Imagine you walked in from work one day and your brand new 52” flat screen television was gone. So you call the police to report a burglary and as they begin their investigation they notice no signs of forced entry. This makes you wonder. So, when the police leave, you head over to see a friend, a friend you trusted so much that he had the spare key to your house. When you walk into his living room. Sure enough, your brand new television is sitting right there in his entertainment center. Now, imagine your friend, caught in his crime, immediately drops to his knees, weeping and begging for your forgiveness. You’ve known and loved this friend for years and this is the first time he has ever done anything like this. So, you decide to grudgingly accept his apology. But when you move to pick up the television to take it back home, your friend stops you.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the friend asks.
“I’m taking my new TV back home,” you reply.
But then your friend astonishes you, saying, “Wait. I’m not giving it back. I’m sorry for taking it, but I’m going to keep it.”
Would that be enough for you? No. You would want your friend to make the situation right. Just to prove he was sorry, you would probably appreciate him doing a little something extra for you, like washing your car or paying you a rental fee for the television. You might not require it, but something extra would go a long way toward proving he was genuinely sorry and toward helping you to forgive him, right?
As absurd as that scenario is, we sometimes have a tendency to act like that friend. We might not do something as obvious as steal a television, but we hurt people and cause them pain, we steal their time and efforts. We fudge our time at work or borrow money that we never intend to give back. We keep that nice dish that somebody loaned us and “forget” to give it back. We spin the facts about an event to make ourselves look good (and someone else bad, by extension). We find a cool gadget and neglect to inform its owner. And when we finally feel guilty enough we want to go to God and ask for forgiveness, but we don’t want anybody to know what we’ve done so we only tell God.
This tendency in ourselves is why God wrote in the Law of Moses, “When someone sins and offends the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in regard to a deposit, a security, or a robbery; or defrauds his neighbor; or finds something lost and lies about it; or swears falsely about any of the sinful things a person may do… He must make full restitution for it and add a fifth of its value to it. He is to pay it to its owner on the day he acknowledges his guilt. Then he must bring his restitution offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 6:2-6, HCSB). In the case of the law, God wasn’t even interested in accepting an offering until the sin being atoned for had been set right.
Now, Jesus has atoned for our sins and covered us because we are simply incapable of making right every sin we’ve ever committed. But as people who claim to love God and follow His Son, shouldn’t we want to make it right when we’ve done something wrong? Shouldn’t we care enough to right our wrongs and correct our mistakes and not simply try to get off on the technicality of Jesus’ sacrifice? Shouldn’t we be humble enough to admit when we’ve acted sinfully and do our best to make up for it when it is within our ability? Shouldn’t we do the right thing?
We can’t simply ask God to forgive us. To the best of our ability we must make the situation right and correct our wrongs. If we’re going to apologize, we need to return the television, too.