Wednesday, 18 July 2018

T The restoration of God's people

Complete and utter restoration

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The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
John 10:10

Here we see two opposite characters: One Who wants to give us life abundantly and one who wants to steal, kill and destroy. Whenever we commit sin, the enemy is quick to accuse us and to lay a feeling of guilt upon us, a burden that we cannot carry. Furthermore he so often tells us that we will never make it, that we’re never good enough and that we might as well give up, because God gave up on us. But the character of Jesus says it all. 

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8

This shows the remarkable love of God for us. What was there to love in us? What did we do for God? We weren’t righteous or good. We weren’t even searching for God. Yet He found us. It was the other way around indeed. He was the One searching for us. When God looks at us without Christ, there are only sinners to be seen. People filled with all the things that God hates so much and which are the total opposite of His character. There was nothing attractive to that. And still He decided to look through all of that and He gave us Jesus Christ, Who gave His life for us. Now that is sacrificial, selfless and unconditional love, aimed at nothing less than our complete and utter restoration. 

In this world, restoration means to bring something back to the former or original condition. That is the image we all have, when thinking about restoration. But in the Kingdom of our God that is not really the case. The word ‘restoration’ doesn’t really cover it. When we surrender all control to Jesus and when we let Him do the change in us, that is a whole new level of restoration. He doesn’t bring us back to the former or original condition, leaving all the scars, but He does something greater than that. He makes all things new. Without the scars. Blameless. And even that is not all He does. In the Kingdom of our God, restoration always means increase, multiplication or improvement, so that it becomes significantly better than its original state. 

Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you—the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil. “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be put to shame. 
Joel 2:23-26

Water is the image of fruitfulness. Without water, everything will become dry, desiccated and eventually dies. When the water comes, everything starts to become fruitful again. Even our own human bodies consist partially of water, ranging from 50% to 75%. So when God starts to talk about the rain, that is an image of fruitfulness and restoration. In verse 23 it talks about the ‘former rain’ as the rain that people were used to. Most Bible translations left this part out, but verse 23 actually talks about the ‘same measure as before’, which He will bring down on us. So according to the standards of this world, that is restoration. Everything goes back to ‘normal’. But then it says that the ‘latter rain’ will be added to that. And that is what we call increase. 

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39

In regard to these verses, Derek Prince once gave a beautiful explanation. He said: “As far as I understand it, it means that you go into a battle and that you come out of it with more then you’ve entered it. You’ve gained profit.” But does this mean that sin is profitable? Absolutely not. If you’ve paid attention, you have seen that it is sin that is destroying our lives. But it does mean that God’s grace is greater than that. He doesn’t reward the sin, He rewards the fact that we return to Him and that we put our trust in Him. And that is profitable. He doesn’t despise the wounded, weak and breakable people. Whenever we leave Him, He is on the lookout, longing to see us return and longing to bless us again and to overload us with His love and grace. 

It all seems so unfair that those who commit sin and repent will be restored, and even with increase. That goes against our feelings of righteousness. Is it unfair? Well, we can conclude that those who repent receive something they don’t deserve, which is forgiveness of sin and restoration. But that is exactly what grace is. Does it go against our feelings of righteousness? No. It goes against our feelings of condemnation and punishment. Grace goes against condemnation and punishment, because the aim of grace is to restore, while the aim of condemnation and punishment is to destroy, damage or to have revenge. The grace of God has been made available to us, because of Jesus. First He will restore us. Then He asks us to pay it forward and to grand the same grace to those who have sinned against you. I’m talking about the grace that goes all the way, to complete and utter restoration. 

Our relationship with God

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
John 7:37-38

Back to the water again. The book of Joel talks about the former and latter rain, Jesus talks about rivers of living water. In both cases it talks about fruitfulness and restoration, as well as about the One Who is the Guardian and Executor of this incredible restoration. We’re talking about the Holy Spirit, our best Friend and Helper. Without Him, none of this is possible. He restores our souls (Psalm 23:3) and He makes the life of God flow through us. In everything Jesus has showed us a perfect example. When we look at our precious Jesus, to His life and His character, we know the blueprint of the work that the Holy Spirit is going to do in us. He is going to make us according to the image of Jesus. 

Throughout His whole life, Jesus showed one huge pattern of restoration. His heart towards us is to save us, heal us, deliver us and to completely restore us. The pattern that He showed was pure grace. He did everything He could do from His side to make all of this possible for us. But in any relationship, there are more people involved. The first relationship God wanted to restore was and is the one between Him and you. The sort of relationship He wants is a heart to heart relationship (Matthew 15:8). When the heart isn’t in it, all is in vain (verse 9). First God draws us into the conviction of sin. At that point we can choose with our hearts to respond to that. When we do, He draws us into repentance (renewal of our way of thinking) and He will continue to draw us through the whole process, to the point of restoration and beyond, to increased restoration. But all of this can only happen when the heart is in it and when our decisions are sincere. The only thing He wants from us is a sincere heart. He does the work in us. When our heart is not completely in it or not completely sincere, for example because we rather choose to love the sin, He can and will not lead us to restoration. Simply because it is not possible to combine His Light with darkness. There are no grey areas. Every area that is not completely in the Light, belongs to the darkness. But when we have a sincere heart, there is no area where He can’t draw us away from, towards the Light. Remember, the keys are sincerity, acknowledgment, surrendering control, trusting and waiting (while staying in His Word).   

Our relationships with other people

This blueprint is also the one God wants us to use for the restoration of our relationships with people. This is something different than ‘just’ forgiveness. Forgiveness means releasing your claim from a person’s life by forgiving them and by no longer holding their sins against them, regardless of their attitude or response towards you. But as you can see in the blueprint that Jesus gave us, it doesn’t stop there. The blueprint continues to full restoration and increasing restoration. This is why we need the character that God is building in us. This is what it means to place yourself at the second place and the will of God at the first place. However, restoration cannot always take place.

When a person has sinned, when you choose to forgive this person and when you come at the point of reconciliation, there are a few things that need to happen in order to make restoration possible. These things are the same as in our relationship with God. Let me start by emphasizing that these things need to happen in the hearts of all involved, including in your heart. First of all, there needs to be sincerity, a sincere willingness to reconcile. This is NOT a condition for forgiveness (we should always forgive), but it is for restoration. Secondly, there needs to be acknowledgment of what happened between the people involved. The sort of acknowledgment that is meant here is what the Word of God says about the situation. Without acknowledgment no one will be able to move passed that point. These two points first need to happen in us, then in the ones involved. 

This may seem hard, but as we decide to forgive a person and to release our claim, God will immediately start the process of restoration in our hearts. He will heal the wounds, to the point where the pain dissolves and where it enables you to love that person again. As mentioned before, in everything we are depended on God. What He wants from us is a decision. When we decide that we want to follow His blueprint and submit ourselves to His perfect will, He will do it in us. After this decision, we surrender it all to God, while trusting Him that He will do His work in all people involved. We don’t try to steer the situation, but we let the Holy Spirit be the steersman. That is showing and living grace. Again, this does not mean that we trust the people involved. We don’t trust them, we only trust God. But we do love them, which is also a decision. You will be amazed to witness what God can do in you and the people involved!

And what if there is no sincerity or acknowledgment in one of the people involved? Restoration is only possible when all people involved are actively involved in it and when they are sincere in their relationship towards God and towards you. A fruit of that sincerity is acknowledgment. When they are not sincere and don’t acknowledge what happened, in the Light of the Word, they will never change. That keeps the door open for many other similar sins against you and against God. In this case we have no other option then to only forgive them and to keep our distance from them, while keeping the door open for when God draws them to conviction and repentance again, and for when they respond to it. The attitude of God is that He gives us chance after chance and grace upon grace (John 1:16). These are the situations that allow us to pay it forward, by reconciliation or by keeping the door open for when reconciliation becomes possible at some point in time. 

There is one other scenario where restoration is not possible. I’ve already pointed it out, but that is the scenario where it is you who is not willing to let grace have its full effect, even when the one who has sinned against you approaches you with a sincere heart and the desire to reconcile. In this case the forgiveness did not yet had its full effect. When we truly forgive someone, it is up to us to stick with that decision and to not be drawn away by our emotions or other distractions. Staying with the decision to forgive means keeping our focus on Jesus Christ, the author and finished of our faith. It is still a decision we have to make. More than that, it is about our trust in the work of Jesus in the life of that other person. Once a person surrenders to Jesus, it is all the work of Jesus from that moment on. You may not deal with a perfect person, but you know that the One working inside this person is doing everything to build the character of Jesus Christ. If we are not yet open for full restoration, while all the conditions are right, we need to change our minds (repent) and ask Jesus for the grace we need to fulfill His commandment of love and to let His grace have its full effect through us.

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