In 1932 when I was in kindergarten, I was walking home with a friend after school one day, and he told me that he would teach me how to steal a cookie. He was to stop at the corner store on the way home to buy a pound of hamburger. When he ordered the hamburger, the owner of the store would go to the back room to grind and wrap it. While the owner was doing that, my friend would go to the cookie display and open a small glass door over a bin of cookies. He would remove two chocolate marshmallow cookies, give one to me, and put the other in his own pocket. He would pay the merchant for the hamburger, and we would leave the store. Sure enough, it went just as planned.
The corner store was two blocks from my home. In the first block, each of us ate our cookie. In the second block, I could feel the chocolate and marshmallow around my mouth. I licked my lips and rubbed my face. I knew my mother would see my mouth and ask where I got the chocolate. Well, she did not ask.
Fifteen years later during my second year at the U.S. Naval Academy, I received Christ. My sins were forgiven. I had new life in Christ. Sometime later while on leave, I stopped by the corner store at 24th and Oak Street in South Omaha to make restitution for that stolen cookie. The store was no longer there. I gave the money to the Lord.
All sins require repentance. Some of those sins also require restitution. The most common kind of sin that requires restitution is theft. Leviticus 6:1-7 lists the forms of stealing:
The LORD said to Moses: “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do—when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.”After giving the different kinds of stealing, the passage tells the solution, the means of forgiveness for the one who stole:
1) Return what he stole.
2) Add 20% of the value and give that also to the person he stole from.
3) Bring a guilt offering to the Lord.
When these are done, the thief receives atonement and forgiveness for his guilt.
That is Old Testament. What about in the New Testament? First, Jesus’ death on the cross is the fulfillment of all Old Testament sacrifices: “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb. 7:27). Jesus’ death paid for the sins, the guilt, the death, and the punishment.
Jesus does not repay the man who got ripped off. The person who comes to the Lord in repentance is to pay the one he stole from the value of the stolen goods plus one fifth (20%).
There are other cases where the percentage is 300 or 400%. “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for
the sheep” (Ex. 22:1). Here God is telling Moses detailed instructions to give the people. This is one of them. The restitution for live animals is much different from the 20% instructed in Leviticus.
Why is this? An ox is a mammal which first reproduces, then gives milk, cheese, butter, meat, and leather. A castrated male pulls the plow to produce crops. The ox is its owner’s means of income. Therefore, it is to be returned plus four more (400%) to make up for the income which was lost when it was stolen. A sheep is a ruminous mammal that produces more sheep, wool, and meat. It is also a means of income and must be returned plus three more sheep (300%).
Is this restitution true for the New Testament? Yes. Zacchaeus returned fourfold to the people he had cheated. Restitution is repentance in action. Repentance is more than just a word. “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’” (Luke 19:9-10).
David knew this truth when he responded to Nathan’s story of the rich man who stole his poor neighbor’s pet lamb to feed his guest: “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity’” (2 Sam. 12:5-6).
What if we cannot find the person we stole from?
The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged. But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the LORD and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for him. (Num. 5:5-8)If the original owner or his relatives cannot be found, make restitution to the Lord.
One Sunday after teaching this, I was approached by a student and his wife. They wanted to see me urgently, so I made an appointment to see them at my home that afternoon. When they arrived, I asked what the problem was. The conversation went something like this:
Student: “It is what you talked about this morning.”
Me: “Wasn’t it clear? Didn’t you understand?”
Me: “Then why do you need to see me? You know what to do.”
Student: “Let me tell you anyway. I stole seventy rock music tapes that cost $6.99 each. I do not like that kind of music anymore, so I threw them away. I’ve got a leather fringe coat that I don’t wear anymore because it bothers my conscience to wear it. I have a pair of gym shoes I found at the boat races in the Tri-Cities; I have a basketball that I got from the men’s gym; I stole a bicycle ten years ago in Spokane.”
Me: “What is your problem? You know what to do.”
Student: “I don’t have any money.”
Me: “What are you and your wife living on if you do not have any money?”
Student: “The money I earned last summer. I have it budgeted for the rest of the school year.”
Me: “Oh. You do have money, but it is not your money. It belongs to the people you stole it from.”
Later he told me the success of the restitution.
Another student had been a heavy-equipment driver for a construction company. At the beginning of the summer, he had told his boss that he planned on going back to college in the fall. When he came to work the next day, the boss told him, “Since you are leaving in the fall, just don’t come back tomorrow.”
The student was angry that the boss had only given him one day’s notice when he had given the boss three months’ notice. He figured that the company owed him something, so he took a few tools with him.
In the fall, he heard the message on restitution and realized he had to return the tools. At Christmas, he put the tools in his car. While driving to the construction company, he was listening to Christian radio. The Bible teacher on the radio said that restitution was an Old Testament concept and that people under grace did not have to return things.
He was so glad! He turned around and went home. Then he put his initials on the tools. Later he was again convicted by the Holy Spirit. This time he had to take the tools back with his initials on them.
Restitution is for people under grace. Here’s why. Suppose I am not a Christian and am short of money. So I go into the First National Bank and hold it up. I put $100,000 in my bag and walk down the street. I come to a park where there is open-air preaching going on. There is
singing, testifying, and preaching, and a crowd of people listening. I join the crowd. I am convicted of sin and call on the Lord.
After the meeting, I go up to the preacher and say, “I did what you said. I prayed to God. I feel wonderful! What does that mean?”
The preacher says, “That means you have been born again.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means your sins have been forgiven.”
“Oh,” I say. “How many?”
“All of them!”
“All of them?”
“Yes, all of them.”
“Oh boy,” I reply. “Now I can enjoy this $100,000.”
“In my bag. I just relieved the bank of some extra money.”
The preacher looks at me. “Let’s take it back.”
“What do you mean, ‘Take it back’? You just told me I’ve been forgiven.”
“Yes, but it is not your money. You were forgiven for stealing it, but when you decided to keep it, you just stole it again.”
You may think that needing to return it is obvious. Yes—because it is $100,000, and the theft happened less than an hour before the repentance. But what if it is a candy bar you took twenty years ago? The amount stolen and the time since the theft do not make it yours. Take it back!
There are many Christians who are living subnormal Christian lives because they are too proud or too afraid to make restitution. They are like people with low-grade fevers; they are not sick enough to be in bed, but too sick to do anything worthwhile. Even if no one knows about the thefts, these Christians are poor witnesses for Jesus Christ.
They may have confessed and repented in words, but if they do not make restitution, it is not true repentance, and they are not forgiven.
When Christians act on this truth, there will be a revival in their own lives. When many Christians do it, there will be revival in the city, the state, and the country.