STRANGE THINGS ON THE INTERNET
T. PIERCE BROWN
Reading the various letters on the internet of those who are reputed to be gospel preachers is enlightening and sometimes shocking. If one is humble and open minded, he might be able to learn a new truth, or a new aspect to an old truth. However, I was shocked a few moments ago to read from one who claims to have been a preacher of the gospel for many years, who made the plain statement, “A thief who repents does not need to make restitution.” We have heard various persons who were trying to defend the idea that a divorced person who had no scriptural right to divorce did not need to leave the wife that he sinned in marrying. In most cases, they simply did not answer the question, “If a person takes something that does not belong to him, and repents of it, does he need to give it back?” This person, however, was at least honest or bold enough to say, “No.” He verbally chastises those of us who have taught all of our lives that repentance involves restitution insofar as it is possible, and uses as part of his proof to the contrary that Paul simply says, “Let him that stole steal no more” (EPH. 4:28). He does not say, “Let him that stole return that which he stole” so that is supposed to prove that a person can keep what he stole, decide not to do it any more, and be approved of God.
We understand that the basic meaning of both “metanoeo” and “metamelomai” is a change of mind. We are not trying in this article to show the difference in them, which is suggested in 2 COR. 7:8-10, where Paul says, “For though I made you sorry with my epistle, I do not regret (metamelomai) it: though I did regret it (for I see that that epistle made you sorry, though but for a season), I now rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye were made sorry unto repentance (metanoian); for ye were made sorry after a godly sort, that ye might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance (metanoian) unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret (ametameleton): but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (ASV) The KJV uses the word “repent” instead of “regret” but we can see in either case that sorrow for a situation leads to a change of mind. That change of mind may cause a person to repent (metamelomia) like Judas and go hang himself, or repent as Peter told the Jews to do in Acts 2:38, (metanoesate) and be baptized for the remission of sins.
The repentance of which we are writing is “metanoia” which means a change of mind, but involves or leads to a reformation of life. A godly sorrow for sin leads to repentance and is a cause of it. Reformation of life follows repentance and is the result of it. The question with which we are specifically dealing is, “Does this reformation of life involve or necessitate restitution?” Anyone, even without any Bible knowledge at all, knows that there are some things about which one can repent that he cannot restore. The Jews who crucified Christ could repent, but could not restore his life. But from the Law of Moses on down it should be noted that when one unjustly deprived another of some thing, either the thing or something of equal or greater value must be restored in order to please God. In Matthew 5:23, 24, Jesus points out that if we have wronged our brother, we must try to make restitution before God will accept our gift. This is true whether we have wronged him by stealing his good name, his purse, his car or his wife. How anyone who believes that we should practice what is termed the Golden Rule could assume that if I steal your car, I do not need to give it back to you is amazing beyond our understanding.
Surely Moses did not have anything like that in mind in Exodus 22:1 when he said that one who stole an ox and sold it, must pay five oxen for it. Even if he borrows something and it dies, he was to make restitution (Ex.22:14). When we find in Lev. 6:5 that a person is to make restitution in full, and add one-fifth to it and give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day he presents his guilt offering, it surely would take some sort of convoluted reasoning to conclude that repentance does not involve restitution, when possible, and the offering of an equivalent value if restitution is not possible.
Surely Judas had an idea that when he repented he could not properly keep the 30 pieces of silver. Surely Zaccheus thought that repentance involved more than merely saying, “I am sorry, and will not do it again” for he wanted to make a fourfold restitution. Surely no thoughtful person can imagine Jesus saying to him, “Think no more of it. No one should think that in order to follow me you need to try to make right any wrong you have done insofar as possible, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Do not try to be more righteous than God.” We have to ask a serious question: If a person stole your car, and brought it back and said, “I am sorry” would you, or do you know of anyone else who would, say, “Don’t bother. Keep it, and Christ wants me to give you my truck also according to Mt. 5:40?”
When Paul says that the one who stole is to steal no more, he knew that his Jewish readers understood (as almost all men have always understood) that a person who is really sorry for his ungodly actions, whatever they are, will try to the best of his ability to undo the effects of those actions. Moses knew it, and even pagan people knew it. It did not take a Socrates, Aristotle or Plato to recognize that, although they would have logically come to that conclusion. So would anyone else, it seems to this scribe, that did not have something to prove that demands the torturing of logic and the perversion of scripture.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600