The third condition to having our sins forgiven is Restitution. This long word simply means that we make every effort to correct the things we have done wrong. Of course, we recognize that it is never possible to reach into the past and rectify every wrong, every lie, and every dishonest act. In the first place, we can't even remember all the times we were guilty of those things. It would probably drive a person insane to feel the responsibility for such an impossible demand. Nevertheless, the Spirit probes our consciences and reminds us of the matters that can be made right.
If something has been stolen, it certainly should be restored. If lies have been told which damaged someone's reputation, we can apologize and tell the truth in order to remove any stigma on that person's character. Sometimes prison might be a possible consequence if crimes of theft or robbery have been committed, but it is very important to arrange repayment whenever the possibility exists. In cases where restitution is not possible, the repentant one can safely trust the cleansing merits of Christ's blood to provide pardon and restoration.
Is it difficult to confront and correct our past sins? Indeed, it is probably the most excruciating part of the redemptive process. This may explain why so many have convinced themselves that it is not a biblical requirement. But might it not also provide a partial explanation as to why spiritual renewal has been so elusive in the modern church? Many believe that a tremendous revival would sweep the Christian churches if every member made genuine restitution to those they have wronged.
Meeting the three conditions of repentance, confession, and restitution brings assurance that the longest step has been taken in becoming a true Christian. The sins are now forgiven and can no longer crush the conscience with guilt. Here is where we encounter the real answer to the question about the transfer of sin onto the divine Substitute. When we reach out in faith, believing that He truly has taken our place on the cross, a very marvelous transaction is consummated. The death penalty that rested upon us is instantly removed from us and placed on Jesus. It is exactly as though we were with Him on the cross suffering the required sentence, and yet, we were only there by faith. He experienced the pain and punishment for us, but because we confess Him as our Saviour, He actually treats us as though we ourselves had died and paid the penalty for our own guilty acts.
But not only does God accept the atoning sacrifice of His Son as a total satisfaction of the universal death sentence against every member of the fallen race, He imputes to each one who chooses to accept it the credit for living a life just as holy as Jesus lived. In other words, they are not only declared "not guilty"; they are declared to be just as righteous as the sinless Saviour who lived here in the flesh for 33 years without committing a single sin. It is in this amazing manner that all degrees of transgression are canceled, and "whosoever will" may stand without condemnation before God. His faith alone has opened a door to a new "standing" in relation to God. It is called justification, and it provides forgiveness for every wrongdoing of the past that has been repented of, confessed, and forsaken. And even though it can be said that the death of Jesus, in one sense, made a corporate reconciliation of all men to God, it is only through personal acceptance of the sacrifice that anyone can experience "justification by faith."
Does the totality of salvation, then, consist of a mere "accounting" on the part of God? Is our part only to believe that God does everything for us, and then wait for Him to waft us on rose-tinted clouds into the kingdom of heaven? Indeed not. So far, we have described that part of righteousness by faith that flows from outside ourselves. It is called justification and is based wholly upon the objective acts of God in our behalf. It is true that we cannot work for this imputed credit for being righteous. We can only accept the atoning merits of the blood of Jesus, which bears witness that somebody else paid the penalty for our sins. By exercising faith in this divine Substitute, who took our place in death, we acquire a certain "standing" of righteousness before God.
But it is most necessary that we understand that God does not ascribe some legal fiction to us by calling us righteous when we really are not. Righteousness by faith includes more than just a "standing" or "accounting." God not only imputes righteousness to us through justification to take care of our past sins, but He imparts righteousness to us through sanctification to keep us from future sins. In other words, there is a "state" of righteousness before God as well as a "standing" of being righteous. We'll have more to say about these two aspects of righteousness by faith as we move into the next chapter. Keep in mind, though, that whether imputed or imparted, all true righteousness originates with God and resides in us only as long as Christ abides in us through faith.
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