We have seen it happen many times. The invitation song is sung and during that last verse a struggling or wayward Christian comes forward. In some instances it is because of sins they have committed for which they are ashamed and repentant; other times it is the fact that they have been out of duty for a period of time, doing nothing to serve the Lord and they want to rededicate their lives to God and his service. How do we react to those individuals?
You see, when it comes to an individual obeying the Gospel and being immersed in water, the response is unanimous – there is joy and happiness and thanksgiving. Unfortunately, sometimes the reaction is not the same when an individual comes forward seeking forgiveness and restoration. Sometimes it is because there have been problems and sins committed within the congregation and among individuals; and injured feelings are still present. Sometimes there is the feeling of judgment as to the sincerity of the individual who is seeking restoration: are they serious, or will this be occurring again in a few weeks or months? So people go up, shake their hand or give them a quick hug, exchange some pleasantries and that is the end of it. Brethren, such a response ignores the tenor of Scripture as to the magnitude of what occurs when one seeks restoration to God. Consider the Scriptures.
James wrote, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (Jam. 5:20-21). James says that the erring member who is brought back is a soul saved from death. That individual was one who was on the way to eternal condemnation if corrections were not made, but there is now reunion with God because of repentance.
Jesus gave the account of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:11-13 when he said, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.” When combined with the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 the imagery is clear: God rejoices just as much with the restoration of a lost sheep of the flock as he does when a new sheep is added to the fold.
The question for us is: do we react like God? Do we, with joy and thanksgiving, embrace that brother or sister and let them know the prayers that have been answered and the joy that is felt at seeing them return to Christ? Do we publish their names in the church bulletin with the same zeal and joy that we would a new member of the flock? Do we send them cards of encouragement thanking them for their courage and desire to do what is right? Do we make special efforts to strengthen them for the work after the same type as we would a new convert? We should be doing all of these things. There should never be any doubt as to how we feel when the erring come home, and it should never be shown to be the reactions of the older brother (Luke 15:25-32). Instead, it should be with the love, mercy, and exuberance exhibited by the father at the saving of a lost soul.
Let us ever monitor our reactions to restorations, for they say a great deal about our priorities, our spiritual focus, and our own relationship with God; and may our love for God and our brethren give us the compassion and forgiveness necessary to always respond appropriately.