…Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” The laws governing restitution in the Old Testament are set forth in Exodus 22:1-13. Zachaeus was desiring and seeking salvation and he willingly accepted these conditions and Jesus said unto him, “This day is salvation come to this house,…”
I have said all of this by way of teaching on this very important subject while the door was open to do so. Now, I will seek to answer the questioner’s question briefly. Since restitution is taught throughout the Bible, if one has been well instructed and understands this condition for salvation, he will take care of these things when the Holy Ghost conviction seizes upon him as a part of his repentance because it is a part of repentance. Otherwise, when he comes to a knowledge of it as a scriptural doctrine and the Lord convicts him of it he should take care of it as soon as possible regardless of what state he is in his Christian experience justified, sanctified, convicted. He can do this under the leadership of the Holy Spirit without counsel from a minister unless there might be some complications connected with the situation in which he would like some guidance.