How do you make right the unintended, unforeseen, unwanted consequences of your sin?
Well, you need to first acknowledge that – while you cannot control or even take responsibility for everything that ripples out of your sin – the consequences of your sin are your fault.
Because of what you did.
And nothing can ever be made right until you own up to the fact that something, or someone, has been damaged through your ignorance, negligence, or selfishness.
Once you’ve accepted responsibility for your sin you need to confess it and repent of it. Simply put, this means telling the other people involved that you accept responsibility and that you’re turning over a new leaf, as it were.
Speaking strictly about your relationship with God, that’s all you need to do to be right with Him. Scripture is clear God shows Himself to be merciful and gracious by sending His Spirit to you to convict you and His Son to reconcile you. Having confessed and repented, you may approach God with confidence. There is no need for further action on God’s part, not even a need for mutual reconciliation – as if God were somehow to blame for our sins. No – we were estranged from Him and He has always awaited our return.
We are the cheating spoon. And He has never left us.
Making things right with others, however, can be far more complicated. So, rather than prescribe a set course of action, I want to encourage you to be led by the Spirit in your efforts at reconciliation. This means that – in order to make things right – you must begin with prayer. You must ask God for wisdom and guidance concerning what you should do next.
Shadowing God requires knowing God personally – being able to determine when He’s speaking to you and what He’s saying. God promises to lead us in this life, to guide us and help us through it, but it requires our attention.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.
The Good Shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them…His sheep following him because they know his voice…I am the Good Shepherd.
When we know His will and act accordingly, the Spirit’s action in our lives produces positive results known as the Fruit of the Spirit. The Bible defines the Fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control. More often than not, the Fruits of the Spirit will be your gateway to reconciliation. Gentleness makes our former harshness soften. Kindness makes our former indifference forgotten. Faithfulness makes our infidelities fade. And so on.
But these things take time and an incredible amount of submission to God in order to appear in our lives…and the life of those who claim and profess to follow Jesus Christ, who have the Holy Spirit living in them – is primarily marked by the way we live.
I want you to remember that as you try and make things right with others. God sees our hearts and knows our intentions…but other people need to see real change in the way we live and think and behave in order to ever truly forgive us. God promises patience with our progress, an jilted lover does not, neither does an insulted co-worked, a neglected daughter, or a banker of any kind.
All Christians receive the Spirit, and the Spirit is present with us as a helper and a counselor – He tells us what to do. When he does, he begins to communicate with us so we learn to understand the voice of the Spirit. Typically that voice is understood as a sense of direction or a strong conviction that we ought to act in this way or not this way. Pay attention to that voice. If you feel like God is telling you to do something, the first thing you should do is start talking to all the godly people you know about it. If they all sort of smile and rub your shoulder and politely nod, you might want to rethink your course of action. If, however, they confirm what you think God is saying to you then you must act.
That is the path to reconciliation. God wants us to follow Him, to shadow Him, to move in step with Him so that we can enjoy the full measure of his designs for us. And, because the basic reality of our world is a spiritual reality, His voice in our lives is the best resource we have for making things right in this life.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com