I am a former disciple, and I am interested in getting your insight into different scriptural references used for restoration. Would Luke 15 be applicable? (The parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son?) I stopped going to church mainly because of a serious lack of change and repentance in my life. However, I have always felt the desire to return. Also, how does baptism relate to restoration? If a disciple is restored, is his baptism still "valid"? -- Mike Walker (Vancouver)

First, we must define our terms. While in some religious groups "restoration" has become a code word for a former member's re-induction into the congregation, this is not the way the term is used in the Bible. Restoration is for brothers or sisters caught in sin (Galatians 6). In fact, we all need restoration from time to time (Psalm 23).

Restoration is spiritual strengthening, bringing refreshment and deeper appreciation of God. When a sheep wanders from the flock, it needs to be brought back -- the shepherd needs to care and go after it. So it is with people (James 5:19-20).

I suggest we call those who've left the fellowship -- the wandering sheep you referred to (Luke 15) -- walkaways, rather than fallaways (especially since the New Testament gives dim hope for the future of anyone who has truly fallen away). Or how about the biblical term lost sheep?

To answer your question, Yes, I believe Luke 15 is highly applicable. If you have stopped going to church, you may be the lost sheep, coin, or son. Wherever you stand, you can be assured that God loves you and will honor your desire to return. Baptism is a non-repeatable act. Since restoration is for children of God, such persons never need to be baptized. If someone forgets algebra, he doesn't have to go back and graduate from high school again. That would help no one. If a couple have a quarrel, they don't need to get "remarried."

It is all too easy to get caught up in performance theology. Not exactly salvation by works, but a compromise between that and the good news of the gospel -- which is that, when you come back, God will take you as you are. As Christians sometimes sing, "Just as I am..."

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