Three Reasons Conversion Doesn’t Involve Restitution

One of the more common questions I receive as a pastor sounds like this: “What sort of restitution do I need to make after conversion? I committed all these sins before becoming a Christian. Do I need to do anything about them now?” Here’s the most recent question I received on the subject:

As I reflect on my past and my many sins I am more aware of how wretched and worthless I am. I am also convicted of sins I wonder If I need to undo.

For example, when I was 16 and I worked at Ross I stole clothes. I am pretty sure I don’t own any of those clothes now, nor do I know the amount or worth of what I took. However, will I go to hell if I don’t find a way to pay them back? There are so many other things I could list.

I feel like my past is like Humpty dumpty, and I can’t fix it.

Here are the three reasons I don’t believe we need to try to go back and make right all (or even some) of the sins we committed before becoming Christians.

First, Restitution Doesn’t Need to Follow Conversion Because There Are Too Many Sins to Count

We can’t remember all the sins we committed before becoming Christians. Even for the sins we can remember, we often don’t have the means to make restitution. Using the previously mentioned theft from Ross as an example, the person doesn’t still own the clothes, know the value, etc.

People who have had abortions often struggle with guilt for years. They can’t make restitution for their sins. All they can do is repent and turn to Christ for forgiveness.

If we thought restitution should follow conversion, for most of us it would take the rest of our lives trying to make things right. My heart would really have to break for any deathbed conversions: “I want to be saved, but I don’t have the time to…” When I was saved I knew the importance of living for Christ and dealing with the sin currently in my life, but past sins are in the past. They’re paid for by Christ.

Second, Restitution Doesn’t Need to Follow Conversion Because Zacchaeus is Descriptive Versus Prescriptive

We can experience many problems in the Christian life when we look at accounts in Scripture and think we’re commanded to do the same. For example, Acts 4:32 says:

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.

The early church shared all their possessions and lived very communally. This is descriptive, but not prescriptive (commanded). How do you know what is descriptive versus prescriptive? Simple. Look for a command in the epistles. In this case, there is no command that our possessions be shared with all other believers.

Zacchaeus is another example:

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”

Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.”

Luke 19:1-9

Although Jesus commanded Zacchaeus to come down from the tree, he didn’t command him to give away half his possessions and restore fourfold. Zacchaeus chose to do this on his own, but we’not commanded to do this prior to becoming Christians.

Third, Restitution Doesn’t Need to Follow Conversion Because Salvation Involves Repentance Versus Restitution

Salvation involves repentance, which means turning from our sins. As a result, when we’re saved we must strive to ensure patterns of sin in our lives are broken. But nothing in Scripture says repentance also means going back and fixing the mistakes we’ve made.

If restitution was required for salvation not only could nobody be saved, salvation wouldn’t be by grace through faith. The point of the famous hymn, “Just As I Am” is God wants us as we are, not as we would be after we make some number of things right. We don’t have to do anything to be accepted by God except repent and put our faith in Christ.

Repentance Means Change Versus Repayment

Repentance is often defined as, “Going the other direction.” There’s truth in this definition, because a repentant person will stop doing what they’re doing and start doing something else. This is the biblical principle of “putting off and putting on”:

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put off falsehood, [put on] let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. [Put off] Let the thief no longer steal, but [put on] rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. [Put off] Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, [put on] but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  [Put off] Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. [Put on] Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:22-25, 28-32

Although, before people can repent (stop doing something), they must first be convicted. Before people can be convicted, they must agree with God that their action is sinful.” This is why repentance means, “a change of mind, as it appears to one who repents, of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done.”

Watch this sermon I delivered as a guest preacher to learn more about repentance…

With All This Said, You Might Need to Make Things Right If…

Soon after college I badly hurt a girl, and by extension, her family. My actions bothered me for years. At first I thought it was guilt. Then I thought the Holy Spirit was burdening me to apologize.  I found the girl’s mother on Facebook and asked her to forgive me. Although I thought of messaging the girl too, I thought hearing from me would probably cause more pain than comfort. I did invite the mother to share with her daughter how sorry I was if she thought that best.

The Holy Spirit can convict you to make some form of restitution for past sins:

  • Ask for forgiveness from someone you hurt
  • Repay someone for something you stolen
  • Tell someone the truth after a lie you told
  • Fix the reputation of someone you slandered

If God convicts you to perform some form of restitution, by all means obey the Lord. Will it affect your salvation? No, but it will affect your sanctification and spiritual peace.

Discuss questions for the comments section:

  • Why do you agree or disagree with this post?
  • Can you think of any other reasons restitution is not needed following conversion?
  • Has the Lord ever burdened you to make some form of restitution? Can you share the details?
  • Can you think of some other ways God might convict people to make restitution?

70 Responses

  1. Hello. I think too much about old things, trying to find the wrongs I’ve done in them, some I’m not sure if they’re wrong, and if I’m unsure, I’ll still feel guilty. There was a deed in the past(I was born again by then), I can’t really remember well what I did, i can’t really remember who I did it to, it’s vague, but I feel there might be a probability I did something wrong unconsciously. I know what my disposition would be towards such action which if I’m sure I did that, I would be rest assured. I’ve been ruminating and trying to figure what I did, and I’m already beginning to feel guilt.

    1. Hello Faithful,
      I think we can all do that at times.

      Regarding the event from when you were younger, I would simply pray and ask God to reveal to you whether He would have you do something about it. If nothing comes to mind, then I would trust that you are forgiven through Christ and God has no further expectations regarding making restitution.

  2. If you have been unfaithful to your spouse, but have confessed to the Lord, repented from that sin, and are truly seeking the Lord, but still feel so much shame does that mean God hasn’t forgiven you? Do you always have to go to the person you’ve wronged and ask for forgiveness to receive forgiveness from God. Being unfaithful being one of those sins?

    1. Carissa,
      You asked two good questions. Let me respond to each of them…

      If you have been unfaithful to your spouse, but have confessed to the Lord, repented from that sin, and are truly seeking the Lord, but still feel so much shame does that mean God hasn’t forgiven you?

      No, that does not mean that God has not forgiven you. Your forgiveness depends on what Christ has done for you on the cross. If you have confessed and repented then you must trust Jesus’s sacrifice. It is understandable to continue to feel shame about things we have done, even if we are forgiven for them. I would encourage you to memorize Romans 8:1 and preach it to yourself whenever you feel shame: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

      I should add that people who confess their sin flippantly and insincerely, should not be confident in their confession. In those situations, perhaps the shame the field is from the Holy Spirit to get them to genuinely repent. This does not seem to be the case with you though.

      Do you always have to go to the person you’ve wronged and ask for forgiveness to receive forgiveness from God. Being unfaithful being one of those sins?

      I believe I answered this at the end of the post. Will you please read the end of the post, and let me know if that answers your question?

  3. Hi Scott,

    Thank you so much for such a great piece. I am currently struggling with the guilt of cheating on my license exams and then my college exams too I cheated on them as well. I love your answer to Augustine that we can use that thing for good. I am torn between telling my manager about the cheating and risk losing my only source of income or restituting in another way. Is this possible? Also my degree, do I use it for good or just go and report myself and risk it being revoked? This has been worrisome and it’s bothering me. I am an over thinker who is currently mourning the death of her sister to the disease that killed her mom so maybe that’s helpful for context.

    1. Hello Joy,
      You are welcome. I am glad that my post and sermon ministered to you.

      I am sorry, but I am not sure that I agree with Augustine about using the sin for good. I hesitate to support that idea, because it is already too common for people to justify their sin with the notion that the ends justify the means. I think whether we have sinned or not we should strive to live godly life. In other words, whether you cheated on those exams are not you should be striving to serve your employer well and be a blessing in the workplace.

      With that said, you can read my post to see that I don’t think conversion involves restitution; however, as I also wrote, if God has convicted you about confessing to your manager then I would not want to stay in the way of that happening. If God led you to do that and you lost your job you could take great comfort in knowing that you were in God’s will. That is the main comfort when difficult things happen after we have been obedient. You can also be comforted that if God wants you to keep your job then you could confess what you did and God will give you favor with your manager. Similarly, if you share about cheating to get your degree, maybe your degree will be revoked, but the school could also let you know what to do to make up for it. If you do share this with the school, simply ask them what you could do to make up for what you did.

      I am glad you shared about the loss at the end of your comment. You do have much going on in your life at this time and I don’t want to encourage you to put off doing what God wants you to do, but at the same time you might want to give it a little time to pray and wait for clarity.

      I want to conclude by letting you know that I really appreciate your sensitivity to God’s conviction.

  4. Hi Scott,

    I have been a Christian for over a decade but I considered myself a nominal one at best until the last year and a half or so. As I’ve been working on deepening my relationship with God some old sins have been brought to light that I have been obsessing/losing sleep over and I don’t know if I should confess them or not.

    1. I lied in some paperwork to graduate from high school which was 8 years ago (I claimed to have some hours of volunteering when in reality I haven’t done so at all) – however, I have done quite a bit of volunteering after I graduated from high school but I’m not sure if this counts as restitution

    2. I fell into a deep depression after graduating from University and I was unemployed for a year. I covered up this employment gap by stating that I did some freelance work at my family’s company when in reality I didn’t work there at all. This was 5 years ago and I have since changed fields and have been honest with my work since. This doesn’t refute the fact that I had to lie to get to where I am today, but I’m not sure how to do restitution for this. No one was directly harmed, perhaps I stole a spot from someone who was more deserving of obtaining employment the ethical way.

    Even though God has forgiven me I can’t seem to shake the condemnation and guilt from my mind and I suspect that I might have symptoms of OCD

    1. Hello Mariah,
      Nice to hear from you. Thank you for writing with your questions.

      First, because you mentioned restitution, I think it is important to be clear that we are not forgiven by making restitution for our sins. We are forgiven through faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross.

      Second, I don’t know what you mean by “Confess” the sins. If you mean confess them to God, I definitely think you should, especially because you are still convicted about them. If you mean confess them to man, in particular to the people you sinned against, then that’s more difficult to answer.

      Because you are losing sleep over these sins, then this is what I would recommend. Pray that if there is nothing God wants you to do, then he will give you peace you are forgiven and can move on. Pray also that if there is something God wants you to do, then he reveals that so that you can do what’s right to be able to move on.

  5. Hy sir,
    If I cheated in examination while in high school and got a certificate. Then now that I’ve repented, do I need to stop using that certificate and resit the examination.

    1. Hello,
      No, I don’t think you need to stop using the certificate. If that was the only test you took to get the certificate, then perhaps. I’m sure there was much more that went into obtaining it. If you feel convicted you could go back to the teacher and apologize.

  6. I think an important distinction needs to be made here between the conviction of the Spirit in bringing past sins to mind and condemnation of the enemy. I have been diagnosed with OCD and have been obsessed for years with the concept of restitution – worrying that I am not a genuine Christian is I fail to make restitution for the past sins I can think of.

    I have often heard people say that if it comes to mind that is the Holy Spirit convicting you to make restitution and you need to obey. If you don’t obey you are not bearing fruit and therefore I question my salvation.

    I have realized that with most of these things that come to mind it is the enemy telling me that I am condemned and telling me what I need to DO in order to be right with God. The Holy Spirit on the other hand tells us that we are right with God by faith in Jesus finished work therefore we should make restitution for x but I don’t have to be fearful that my salvation is in jeopardy if I fail to obey.

    1. Hello,
      I agree with the distinction you made. Yes, there is a difference between the Holy Spirit bringing something to mind and the devil trying to convince us that we are not forgiven.

      If people are saved in the Holy Spirit bring something to mind that they should make restitution for, but they don’t, that would be a sin, but it would not mean that they are not a Christian and/or that they have lost their salvation.

      Your last sentence is very well said. That’s exactly true.

  7. Hello sir, do I need to make restitution for an examination i wrote before THE LORD MET me? It was a continental examination in which i cheated. If i do, can you counsel me?

    1. Augustine,
      I’m sorry, but I’m not exactly sure what you’re talking about. Can you elaborate a little bit on the examination, the purpose of it, and what it would mean for you to make restitution for it?

    2. In West Africa, students as one of the requirements for advancing in their education should sit for an olevel exam. I did this at some point while still a sinner. Years after SALVATION, i feel guilty having cheated to pass that exam. Will I be wrong keep using that result?

      1. Augustine,
        Thanks for explaining. Because I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about, the best I can do is guess. I would say you can go back to the institution and let them know that you cheated and see what they think you should do now. Another alternative is simply using the education you have received for good. But if you still feel convicted, then I would recommend returning to the institution and asking them what they would like you to do.

  8. How do I repent of living in adultery? I married a woman that was previously married, while her previous husband was still living. The Bible says that this is adultery, so we separated and divorced. I considered this perpetual adultery, but she considered it a one-time adulterous marriage event that we can ask forgiveness for and everything would be ok. This is kind of like the restitution thing but not. What do you think? Thank you for your help.

    1. Sam,
      I don’t believe people should remarry when they have a living spouse. So I do agree with you that you committed adultery when you married her, and there are some people who believe it is perpetual adultery as long as you remain married to her. While I could be wrong, I don’t agree with them. I believe you entered a new covenant with her on your wedding day and you should seek to honor that covenant. One of the main reasons I say this is in John 4 Jesus seem to recognize all of the subsequent husbands of the women at the well. In other words, He didn’t think the other husbands were adulterous relationships.

      I wrote a paper about divorce and remarriage and I would be happy to share it with you if you’re interested. Just send me a message through my contact page.

  9. Ive been thinking about this topic a lot for awhile. Good stuff you’ve written here. A lot of people who push restitution for pre-conversion sins always cite Zacchaeus, but I think you nailed it with the prescriptive vs descriptive difference. Another example of making pre-conversion sins right is in the book of Philemon, where Paul instructs Onesimus to return to Philemon and fulfill his duties of indentured servitude. I don’t necessarily believe this should be viewed as a command to go back and fix all pre-conversion sins though. I believe that Paul, as a holy spirit led apostle, was working on behalf of God to tell him to go back. The modern day equivalent would be the Holy spirit himself leading us to go back and fix something, which you pointed out. Another verse that someone pointed out to me is Ecclesiastes 7:16 “Do not be excessively righteous, nor make yourself overly wise. Why bring yourself to ruin?” There are a lot of commentaries that differ on how to interpret this. A popular interpretation is that this verse is speaking of self-righteousness, with several of the commentaries that take this stance making it a point to say that it has to be speaking of self-righteousness, since its not possible for someone to do too many righteous deeds. I disagree with that and therefore believe in the interpretation that its speaking of taking righteous deeds to an unnecessary extreme, with the perfect example being someone who tries to go back and fix EVERY SINGLE THING they did before salvation. This indeed would bring someone to ruin. Your article agrees that this isn’t necessary, but do you agree that this interpretation of ecclesiastes 7:16 is good biblical wisdom to cite for this? One more thing I’ll add is that when something from your past is brought to mind, I don’t necessarily think that the correct thing to do is automatically confess it. In the spirit of loving your neighbor, I think that it’s wise to consider if confessing that sin could negatively impact people who had nothing to do with it. And I’m not talking about people who would be merely heartbroken from your confession. Rather, I think that some issues could be so complex that others, who are innocent, could somehow get in trouble for your confession. Therefore I believe that its wise to give deep thought to every angle of a situation, and try to find a way to make something right that makes it possible to love ALL neighbors involved in a situation. What are your thoughts on that?

    1. Hello David,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. I never thought of Philemon as another example, but it definitely works. Very good.

      After spending a little time looking at Ecclesiastes 7:16 I think it could be both. People can be self-righteous through their giving and righteous deeds. I think it is discouraging self-righteousness in any form.

      If I’m understanding your question, I do believe that confession can be very painful to the person confessed to; therefore, it might not always be best. For example, if a man has been struggling with pornography it might be best for him to get accountability, develop victory over the sin, then confess the sin to his wife so he can tell her that he has stopped. But if he confesses that he is looking at pornography, seems contrite, but continues to look at it over the coming months or years, it will be devastating to his wife.

  10. Hello Scott, I’ve been having a strong conviction in my heart to restitute, My friends mom has a store she sells things, sometimes I take things without letting them know while the son will be in the store because she works in an office and can’t always be around except weekends, do i make the restitution to the son that I always take things from the store while he was there or the mom that owns the store?

    1. Hello,
      I would go to the mother. She can decide how to handle things with her son. This is of course assuming the sun still lives in the home and is under the authority of his mother. If he does not live in the home then you should probably go to both.

      I appreciate your sensitivity to conviction and desire to make things right.

  11. If a theft was really bad, get a lawyer first, the more intertwined the issue the worse the outcome and you don’t need over kill with the restitution.

    1. Hello,
      This can be a good approach. Although 1 Corinthians 6 says not to go to court against a brother or sister in Christ, that’s not referring to criminal activity. In the case of criminal activity it is appropriate to report to the proper authorities.

  12. Hi. In the beginning of the year, months before I came a Christian, I stole a top with one of my friends. Today my mom payed in more than the amount anonymously. Does that count or should i tell the store? The top wasn’t expensive and I’m scared they press charges.

    1. I would say that the mistake your mother made doesn’t cover your theft. You have the responsibility to do what’s right since it was your sin.

      I would encourage you to tell the store. I doubt they will press charges, and even if they do it’s nothing that would show up on your record. My suspicion is when you go to the store it’s going to be a very good witness.

  13. Hello Pastor Scott. What if a person who earned his money by fraudulent methods became a believer in his deathbed where he is unable to restitute. What’s gonna happen to him?

    1. Reuben,
      Are you asking if he would go to heaven or hell? If so, that question is answered based on his response to the Gospel. Has he repented and put his faith in Christ? If so, then he’ll go to heaven regardless of whether he’s able to make restitution.

  14. I’ve stolen things like pens, toys etc. I don’t have any of those stuff with me now. How can I make a restitution? Is simply asking for forgiveness qualify as restitution?

    1. Hello Reuben,
      Good question. Yes, if you’re convicted to ask for forgiveness com then you should. You can also let them know that you’re happy to replace anything they’re missing if they’d like.

  15. I enjoyed reading this However I have a scenario would like you to address. How will restitution be done for a fraud against an organization involving more than one person where confessing could lead others to jail

    1. Hi Samuel,
      Wow, that’s an interesting situation. I think the person needs to do the right thing, turn himself in, and leave the consequences with God. It’s very possible that He wants the others to be caught and have to pay for their crime too.

  16. Hello
    I am 61 have played church and pretended all my life to be a Christian
    I’m just now beginning to believe God does love me and rebuke the lies I’ve allowed satan to use to me keep me in bondage
    I want to give God my life
    I need help I am just beginning to work on having an intimate personal relationship with God I’m in the process of confessing my sins and where my heart sinks is the process of restitution
    I’ve done a horrible thing I understand about living with consequences of sin
    I do not want to be disobedient but there’s a couple of things i did in secret the person who I did it to is completely clueless seriously no clue and in all honesty will never know if I I go to that person confess what I did my sin will destroy so many and so much
    Can I make restitution in secret my heart is truly broken over my sin and I’m even willing to bear Gods punishment if I can spare my loved one that I did this to
    I know things in secret are wrong but I can not bear the heart wrenching damage confessing to them will do
    I can not return what I took in one lump sum but totally have the ability to return it over time
    I hate myself and want forgiveness and freedom but with the same amount of desire I do not want to hurt my family
    Please help me
    I truly want to do what’s right I’m not under estimating what God can or could do
    I just physically am sick at the thought of breaking hearts and doing more damage with confession than with the sin
    Ohhh please help me

    1. Hello,
      First, praise God that He’s awoken you out of your spiritual slumber and you’re genuinely pursuing Him.

      Second, please check out this post I wrote on this very subject: Three Reasons Conversion Doesn’t Involve Restitution.

      You said:

      If I I go to that person confess what I did my sin will destroy so many and so much.

      There is that possibility, but there’s also the possibility that it will be very meaningful to the person and the person will see Christ through your actions and know a dramatic change has taken place in your life. If the person is not a Christian, then this could win the person to Christ. If the person is a Christian, then it will probably encourage them in their relationship with the Lord. You must leave the results up to God!

      I believe you’re broken over your sin. You say you want freedom. It seems to me that unless you confess to the person you probably won’t have the freedom you want.

      I would encourage you to trust God to bring forth good from your confession.

      In Christ,

  17. Does this same principle apply for Christians after conversion? I know that even after we get saved we still mess up sometimes.

    1. Hi CJ,
      Good question. After conversion, repentance involves making right what we can. For example, if you lied and then repented, you would tell the person the truth. If you stole and then repented, you would give back what you stole. If you gossiped and then repented, you would do what you could to restore the person’s reputation.

  18. My question is, since Christ said old things have passed away……why then will God still bring your old ways to your remembrance for it to be restituted.

    1. Hello Abiodun,
      The verse you’re mentioning is in Isaiah 42:9, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and Revelation 21:5. Revelation is the instance the Lord said these words, and the context seems to be eternity, more than conversion. When Paul said these words, the context seems to be conversion, so I’ll consider when Paul said this versus Jesus.

      When we’re saved, we don’t have to worry about past sins; however, we’re saved by repenting of our sins and putting our faith in Christ. If God convicted you that repenting meant making something right, then by all means you should do that. This wouldn’t affect your salvation if you failed to obey. In other words, you’re still going to be saved, even if you disobey the Holy Spirit’s conviction. But it would still be sinful – like it is any time we fail to obey God – if you don’t act on that leading to make things right.

  19. I disagree. I didn’t, for a long time for some of the same reasons you’ve given. I thought making restitution was like reminding God of something He said He forgot…as in your sins are forgiven and forgotten. But I prayed for truth and God led me to a passage in Ezekiel. Before I get to that, I know we’re under a new covenant, I know Zacchaeus wasn’t commanded to pay restitution, and not everything can be paid back, I know He said sin no more but never said to make restitution. But you brought up repentance as turning from sin.

    We say we repent, but do we? Zacchaeus had a complete change of heart, so is that the evidence of true repentance?

    So as I’m listening to audio of Ezekiel, I had to rewind and listen again as this jumped out and smacked me. I’d been asking God to show me the truth in this. And He unmistakably did.

    Ezekiel 33
    14 And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— 15 *****if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen*****, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. 16 None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live.

    Jesus always did the will of the Father and said we are to do likewise. The N.T. says our sins are forgiven and forgotten. This same language is used in Ezekiel above, but with clarification on repentance to include giving back what you’ve taken. One repents because they realize they’ve sinned and are sorry. Being truly sorry, truly repentant, should cause us to want to make restitution

    1. Hello Char,
      First, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Second, when God wants to make something clear, He doesn’t use bold, italics, or highlighting, but He does use repeition. When we read the same thing twice, that’s not a mistake, but it is something God doesn’t want us to miss. The first question I’d ask with your position is, do we see it supported elsewhere in Scripture? I can’t think of any.

      To be clear, the verse you quoted does support what you’re saying; however, we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. We know we can come to wrong conclusions when we use verses in isolation. For example, if we look at James 2:24 in isolation, we’d conclude we’re justified by works. But the rest of Scripture defends justification by faith.

      Third, the epistles are the letters of instruction for the Church Age, while the prophets spoke to different groups in the Old Testament. What is said to one group is not what is said to another group. Obadiah spoke to the Edomites and said things to them that don’t apply to the Ninevites in Nahum. Ezekiel was speaking to the exiles in Babylon, and he described what repentance looked like for them. Similarly, Jesus described what repentance would look like for the Rich Young Ruler. Do you think you need to give away all your possessions? I’m sure you don’t. Why not apply Jesus’ words to him to yourself? Because you know Jesus didn’t say it to you.

      If you believe what you wrote, have you thought back to everything you’ve stolen and made restitution? Have you thought back to everyone you’ve hurt and made amends? I doubt you have, but I believe you’re a repentant person. With that said – like I wrote in the post – if the Holy Spirit burdens you to make some form of restitution, you should!

    2. Scott, one of course can’t repay everything. IE: if the person passed away or can’t be found, or for those things you don’t recall. But I do believe Jesus supported restitution and that the Scripture is there to back this up.

      You mentioned the rich young ruler. Well when he asked what must I do, Jesus said “keep the commandments”. There’s another such incident when Jesus is asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

      Luke 10
      25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

      What does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind? It means doing what He wants. Repentance is a changed heart and mind.

      Zacchaeus wasn’t told to make restitution but here’s what Jesus said in reply:

      Luke 19
      8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

      Immediately upon Zacchaeus’ statement to repay, Jesus declares Zacchaeus saved. He said it is because he too is a son of Abraham. But what made him a son?

      Genesis 26
      2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” 

      God confirmed his oath to Abraham with Isaac, on the condition that Isaac do what Abraham did…obey His command and “live in the land where I tell you to live.”

      You said that what is said to one group is not what is said to another group. Yet 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. That means *all*…even the O.T.

      Abraham believed God and it was accredited to him as righteousness, but there’s more to believing.

      James 2
      17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

      Can we believe without works? Well in the next verse, James shows us that we can.

      James 2:19
      You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

      Yet we know throughout Scripture that demons will not be in Christ’s Kingdom.

      Our love for Jesus, and faith that He is faithful, will cause us to do as He said and love one another. From that love for others, if we *know* we’ve wronged someone, our changed heart should cause us to want to right the wrong done to that person.

      1. Hello again Char,
        Interesting you mentioned Luke 10:25-28 as I just preached on these verses in my last sermon. Would you listen to the message? Inheriting Eternal Life.

        If your interpretation of these verses is correct, then Jesus was telling the lawyer (and the Rich Young Ruler) to inherit eternal life – or be saved – by works (keeping the commandments). I don’t think you believe this, since the Bible is overwhelmingly clear that we’ve saved by grace through faith apart from works. And if you did believe this, you’d be a heretic, because nothing is more foundational than the Gospel.

        So if that wasn’t what Jesus was saying to the lawyer and the Rich Young Ruler, what was He saying? They both asked, “What must I DO…” and Jesus answered their questions. If they wanted to be saved by doing, then they had to obey the Law…perfectly. He was trying to help them see they couldn’t do this. He was pointing out their inability to be saved by obeying the Law, and that instead they must repent and look to Him in faith.

        You seem to be making a different argument in this response from what I argued in my post:
        • My post is about making restitution for past sins when we’re converted
        • You seem to be arguing about the need to obey God’s commandments

        I definitely agree with you that we need to obey God. No, we’re not saved by obeying God’s commands, but Jesus said, “If you love Me, you’ll obey Me.” You don’t need to give me verses making that point :).

        You said:

        You said that what is said to one group is not what is said to another group. Yet 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. That means *all*…even the O.T. Abraham believed God and it was accredited to him as righteousness, but there’s more to believing.

        I don’t think you believe this either, that we should obey everything God said to Israel (say nothing about what God said to the Ammonites, Moabites, Assyrians, etc). For example, God commanded Israel to wear tassels, not mix certain fabrics, avoid gardening certain ways. Do you have tassels on your clothing? Do you mix fabrics? Do you eat bacon? I suspect you probably don’t obey these commands, and why not? Because you’re not under the Mosaic Law.

        Everyone loves to quote Jeremiah 29:11, which is part of a letter Jeremiah wrote to the Jews in Babylon. Jeremiah didn’t even say the same thing to the Jews in exile that he said to the Jews still in the land. The Jews still in the land had different expectations than those in exile and vice versa. In verse 5 of the same letter God said, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.” How many people who love Jeremiah 29:11 have built their own houses and eaten produce from their own gardens?

        One of the biggest mistakes people make when reading the Bible is they prescribe what is described. In other words, they look at what is described – or written to certain people – and prescribe – or apply it – to themselves. You seem to be recommending this. The early church was communal, sharing all their possessions. Do you own some possessions, or do you share everything with your brothers and sisters in Christ? You’re probably not communal, and that’s fine because you’re not part of the early church. If it was prescribed for us (verses describing the early church) we’d see an accompanying command in the epistles.

    3. Scott, Jesus said all the law hangs on two commands, not what Jeremiah wrote to the Jews. 

      Yes, Scripture says we’re saved by grace through faith and works cannot save us. But according to James, if we don’t have works, we don’t have faith. We are therefore not saved by grace through “faith” we don’t have. Works in and of themselves do not save us, but a lack of works shows we may not have true faith.

      If the rich young ruler truly believed Jesus was who He said He was, he’d have known that giving up his possessions was nothing compared to eternal life. This is why Zaccheus said he would pay back four times. He had real saving faith, and desired to do what was right. He truly believed.

      When you wrong someone and never apologize or feel remorse, that’s not love. We should WANT to make restitution to those we’ve hurt.

      Honestly, if people are here asking if restitution is required, it’s already playing on their conscience. Having been there, I can guarantee you that it’s not going to go away until they listen to the Spirit.

      1. Hello again Char,
        I thought it would be easier this time if I simply responded below your comments…

        Scott, Jesus said all the law hangs on two commands, not what Jeremiah wrote to the Jews.

        Right, but earlier you said, “2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. That means *all*…even the O.T.” In other words, you were saying the entire Old Testament applies to us, and my point is that while we can learn from the Old Testament (as 2 Tim 3:16 says), the entire Old Testament isn’t written directly TO us. There’s a difference. I used Jeremiah as an example, but I could’ve used many other prophets and many other passages to show that there are certain parts written to certain people and we get into trouble when we act as though those passages are written TO us. I gave you some examples in my previous response: do you wear tassels on your clothes?

        Yes, Scripture says we’re saved by grace through faith and works cannot save us. But according to James, if we don’t have works, we don’t have faith. We are therefore not saved by grace through “faith” we don’t have. Works in and of themselves do not save us, but a lack of works shows we may not have true faith.

        I feel like you’re trying to convince me of something I agree with, but that is not the point of my post. You seem to be trying to make these two points:
        1. We should obey God’s commands.
        2. Works should accompany faith.
        I agree with both of these points, but they don’t capture the point of my post.

        If the rich young ruler truly believed Jesus was who He said He was, he’d have known that giving up his possessions was nothing compared to eternal life. This is why Zaccheus said he would pay back four times. He had real saving faith, and desired to do what was right. He truly believed.

        I agree with this too.

        When you wrong someone and never apologize or feel remorse, that’s not love. We should WANT to make restitution to those we’ve hurt.

        I agree with this, but if you think you have to do that to be saved, or you think once you’re saved you have to go back and do this for everyone you’ve wronged then there are two problems:
        1. How could anyone expect to be able to be saved?
        2. You’ve moved from salvation by grace through faith to salvation by works.

        Honestly, if people are here asking if restitution is required, it’s already playing on their conscience. Having been there, I can guarantee you that it’s not going to go away until they listen to the Spirit.

        If you read the end of my post I said that if you feel burdened to make something right, you should.

    4. By saying all Scripture is useful, it doesn’t mean everything written applies directly. Ezekiel is useful in seeing what true repentance looks like.

      What I meant about righting a wrong, is that a willingness to do it for those you know you’ve wronged and can right, shows true saving faith. It is certainly faith that saves, and works don’t keep you saved, but a lack of works may indicate you’re not truly saved. As in Ezekiel, God said if you do what is right and restore what you’ve taken, THEN He will forgive and forget. The desire, and the action, in matters we can act on, is the mark of true repentance. So in effect, restitution is a requirement.

      Maybe we just say things the wrong way. Rather than wonder if restitution is or isn’t required, perhaps we should consider that the desire and action may be the evidence that you were truly saved.

      As I said, I struggled with it for a long time. I kept reminding myself that God doesn’t condemn and past sin was forgotten. I searched online, I asked others. There were so many opinions on it. But I asked God to show me the truth, and He did. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Ezekiel, but this time it smacked me upside the head, and I no longer had to question it, and I wanted to share it with anyone else who was going through that same struggle.

      1. Hello Char,
        Three quick questions that I wish I would’ve asked you earlier. After you felt like God revealed this to you through Ezekiel, I take it that then you started making restitution for your past sins. Is that correct?

        The second question: are you still working on making restitution for your past sins, or do you feel like you’ve finished?

        Third question: what about those sins you either a) can’t remember or b) simply can’t make restitution?

    5. You can’t make restitution for everything. Restitution is to restore something to its proper owner. So it’s something that was taken from them. And by retaining it, you’re still engaged in possessing stolen property, even if you used it, spent it, whatever. You benefited from something that belonged to someone else. Returning/restoring it would be the proper thing to do.

      I have two instances where I took something that didn’t belong to me many years ago. One isn’t possible to restore any longer. But the other, I knew I had to pay it back. The moment I made the decision, a weight lifted.

  20. Few years ago, I went for a close friends wedding. Somehow I stole money from her luggage which has never happened since we became friends…on discovering her missing money after the wedding when we got back home ,she wept bitterly and in the process laid a curse that whosoever stole her money and made her cry on her wedding day will not know peace and will never get married and that even if she gets marriage will never be happy…after some weeks I called her and confessed to her but didn’t reveal my identity…presently am marriage not for long thou (2years) without a child. It keeps coming back to me to go and confess openly to her before I can conceive even thou ve been diagnose of some not too serious issue… My question is will God accept my open confession and restitution as genuine since I waited till I had a problem I think is related to that senerio?

    1. Hello Otaniyen,
      Your story reminds me of Judges 17:1-2:

      Now there was a man from the mountains of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2 And he said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, and on which you put a curse, even saying it in my ears—here is the silver with me; I took it.”

      It seems pretty clear that you’re convicted about what you did and burdened to confess to her. If you remember how much money you stole you should attempt to return that much when you ask for forgiveness.

      In answer to your question: as long as your actions are genuine, then God will definitely accept your actions as genuine. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

      It could be possible that God allowed this “problem” in your life as a way to bring about your confession. While I can’t say for sure whether that’s the case, I can say whether he used that or not, it seems clear you should do what’s right now since you’re under such heavy conviction.

  21. Hi Scott, thank you for this article. A friend and I were reading it and we have a few questions. I think it’s pretty clear in that you don’t necessarily have to go back and restitute every wrong you’ve done, that it’s not a requirement. His question seems to be about the Holy Spirit comment at the very end. I think it’s pretty clear that the only way that restitution would become a requirement is conditionally – if and only if the Holy Spirit burdens you with the desire to restitute. It would therefore be an obligation only if you feel it to be an obligation, and not an obligation in all cases, is this correct?

    1. Hello Ryan,
      Thanks for reading and asking. I copied your comment and responded below below your questions…

      I think it’s pretty clear in that you don’t necessarily have to go back and make restitution for every wrong you’ve done, that it’s not a requirement.


      His question seems to be about the Holy Spirit comment at the very end. I think it’s pretty clear that the only way that restitution would become a requirement is conditionally – if and only if the Holy Spirit burdens you with the desire to make restitution.

      It depends what you mean by the words “become a requirement.” If you mean a requirement for salvation, then no, restitution is never a requirement for salvation. Salvation only requires repentance and faith in Christ. If you mean a requirement for obedience, then I’d say, yes. If the Holy Spirit convicts you to make restitution, then failing to do so would be disobedient/sinful.

      It would therefore be an obligation only if you feel it to be an obligation, and not an obligation in all cases, is this correct?

      Again, it depends what you mean by “be an obligation.” If you mean an obligation for salvation, then no. If you mean an obligation for obedience, then yes.

      Just to respond to something else I think you MIGHT be asking: if the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted you, and/or brought it to mind, then no, I don’t see how it could be an obligation. In most cases you wouldn’t even remember. If the Holy Spirit does bring it to mind and convict you, burden you, etc to make things right, then yes, you’re obligated to do so.

      Please let me know if you have any more questions!

  22. I agree with what was said on top if God says he can’t remember a sin then he won’t bring it up. It’s up thinking of having to work out salavstion and doesn’t trust simply in the blood. Like what was said restitution was a mosaic law concept to govern at that time. Zaccheaus operated under this notion as well as Jesus had not yet established the new convent. I wouldn’t worry so much about the past as I woukd the bright future. Don’t let the past bring you down when you can impact other people for the kingdom of Jesus.

    1. Hi Jeff,
      Thanks for your sentiments.

      You said:

      God says he can’t remember a sin

      Not sure if this is semantics or not, but Scripture says God won’t remember. I think that’s different than God “can’t” remember. One shows God doing something deliberately (out of love and grace for us), while the other makes God seem…forgetful :).

      At any rate, good thoughts about Zaccheaus and his actions being governed – or at least encouraged by – the Old Covenant! And thanks for the encouragement about looking past old sins toward the future in Christ.

  23. Here is my submission on this very crucial matter,the bible says :Hebrews 8:12 (KJV)
    12For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
    – This is the crux of the new testament ,if God has chose to forgive & forget our unrighteousness & iniquities,why then are we mentioning it again..? Why do we find it difficult to forgive ourselves..Zacheaus spoke on restitution based on the law that still exists at his time. Remember that Jesus was yet to die & so the testament was not new yet. But now that all things are new where did we see the law of restitution that we are talking about here? Won’t it amount to self righteousness to be practicing restitution ? I need detail response on this cogent issue. The thief that met Christ Jesus on the cross,did he restitute before he went to paradise?

    1. Hello Charles,
      I generally agree with what you’re saying. Great point about Zacheaus operating under the Mosaic Law. I hadn’t thought of that.

      Tone is hard to convey in writing, so I can’t really tell if you’re disagreeing with any of the post? It sounds to me like we generally agree with each other.

      The only thing is you said…

      Won’t it amount to self righteousness to be practicing restitution ? I need detail response on this cogent issue.

      I would disagree with this, because I think if God convicts us to do something – or not do something – and we’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit and obey, I don’t think that’s self-righteous. I think that’s obedient.

  24. Thank you for your words of encouragement. I’ve been a Christian for many years, but only recently the Lord has brought back to my mind many truly awful, shameful things from my youth and earlier years. I can’t tell you the “stabs” of shame that I felt at remembering what I’d done, and even the sin I commited at age 13 or 14 is as vivid today as it was when I commited it. And trust me, these sins aren’t “glamorous” Iif you know what I mean) but simply awful. I lately realize that the shame I’ve felt about my sins has kept me from intimacy with the opposite sex. I’ve always felt as if a good Christian guy (or any guy!) knew the truth about me, they’d reject me, so I always kept my distance. Before I began to remember these shameful things, I’d felt as if my Christian walk was dry. I asked the Lord to allow me to understand and to appreciate the cross, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for my shame and my sins. I’d forgotten that I prayed this, and so the weight of all of my remembered sins was almost unbearable. Thankfully, our pastor was about to begin a sermon series on the topic of shame, and with God’s grace and love, I am beginning to realize that Jesus Christ really did take the shame of my most shameful sins. My big struggle has been about restitution: to whom should I confess some of these things? Should I confess all of them? I realize that some confessions are necessary (to the person/people involved); but others may be detrimental. I really thank you for the good truth that “if God wanted us to directly address sins of the past, He will bring it about in His own perfect timing (which He often does!).” Please pray for me as I am in this process of healing and trusting God. Thank you again, so much!

    1. Thank you for the comment. We’ve all done “truly awful, shameful things” in our pasts. Thank God for the forgiveness through Christ.

      I’ve heard many people say their past sexual sins have affected their sexual relationships in the future. It’s one of the unfortunate consequences of sin, but one still by God’s grace that can be healed.

      I don’t know who you are, but I will pray for you!

  25. Might I add that taking responsibility for what you’ve done is important, too. Again, tho’, I think God gives us graceful opportunities to right wrong’s so long as our hearts are right and our eyes are on Him.

    1. Well said Summer (on both of these comments).

      Regarding damaged past relationships, while I let Katie know I’d be as transparent with her about my past as she’d like, she preferred not to know anything, because – like you said – she saw me as a different person. She wanted to leave the past in the past.

      And yes, God definitely has a way of introducing into our lives anything He does still want us to address from the present or past.

    2. Hi Summer,
      I definitely agree with you…when it comes to the Christian life. I was striving simply to address conversion (hence the way the title is worded), and I feel like “adding” this requirement to salvation would be unbiblical. I do hope I provided the right balance though, at the end, where I wrote:

      With that said, if the Lord convicts…
      The Holy Spirit could burden you to make some form of restitution for past sins:

      Ask for forgiveness from someone you’ve hurt.
      Repay someone for something you’ve stolen.
      Tell someone the truth after a lie you’ve told.
      Try to fix the reputation of someone you’ve slandered.
      If God convicts you about some form of restitution, by all means obey the Lord.

  26. When Scott and I attended a Christian conference 12 years ago, the speaker spent a good segment of his talk discussing how to address ‘old’ sins. He was a firm believer in confronting them, and seeking forgiveness in all things. I am all for that.

    This, of course, included damaged boy/girl relationships. That didn’t sit right with us. Scott and I talked long and hard about this, and really felt like – unless a situation presented itself – it wasn’t something that one should re-hash, become obsessed with, or even seek out at all. We should instead focus on our changed life, and ultimately, on God completely. We are no longer that person; those sins are no longer ours.

    I think if God wanted us to directly address sins of the past, He will bring it about in His own perfect timing (which He often does!). Don’t force it or let it consume what could otherwise be glorifying to God.

    If it’s a burden, bring it to God. Do what you can within reason (and so long as it isn’t destructive). And let it go.

    If it were only that easy sometimes…. Prayer is a powerful thing!

    1. Summer,
      I’m all for confronting old – or new – sins. As far as seeking forgiveness for them, do you know if he meant before or after conversion?

      Also, how “old”? I think you could spend the rest of your life going back to those past sins trying to make them right…and still be unable to do so. We’ve got to hope if God has the grace to forgive us He’s got the grace to help others forgive us.

      Regarding past relationships, yes, I generally think those are best left in the past. Sometimes reaching out to past ex’s can cause problems, including upsetting our spouse, or even upsetting the person we’re seeking forgiveness from. Maybe that person moved on and doesn’t want to think about us again?

      You said, “I think if God wanted us to directly address sins of the past, He will bring it about in His own perfect timing (which He often does!). Don’t force it or let it consume what could otherwise be glorifying to God.”

      Yes, I completely agree with this!

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