Is Restitution Necessary
by Stan Nelson
It is often implied in some circles that a person who is born again will abstain from certain types or patterns of sin. To these people, continually committing the same sin could be convincing evidence that salvation is lacking in the person under scrutiny. I certainly don't intend to condone, encourage, or make light of sin. All sin is serious and should be so treated. Nor do I deny that the Christian, one who is a child of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, has a new nature and capacity for living for the Lord that unsaved people do not have. I am attempting to show the inconsistency of promoting the idea that living faithfully for the Lord is somehow automatic for all "true" Christians. I hope that by listing some sins which could easily apply to many believers the need for the Free Grace position will become obvious.
Salvation, Restitution, and Sins of Commission
Suppose a man who worked in a job where he was in contact with money actually embezzled some of the money entrusted to his care. Suppose the money wasn't missed and he was never caught. Some years later he hears a sermon in which he is told that continuing sin proves that a person committing such a sin was never saved in the first place or that in order to receive the free gift of salvation one must turn from his sins (i.e., stop sinning). Under the theology being discussed here, it would seem that restitution or confession to the party from whom the money was stolen would be necessary for the man to be saved (or to prove he is a believer). But what if the amount of money was relatively small, say 30 cents? And say it occurred 40 years ago when the man as a teenager worked at an ice cream stand? I can imagine many who hold to this persuasion telling the man, "Forget it, you can be saved without paying back the 30 cents." But what if the amount were greater, say, 30 dollars? Manymight still tell him the same thing: "Forget it." Let's keep raising the amount. How about 300 dollars—3,000—30,000? At what point in this theology would the "continuing sin" of not paying back the stolen money prevent salvation? And who decides?
This example is no bizarre daydream. Whether it's money or some other issue, such things are surely common in the affairs of mankind and can't be glossed over by those who tie works onto grace in this way. Boldfaced lies as well as subtle deception, grumpiness, rudeness, and gossip can all fall into this category of "continuing sins."
How many people, because of skeletons in their closet, of one kind or another, have been made to think that they can't be saved until they "go back and make it right"? And how many have "gone back" for that reason and then thought themselves saved because they did so? Wittingly or unwittingly this belief does not value Christ's sacrifice as adequate to save all those who trust in Him.
If going back and correcting past wrongs is required to receive the free gift of salvation (or required to prove one has salvation), then we are all "goners." What are those people thinking about who claim salvation for themselves and who advocate the idea that "continuing sins" disallow or disprove salvation? Do their consciences accuse or excuse them? Either way, such imagined personal purity is surely as unlikely in their case as it is in the case of any fallen human.
Salvation, Restitution, and Sins of Omission
What about neglecting the things we ought to do—sins of omission? This might seem similar to the failure to correct past wrongs as discussed previously, but I'm thinking more of Christian duties. These could include the following: Skipping prayer or church (Heb 10:24-25), neglecting Bible study (2 Tim 2:15), not being ready with an answer when someone asks us about the hope that lies within us (1 Pet 3:15), ignoring the needs of others (1 John 3:17), failing to visit the orphans and widows (Jas 1:27). The list goes on. The point is that we're all guilty, and to deny it is folly and self deception.
Christ's Sacrifice is Sufficient for All Sin
All sin is an affront to God's holiness, whatever "kind" or "degree," whether "large" or "small," "continuing" or "non-continuing," "deliberate" or "not deliberate." The Free Grace position does not ignore "lesser" sins, but recognizes Christ's sacrifice as necessary and sufficient to cancel all sin and looks to Him for salvation
I'm not arguing here against restitution or correcting past sins. As believers "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor 5:10). I am, however, attempting to show that such "corrections" cannot be made requirements for receiving, maintaining, or proving salvation. Although, in many such circumstances, knowing whether it is best to try to correct past wrongs or not might be difficult, we can be sure that the Lord Jesus in His atonement has forever nullified sin's power to condemn the believer (Rom 5:8-11).
That the Lord Jesus gives eternal life to those who trust in Him for it is good news (John 6:47; Acts 4:12; Rom 10:15). Trying to get saved, stay saved, or prove we are saved by undoing our wrongs is a hopeless proposition.
God's grace is a wonderful motivation and encouragement to faithful Christian living (Titus 2:11-12). It should not be used to promote sin (Rom 6:1-2) or viewed as something that automatically infuses us with behavior that supposedly proves we are saved. As Christians may we never forget our desperate need of God's grace and may we never cease to feel the relief of having received it.
Stan Nelson and his wife Nancy live with their two daughters in Port Byron, IL.