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The Question of Restitution (2) By Babatunde Olugboji

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The Question of Restitution (2) By Babatunde Olugboji 

The dictionary defines restitution as the act of restoring anything to its rightful owner, or of making good, or of giving an equivalent for any loss, damage, or injury. Mosaic Law required “trespass offerings” to be made for sins against a neighbor (dishonesty, theft, deception, extortion, keeping lost property, or damaging property). Such sins involve unfaithfulness toward God and disrupt fellowship and peace among God’s people.

They were to be atoned for by a guilt offering to God, and restitution to the wronged neighbor. Atonement and forgiveness of the sin were received after restitution had been made to the victim. The sin offering to God always comes after the act of restitution. Old Testament law established the principle of “punishment to fit the crime” (life for life, tooth for tooth, eye for eye, etc.)

Restitution was consistent with this concept of equity. The stolen property was to be returned, or “full” compensation made. The guidelines for making complete restitution also included a provision for punitive damages (up to five times what had been lost), justice goes beyond “an eye for an eye.”  

Many believers thus refer to the concept of restitution as an OT thing. While there is no legal or ritual application of this command in the New Testament, the principle of repairing wrongs, and the restoring of what one has wrongfully taken from another, are strictly enjoined in Scripture, as pictured in the narrative of Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-19)

The Zacchaeus narrative teaches us that an encounter with Jesus touches our heart and moves us to correct the wrong of the past. Restitution is not a means of earning God’s forgiveness, but evidence of forgiveness. (Luke 19:5) Restitution flows from joy in Jesus (Luke 19: 6-8); it is an exuberant overflow of gratitude to God for his forgiveness; and a heartfelt, not begrudging gratitude.

Here are other reasons why restitution is important:

  1. It is a sign of genuine repentance as exemplified by Zacchaeus’ example and Jesus’ response. (Luke 19:1-10, 2 Corinthians 7:10-11)
  2. It brings peace. Paul encourages us to be at peace with everyone as much as it depends on us. (Romans 12:18) Doing this could be challenging when sin is impacting our relationship with others. Making restitution can go a long way toward restoring peace and unity among brethren.
  3. It is an application of the second Great Commandment. When someone has wronged you, wouldn’t you want that person to make things right? After all, the Bible says we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we should do to them as we want them to do to us. (Matthew 22:37-39; Luke 6:31)
  4. It helps us not to be a “repeat offender.” The Bible says a fool is prone to repeating his folly in the same way a dog returns to its vomit. (Proverbs 26:11) So, restitution as an opportunity for self-discipline which helps us avoid a similar sin in future.
  5. It aids us in moving on. Sometimes we may sense that the shame of sin that lingers on is conviction from God that we need to make amends, via restitution.

Jesus implicitly validated the practice when he admonished followers to “be reconciled” to a brother before offering a gift to God. (Matthew 5:23-24) Restoration should be perfect and just, replacing, as much as possible, all that has been taken, with interest. (Leviticus 6:1-6; 24:21.

Have a great week!

Kingdom Dynamics, a weekly column  written by Dr. Babatunde Olugboji, the President, Kingdom House, a non-profit organization in New Jersey, USA.

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