You have sinned and you will sin against God, probably soon after reading this. Not only do we have a propensity to sin against God, but we also have sinned and will sin against others.
Every person since Adam is a sinner by nature and choice (Pss. 51:5; 58:3; Rom. 3:23; see also Ps. 53:3; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; 1 John 1:10). Everyone (except Jesus Christ) is, from conception, sinful by nature and corrupted to the very core of his or her being and incapable of doing anything that pleases God (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:10–18; 8:7–8). Since we are sinners at the root of our being, we will struggle with sin (Ps. 51:5; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:9–10; 7; Eph. 2:1–3).
So, the question is not whether we will sin against God or someone else. The question is, “How will we deal with that sin?”
The following five steps were originally written by our elders and myself. This is a product of our collective thoughts on a reconciliation process for church members. I’m sharing it with you today with the hope of being helpful to you as you seek reconciliation with God and others.
STEP 1: CONVICTION
God made us with a conscience to guide our decision making through life and to make us feel convicted when we do wrong. God the Holy Spirit shines the light of grace on our sin, exposing it for what it is, calling us and helping us move to repentance (John 16:8–11; 1 Thess. 1:5; Jude 1:15). The Holy Spirit often does his convicting work through other Christians who love us enough to ask about junk they see in our lives. Conviction is an essential step to exposing sin for what it is so we can be free from enslavement to sin.
STEP 2: CONFESSION
As the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and renews our mind, we must then name our sin as God does and accept the truth that we have sinned. Confession means agreeing with God and telling the truth about who we are and what we have done. Confession includes naming our sin to Jesus and anyone else we have sinned against, or who may have been affected by our sin.
James 5:16 teaches us it is best to confess sin to faithful Christians who will pray for us and help us grow in holiness.
STEP 3: REPENTANCE
The heart of repentance is changing your mind about who is god in your life. When we sin, we are worshiping someone or something else as a false god and functional savior. In repentance we turn from those false gods back to the true and living God of the Bible, who alone loved us enough to die for our sin and freedom.
This means a deep change of values occurs, and we change our mind about what we deem important. Then there will be a heart-sourced change of behavior. We must learn to repent continually by turning our face to Jesus and turning our back on sin.
Repentance is not trying to manage our sin, but rather putting it to death before it puts us to death. Colossians 3:5 says it perfectly: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
True repentance is among the greatest gifts given to us because of Jesus’ work on the cross for our sins. In it we find our humility, joy, forgiveness, hope, redemption, perspective, identity, and future.
STEP 4: RESTITUTION
When we sin, we are also stealing from other people. This may include actual property or such things as trust, love, and intimacy. The Bible is clear that our redemption is a gift of grace from Jesus alone to be received by us through personal faith in him (Eph. 2:8–9). The result of this gift of salvation is a new heart that loves Jesus, is humble, and leads to an ongoing life of good works (Eph. 2:10)—not so that Jesus will redeem us, but because he has.
These good works will include our seeking to make restitution for all we have done, whether directly or indirectly, to damage others. Because we love people at a heart level, we want to restore what we took. Parts of the Bible, such as Exodus 22:1–17 and Numbers 5:5–10, speak of this kind of repayment, and men like the rich people in Nehemiah as well as Zacchaeus in the New Testament modeled it when they repaid the people they had stolen from (Luke 19:8).
STEP 5: RECONCILIATION
Once the previous steps have been undertaken, the sin that separated people is forgiven and taken away by Jesus with the hope that they can be brought back together in a loving and trusting relationship. No matter what, if we commit ourselves to the lifelong pursuit of the above gospel process, then reconciliation with others is possible in this life. However, trust, friendship, and relationship are restored only upon confession of sin; they are the fruit of repentance.
Confession and repentance involve: (1) real acknowledgment of the offense; (2) remorse (beyond “I’m sorry I got caught”) for the pain it caused; (3) restitution where appropriate; and (4) renewal of character and lifestyle.
Trust is always lessened or destroyed when sin is glossed over or “forgotten” without restoration. Such spiritual denial subverts forgiveness and reconciliation.
A FINAL WORD
It almost goes without saying that this is a very difficult process. Even when all parties involved are working hard to ease the impact of sin, the bruising and pain sometimes make restoration impossible.
If you, or those involved in the disruption of your relationship through sin, fail to work through the process in good faith, restoration is impossible. But by God’s grace, even if it does not occur on earth, we have the promise that it will happen in heaven if those involved are Christians.
This post is adapted from Vintage Church (166–170) by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187.