QUESTION: Do I need to make restitution as part of repentance?
If I stole $100 worth of tools from my boss eight years ago but now want to make things right, what shall I do? Shall I just accept Gods forgiveness and go on, or should I do something else?
Any time that one seeks forgiveness for past sins, we can rejoice. It is also commendable that one would sincerely want to know what to do about these earlier wrongs.
In short, it would be good to remember that God wants us to confess to the extent that we have sinned against another. If we have sinned only against God, we need only confess to God and seek His forgiveness. This is clearly shown in the familiar passage: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The term, confess, is from the Greek word homologeo, which means to speak the same thing. In this case, God wants us to speak the same thing as He does through His Word. If God says that something (lying, cursing, hating, anger) is sinful, then we need to confess this to Him, presumably with a repentant spirit.
Additionally, if we have sinned against another person, we need to confess to that person. Jesus said, If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering (Matthew 5:23-24). This would show that we need to repent and confess our sins against another person. You may remember that the prodigal son in Jesus parable determined to go back to the father and confess his sin of selfishness and seek his forgiveness (Luke 15:18-21).
Additionally, God wants us to make restitution for our sins. This means that we need to make amends for the wrongs we have done. If you have stolen $100 worth of tools (or anything else) from a previous employer, you should go back and confess your sin of theft to the manager, and ask his forgiveness. Then you should give the money or the tools back. Additionally, if you return the money, it would be proper to also give an additional amount to make up for inflation. You may recall how Zaccheus had a repentant heart when he spoke to Jesus. He said, Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much (Luke 19:8).
Sometimes making restitution can be embarrassing and difficult, but if we want to please the Lord, He will make a way for us to fulfill this fruit of repentance.