Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Restoration

Jack knew that he must forgive Jill. Jack knew that he could forgive Jill. He knew the offense but she didn’t. He knew her attitude had not changed but she didn’t. He knew she needed to recognize her wrongs and confess, but she didn’t. Jack knew his forgiveness of Jill did not depend on any of these circumstances. Why?

All of Jack’s sins were forgiven by God when he put his faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus secured Jack’s forgiveness through His perfect person and work on Jack’s behalf. Jack is a forgiven sinner living in the abundance of grace. His wealth is so vast, and his thankfulness so deep he can afford to settle Jill’s moral debts by extending forgiveness as he has been forgiven in Christ.

As one writer says, “On account of the gospel, even massive debts of pain, loss, and grief can be settled from our own “bank account” of grace.” Jack’s account of grace in Christ Jesus is so full, he will never miss a payment to set Jill free from the relationship debt she owes him. But Jack’s forgiveness of Jill does not insure reconciliation and restoration where there is great pain and hurt in their relationship due to sin.

Forgiveness from the heart is not the same as a reconciled and restored relationship. Forgiveness always lays the groundwork for reconciliation and restoration, but does not always promise a beautiful relational edifice.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Reconciliation requires mutual repentance, confession and forgiveness. There are times in a relationship when love covers a multitude of sins, or glory is displayed in the overlooking of an offense. However, relational harm and the shattering of Christ’s honor in a relationship requires reconciliation.

Reconciliation requires both parties to acknowledge their sins and failures. This is called repentance. It is important in relational conflict to acknowledge what you have done to bring relational harm or how you have dishonored the name of Christ. Second, reconciliation requires an admission to your own contribution to the conflict. This requires mutual confession with a heart willing to grant forgiveness to one another. There are two sides to the relationship and reconciliation requires both sides to act in repentance, confession and forgiveness.

Jack and Jill knew they were at odds. Jack suggested that they take some time after the children went to bed to reflect on what was causing harm in their relationship and if there was anything dishonoring Christ in their relationship. They both took time to “look at the log in their own eye”. They came together and confessed their sins to one another and their Lord, trusting him to forgive them, and in that grace they forgave one another. There was forgiveness and reconciliation, but there was still need for further restoration.

Restoration, Reconciliation and Forgiveness

Reconciliation requires mutual repentance, confession and forgiveness. Restoration is a process of rebuilding trust, respect, and closeness in relationship. Reconciliation and restoration have different goals and paths for reaching the desired ends. Restoration always requires reconciliation to come first.

If I broke my leg in a skiing accident I would go to the hospital or doctor to set the bone and get casted. It would only be after a period of healing that I would go to the physical therapist to restore my leg to usefulness. It would not be beneficial if I went to the physical therapist before the bone was fully healed.

Trying to pursue restoration, trust-respect-closeness, without first going through reconciliation, repentance-confession-forgiveness, is not helpful. Yet, we often are looking for peace for ourselves, so we short circuit what's best for our relationships by pushing on to restoration without reconciliation.

Jack needed to confront Jill on sin that had brought harm to their relationship. He had to reflect on his own sin and trust God for forgiveness before he ever went to her. Now, having both repented and confessed and given forgiveness, they were ready to rebuild trust, respect and closeness. But Jack feared being lied to again. He even noticed his insecurity around Jill. He saw how he tried asking her questions to get her to say things over again in different ways to insure she was telling the truth. Jack had to learn to trust Jill as she told him certain things, respect her as someone God was changing into a truth teller reflecting the image of Christ, and draw close to her in relationship as a sinner like himself whom God had justified by faith in Christ, not being afraid of being hurt by her again. 

Jack and Jill learned that living at peace with one another takes work. They needed to make every effort at forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). They knew they needed to keep short accounts in their own life and with one another, paying close attention to themselves and breathing the air of forgiveness. But they knew because God had reconciled them to himself in Christ by his own death and resurrection, they had all the stores of his grace to give in a life of gratitude overflowing in forgiving love.

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” Miraslov Volf


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