Restoring a Believer
What is Restoration?
A wandering believer is a true Christian who has fallen into a pattern of unrepentant sin. He is ensnared. He has fallen into a pit. He needs God to restore Him with a mighty and merciful hand. The restoration of a wandering believer is when God restores him or her to heartfelt repentance.
If you are caught in a pattern of unrepentant sin, then seek the Lord for mercy that He might, by His power and faithfulness, grant you repentance and you get back on the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake (Psalm 23:3).
A rusted out car needs to be restored. A crumbling foundation needs to be restored. A child of God in a pattern of unrepentant sin likewise needs to be restored. He needs a Spirit-born repentance to take up residence in his heart. He needs a great work of God that turns him from the corrupt enjoyment of sin to a holy and joyful obedience according to God's Word.
Confidence in God's Restoration
Last week's sermon from 1 John 5:13-21 was about the fact that God will restore the wandering believer to repentance (see also 2 Corinthians 13:9, 11; Luke 22:32). We know God will restore His children to repentance because, first, He has already given them eternal life (1 John 5:13, 20). The present possession of eternal life inwardly guarantees the future inheritance of eternal life in full bloom (Philippians 1:6).
Second, we know God will restore the wanderer because our risen Lord Jesus personally protects us (1 John 5:18-19). Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and He will never abandon His sheep to our own devices and shortcomings (1 Corinthians 1:7-8; 1 Peter 1:5; Romans 5:9-10; 8:35-39; John 6:35-40; 10:27-30; Ephesians 1:13-14; Jude 24-25). Rejoice and be glad, beloved of God, that Christ will never leave you nor forsake you. We may stumble, but He will not leave us to fall. You may have wandered, but the Good Shepherd of your soul will restore you.
Third, we know God will restore wandering believers because God answers prayer (1 John 5:14-17). Have confidence in prayer because God is faithful to listen and wise to answer according to His purpose. God uses our prayers to accomplish His purposes on earth. But let us ask in faith, not doubting (James 1:5-8). There are, however, other directives from Scripture to help restore believers to repentance when caught in a pattern of sin. So here they are as a supplement to the sermon on 1 John 5:13-21.
The Path to Restoration
"Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Corinthians 13:5)
One good way to examine your heart and life is to read Galatians 5:16-16 and use it as a spotlight for your soul. What do you see under the light? Are you walking in the flesh in one or more areas of life? Are you given over to walking in the Spirit? God will often use sincere self-examination under the light of His Word to convince you of your sin and bring you to repentance. Go to God, then, but going to His Word prayerfully and humbly.
2. Private Calls to Repentance
"Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." (Galatians 6:1; see Psalm 141:5; Matthew 7:1-5)
"My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,  let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:19–20)
The "spiritual should restore" the wanderer because they will come with a humble "spirit of gentleness" – bringing the gracious love and genuine compassion of the Lord. The immature and unspiritual may have the right knowledge, but not the right spirit. One who comes in pride and a harsh spirit will approach the issue from a legalistic mindset. This will only make matters worse and throw more flame on the fire of the wanderer's rebellious sinful passions.
The wanderer needs a gospel-humbled, gospel-bringing brother or sister who knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that only the risen Christ and the power of the gospel can grant restoration. Laws, rules, principles, and strategies that turn the wanderer inward can, at best, bring about the outward appearance of repentance, but not the real thing.
3. Patiently Bearing with Each Other
"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself." (Galatians 6:2-3)
God will restore the wanderer in His own timing and wisdom. Spiritual growth takes time. Inward repentance can happen immediately, but sometimes the outward application of that repentance requires some time. The wander has been in a spiritual haze. He has not been seeing things clearly. He has been deceived and has been deceiving himself. He has trained himself to be the willing prey of temptation. He has conditioned himself to indulge in that which is unholy and–and this is the real diabolical aspect of it–to enjoy it and secretly revel in his ungodly enjoyments. This requires time, and time requires patience.
True repentance is invasive. It cuts deep like open heart surgery. Getting back on the right path can be like the process of healing and recovering from the surgery. We must be ready and willing to forgive and encourage, delighting to bear with one another in the love of Christ, throughout the whole healing process. Like healing for the body, healing for the soul does not happen with the magic snap of a finger.
4. The Biblical Practice of Church Discipline (i.e., Disfellowshipping from the church)
The process is mapped out for us in Matthew 18:15-20. The context is about confronting a brother or sister who has wronged you, but the principles and process can also be applied to confronting a believer who has been ensnared in a sinful pattern.
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, Paul commands the church to exercise church discipline. What is the purpose? To harm the brother? No! That he might ultimately be restored.
"When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,  you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)
In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, it appears to have worked.
"For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough,  so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him." (2 Corinthians 2:6-8)
No one is ever to be disfellowshipped for sin; they are only to be disfellowshipped for unrepentant sin that they refuse to acknowledge and deal with according to Scripture.
God has shown us the process for practicing this kind of discipline in the church. It is for the good of the wanderer, not the ill. It aims for restoration.
As Christians, we overlook many offenses in one another out of love and for the sake of unity (1 Peter 4:8; Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 18:21-35). But we never ignore patterns of outright sinful living. We never condone a hard heart that refuses to acknowledge sin. May we never turn a blind eye to the brother who refuses to humble himself and see his need for repentance and restoration. These only dishonor God, weaken the church, hinder our prayers, hinder the gospel, and bring greater harm to the wandering believer.
5. Guard Ourselves from Idolatry
The book of 1 John ends with this exhortation.
"Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21)
The best road to restoration is to proactively walk in the grace of God, giving our hearts, minds, words, and lives to Christ over all else. The road of grace is the road of 10,000 mini-restorations from sin. It is the road of 10,000 repentances given from the Lord above. We live, in other words, lives of ongoing faith and ongoing repentance by the Spirit of God. This kind of life – all of these mini-restorations – will keep us from falling into a pattern of unrepentant sin in the first place.
If you water the seed of selfish pride, it will eventually bear the fruit of a pattern of pride which manifests in multiple ways. If you throw logs on the seed of carnal passions, the flame of carnal talk and behavior will only burn hotter and brighter. Early on, stomp on that seed. Early on, pour the water of repentance on those passions. In other words, keep yourselves from idols. Do not give your heart to things other than God. Do not seek joy and fulfillment in things inferior to God. Do not rest your hope and identity in things that cannot give you what God already has, eternal life and peace for your soul. Love the Lord and worship Him only, but proactively keep yourself from idols.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
"And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire." (Matthew 18:8-9)
God will restore the wandering believer to repentance. Those He has justified, He will also glorify. The present possession of eternal life inwardly guarantees the future inheritance of eternal life in its full expression - receiving a resurrection body, dwelling in the new heavens and earth, free from all of sin's causes, effects, corruption, and consequences, in the glorious presence of God and fellowship with the risen Lord.
It is our duty now, however, to:
- Pray for the wandering believer to be restored to repentance
- Practice humble self-examination by the light of God's Word
- Humbly, graciously, and privately call the wanderer to repentance
- Patiently bear with each other in our sins, weaknesses, and shortcomings
- Exercise the biblical process of church discipline and restoration
- Proactively walk in the grace of God, thereby guarding ourselves from idolatry
May the grace of God be ever at work within us for His own Name and glory.