Part 2 of 2
Last month we began considering the various parts of biblical restoration when sin has separated believers. Often times, people quickly push past the early steps of reconciliation in an effort to get things back to where they once were as simplistically as possible. However, this is to ignore the damages of sin and to pretend like nothing has happened. Such a response is not the biblical path to restoration and is in fact antinomian (which means “anti-law” or to throw out the Law of God). So before we delve into the final three steps in the restoration process, perhaps it would be helpful to reacquaint ourselves with the first two: confession and repentance.
After the sinning party has confessed and repented for sin, then comes the appropriate response of forgiveness. Only after there has been this transaction of putting away one’s sins (“Would you please forgive me?” and the corresponding “yes, I forgive you”) can we fully and honestly attain to the final steps:
- Forgiveness - So often you will hear people repeat the extra-biblical notion “forgive and forget”, as though the goal of true biblical forgiveness is to pretend like the offense has never happened. Sadly, not only is such willful forgetting a human impossibility, it is not the Bible’s concept of forgiveness. Instead, forgiving someone’s sin-debt actually involves recognizing the costliness of such forgiveness. It is to understand the harm done and in spite of all the damage, to promise “I will not hold this wrong against you”. It is a wonderfully freeing place to be—to sincerely release someone from the debt they have incurred—and it is something that is well within the believer’s ability to grant, unlike pretending nothing ever happened.
To speak the words to a repentant brother or sister “I forgive you” is, in fact, to make several promises. It is to assure the errant friend, “I will not bring this up to your harm”, “I will not bring this up to myself” to stew over and grow resentful, and “I will not bring this up to others” as a means of tale-bearing. And just in case the reader has concern with the notion of building up sin-debt with fellow believers, a simple cross-reference of Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:28) will bear out this fact. There is real debt when one has sinned, and that debt must really be dealt with—by forgiving a repentant brother.
- Reconciliation - It is this step in the process where confusion begins to set in. If repentance and forgiveness have taken place, all is well, right? Everything goes back to normal; we’ve erased all debts, didn’t we? Reconciliation does not mean nothing happened and that there are no consequences of sin. For a relationship to be reconciled means there is no longer sin separating the two parties, and they once again deal with one another as brothers and sisters, not as offended parties. But there may be consequences even after forgiveness. Take for instance King David, whose sin is put away—he will not die—but he still experiences grievous consequences to his sin (2 Sam 12:10-14). Or after John Mark’s desertion on the first missionary journey, he is of course still viewed as a brother in the Lord, but not trustworthy to go with Paul on a second journey (Acts 15:39-40). Or in the case of Psalm 99:8, when God is described as a forgiving God toward the Israelites in the wilderness, but one who still punished their sins. Forgiveness does not mean zero ramifications or no fallout from sin.
While the Scriptures call us to deal with all of our siblings in the Lord as family, the Bible does not mandate the same degree of nearness between every individual in the church. We have differing degrees of relationships in the body of Christ, and that’s okay. Just as Jesus himself had differing closeness with the disciples (e.g. Peter, James, and John often had unique experiences when Christ would separate them out from the twelve—Mark 9:2; and John was rightly known as the beloved disciple, John 19:26) so too we are permitted differing degrees of entrusting ourselves to the various members of the church.
- Restoration - Here is the final step. This is when a relationship is fully restored, as though the sin has never transpired. In fact, the relationship may be all the stronger having come through a division where confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation have taken place. For lesser sins, this capstone-step may be very easily achieved. But for sins where trust is destroyed, or covenants violated, full restoration this side of glory may not be possible. If Jesus allows the innocent party in the case of adultery to lawfully sue out a divorce (Matt 19:9), this reality implies there can be forgiveness (Matt 18:21-22) without the complete restoration of the relationship. The truly miraculous work of the Spirit is when a relationship not only expunges sin in the repentance and forgiveness process, but when the two parties are once again made propitious toward one another. And doesn’t this fully-executed biblical process speak of just how thoroughly God has put away our sin in the Gospel of his Son!
After unpacking the many steps of biblical reconciliation, we can see that relational restoration takes time and a lot of work—but it is hard work worth doing. If we’re honest, ordinarily we take shortcuts. But praise be to Christ that he didn’t take any shortcuts in restoring us all the way to God our Father!