This post is the third (and final) post in a series examining how we respond when we’ve wronged our neighbor. The first post (I’m Sorry ≠ I Sinned) focused on the difference between expressing remorse and confessing guilt. The second post (I Sinned ≠ I Repent) examined our obligation beyond grieving and confession, our desire to restore what we destroyed. I ended the last post by noting that confessing our sin against our neighbor does not release us from the obligation to restore our neighbor.
I imagined that a Christian might object: But doesn’t the grace and forgiveness found in the Gospel release us from such debt?
The answer is “no.”
Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The debt we owe (death) was paid by him on our behalf so that we could have eternal life. His resurrection demonstrates that, among other things, the payment was accepted. Those who are united to Christ through faith are free from the wages of sin. They are forgiven and debt-free before God.
I have (unfortunately) heard professing-Christians say to those they’ve harmed things like “God has forgiven me you, so you have to forgive me too.” Make no mistake about it: that is the language of an abuser. Such a person either does not know God’s forgiveness or, knowing it, has a radically deprived understanding of what it means. (Note: anyone who tells you that you “have to” forgive them does not understand grace and is misusing Christianity for personal benefit.)
If the Gospel tells us anything, it is that payment for wrong-doing must be made. Jesus did not die for no reason. He certainly did not die because death was not required! No, his death demonstrates that God is just—he does not forgive sin without the proper payment being made.
Valuing Jesus = Valuing Restoration
What does this mean for us? It means that if we value the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf and the resurrection that guarantees the restoration of all things, that we value appropriate payment for wrongs and restoration of what was taken.
Therefore, when we have wronged our neighbor, we want to make sure that what we destroyed is restored. For Zacchaeus, love did not mean saying, “I’ve been forgiven by Jesus, released from all my debts! And now you, my victims, get the opportunity to picture the Gospel by releasing me from all my debts!” No—it meant, as Jesus affirmed, a commitment to restoring fourfold all he had defrauded.
It is the Gospel (and not guilt) that fuels such a commitment to restoration. Believing that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead means believing that I have died with Christ and now live in him. I am no longer my own; I no longer live for myself. I belong to Christ; I live for him. I have been guaranteed an inheritance in Christ and resurrection from the dead to reign with him in the New Heavens and New Earth. This sure future means that I can let go of the present world to do what is right.
Fourfold restoration of all he defrauded others of was a costly commitment for Zacchaeus. It almost certainly meant he would exhaust his wealth. The future he once dreamed of was gone. The luxuries and comforts he once enjoyed would be no more. But he could let them go because he had joyfully received Jesus and knew he had an inheritance with him.
Let’s not settle for cheap grace—for “I’m sorry” or “I’m sorry. I sinned. Forgive me.” By grace, let’s walk in faith, in the salvation that Jesus said arrived in Zacchaeus’ home. Let’s say, “I’m sorry. I sinned against God and against you. Please forgive me. And please know that I am committed to working for your good by restoring everything that I destroyed. I will do this, even if this costs me everything I once desired because Jesus has given me more than I ever desired.”