First of all, let me say that the Bible teaches restitution for sins. For instance, in Luke chapter 3, John the Baptist is preaching and in verse 7, John said to crowds coming to be baptized, “you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath. 8 Produce fruits in keeping with repentance”.
So, he is saying if you are truly repentant, repentance produces fruits and some people will be like, that’s a good heart. Yes, that’s a good heart, but the heart isn’t where the fruit is show. The heart is the root. The actions are the fruits, and you’ll see that further when he then says
“… do not begin to say to yourselves we have Abraham as our father, for I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
John addressed tax collectors and told them not to take more than they were meant to. That’s because Tax collectors took a whole lot more than they were meant to take. In their society, they were considered the worst of sinners.
Now, in Luke 19, Jesus came to a tax collector’s house, Zacchaeus’, and people said in verse 7, he has gone to be with the guest of a sinner but Zacchaeus stood up in verse 8 and said, “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.” That’s restitution.
Jesus said to him on account of this restitutive fruit of repentance, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham”
Remember John said, don’t say that you’re just children of Abraham, it’s the fruit of repentance that matters. Jesus says I have seen that fruit of repentance here, he is truly a son of Abraham.
Now if you go to the Old Testament, there are ways to restitute actions that have been given.
When we talk about restitution, we are basically saying, certain acts have been made and those acts, injurious acts, caused certain difficulties in certain people’s lives and restitution is a counter action that is in some ways trying to repair the damage of what was caused before. And I think the Bible is clear that is a fruit of repentance.
Now, that is the biblical principle, but having said that, there is no one view of how you go about restitution and there are certain cases that are difficult. If you just say yes, the Bible teaches restitution, what about if someone says, “Okay I cheated on my jamb, I’m now in year four in the university, I want to make restitution, what do I do?”
Now that is one view. There’s also issue of the impact of slavery on the African Americans, because you can see a legacy of intergenerational poverty that is partly due to the actions that the people commit themselves but also the conditions that have been set as a result of slavery, and so, there are debates that there has to be some restitution made.
I tried to follow a little bit of the people that believe there should be restitution made. Do you know what I’ve found out about most of these people? They don’t agree on what that restitution should be. So, in certain instances particularly when you’re thinking about group wide, how you go about restitution itself is not that easy. It’s complex.
Sometimes restitution is very easy especially when its personal. Notice that Jesus did not tell Zacchaeus exactly what to do but Jesus acknowledged that what Zacchaeus did was actually sufficient. Sometimes you’ve sinned against somebody, you’ve done something quite injurious, and you just keep telling the person “what do I need to do, what do I need to do.” If you’re doing that, you are just trying to save yourself from the guilt, you are not trying to restitute and repair the person’s damage. You see, repairing the damage is not what saves you, what saves you is actually confessing your sins and turning to the Lord but the proof of that, is that you also care about the damage that has been caused to that person.
If you throw out certain things to me like the slavery issue, I think in some ways maybe there should be restitution, but I don’t know what it should be. Is it monetary? Is it land allocation? Is it affirmative action, that is where you give a group of people favourable responsibility to jobs or to position because they have been historically marginalized. And then, there is the question of when does it ever end? And that is a legitimate question for people who have benefitted but have not committed the sins of their fathers. How much do they have to pay back? If it is an adultery situation, sometimes restitution is just keeping your mouth shut to show a humble attitude. Even when the offended person is wrong, you have to find different ways. This is not to say that person can’t do what’s wrong, it’s not even to say you can’t talk about it, but a heart of restitution says, this kind of damage I did to this person requires me taking this kind of humble approach throughout.
I believe the Bible teaches restitution, but I also believe that it’s not equally distributed, it’s not equally going to be done. It has some complexities attached to it.
Femi Osunnuyi is lead pastor of City Church, a gospel-centred urban church in the city of Lagos. Because of his passion for church planting and leadership development he also serves on the Lead Team of Acts29 and the Advisory Team of City to City Africa. He is happily married to Tosin and is father to Tofunmi and Timilehin.