The word restore means “to return someone or something to a former condition, place, or position.” When I think about something being restored, I think about cars and furniture, two things you often hear about as being restored. At some point in the past, every car and every piece of furniture was brand new. But, with use and wear, they can (and will) become worn and sometimes fall into a state of disrepair. In the case of both, if they aren’t restored, they often end up in the scrap yard or the city dump left to rust and rot away.
Thankfully, there are many who are skilled at restoration. I’ve seen rust buckets turned into 10-point show cars with some TLC. Likewise, I’ve watched old, rotting furniture be brought back to life and use in the hands of a skilled restorer.
These two analogies make me think about how sometimes Christians fall into a useless state. Long after the joy and zeal of knowing Jesus has faded, and after we’ve allowed sin to cripple us, we find ourselves in need of restoration. Sadly, once we reach this point, we often allow Satan to accuse us and shame us into thinking we could never be of any use to God’s kingdom. “Look at you,” he says. “What good are you? You’ve sinned, you haven’t followed, and you’re worthless. God can and will never use you again”
I’ve been there. We’ve all probably been there.
Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t see things this way. In looking at his treatment of Simon Peter in John 21:15-19, I’m convinced that he can restore the worst of us to our former condition and usefulness. I’m convinced that he desires for those of us who’ve slipped, sputtered, and crashed to live restored lives. While not meant to be an in-depth expostion of Peter’s restoration, John 21 is an excellent example of how Jesus restores us.
If you’ll remember, Peter did what most of us swear we’ll never do: he denied Jesus before others not once, but three times. Of course, Peter himself steadfastly rejected the notion that he’d ever sin in such a way, going so far as to say Jesus, the Son of God, was mistaken for suggesting he’d ever deny him (Matthew 26:33-35)!
We often think the same thing about ourselves. We are aware that we will sin, but we deny it’ll ever be of the magnitude of Simon Peter. He read his sorry tale as just that: a sorry tale about someone else way back then, though we should be seeing ourselves in the mirrored lens of Scripture. We’d all be very prudent to listen to the Holy Spirit when he reminds us:
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18), and “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
We are all susceptible to falling, and falling hard, but thankfully, grace pursues our restoration with greater intensity than our fall.
So, then, how does Jesus restore us?
Jesus confronts us. Jesus obviously knew Simon Peter’s shame, and how he “wept bitterly” upon being reminded of Jesus’ prediction of his denial of him (Luke 22:62). Yet, the Lord still lovingly confronted Simon Peter and spoke with him. It’s important that, in times when we need restoration, that we listen to the voice of God (i.e., his Word – Hebrews 1:2), and how it confronts us with our sin and less-than-stellar spiritual condition, and desires to speak to us (Hebrews 4:12). During this time we should also sense the Holy Spirit’s convicting ministry in our lives (John 16:8), and be aware of God’s loving discipline. This step isn’t always pleasant, but it is necessary (Hebrews 12:11).
Jesus calls for self-examination. Jesus famously asked Peter three times, “Do you love me” (John 21:15-17)? He asked once for each time Peter had denied him as Lord. The question he posed, “Do you love me?” caused Peter to look inward and ask himself if he really loved Jesus. Of course, Jesus already knew that Peter loved him as much as humanly possible.
Peter finally came to a place in which he could only acknowledge, “Lord, you know.”
The fact is, Jesus knows our heart. He knows what resides there, and he knows what does not reside there (John 2:25). He wanted Peter to realize this also. Jesus calls for us to examine ourselves in light of the fact that our hearts are laid bare to him. There is nothing we can hide from his gaze. There is no far corner of the heart in which he is not familiar. When Jesus works for our restoration, we must agree with him on the hows, whys, and whats of our condition. It’s only then that we will move forward.
Jesus entrusts us. Notice I didn’t say “Jesus trusts us.” Knowing our hearts, God trusts no man. But, he entrusts us. In other words, in the process of restoring us, Jesus puts us back in service. Our God is not a grudge-bearing God. He knows our weak, frail state. Yet, he chooses to use us despite ourselves. In Peter’s case, he had denied three times publicly that he ever knew Jesus, a heinous sin in every regard. But Jesus didn’t cast Peter aside as useless and worthless, nor will he do this to us.
Instead of reminding Peter of the horrible things he’d done, Jesus pierced Peter’s heart, and then placed him back into service. Jesus entrusted Peter with the care of his flock, which is probably the highest earthly calling there is.
When Jesus restores us, we may not be serving in the same capacity as we were before. Sometimes habitual sins and failures in the same area might necessitate a change in our ministry. Since there is no pecking order in God’s kingdom (Galatians 3:28), each and every ministry is as important and valid as the next.
What does it look like today? As you know, we don’t have Jesus with us in person. Though he still restores us in the ways mentioned above, there is another variable: the church. Jesus works through his church to restore us. The local church is entrusted with the care and restoration of its members.
This should not fall on one man (the pastor) but on the body: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). This doesn’t mean that the entire congregation has to be involved in each and every situation, but it does assume that each one of us will be about the business of restoration. This can only be achieved if we are not in need of restoration: “you who are spiritual…” This doesn’t assume perfection or Pharisaic piety, but maturity and wisdom, and a close and confident relationship with Jesus. Someone who is down will have a hard time bringing others up.
The goal of restoration. The goal of restoration is clear: holiness. Again, not our moral perfection, but God’s holiness. Never the less, we should strive to be “a cut above” (Sproul). To be holy is to recognize God’s holiness, or his perfection (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), and live our lives in the light thereof. This means we should be about the business of avoiding and killing sin, and clinging ferociously to God’s grace.
Once restored, we are then free to obey the command of Jesus to “Follow me!” (John 21:19).