The Real Meaning of Repentance
It happened at the coffee shop, where I work. One day I was there alone when two teenagers came in. When they left, one of them got distracted and forgot to take his wallet with him. I saw the wallet, grabbed it quickly, and put it under a table, acting as if nothing had happened. I had thought that there would be very little money in it, but was surprised to find a lot of money, which made me consider returning it. From the documents in the wallet, I learned that the guy was from another country.
Some time later they came back, looking for the wallet, but I told them that they hadn't left it there. When no one was looking, I threw the wallet into the trash. All that I took out of it was the money. I know that what I did was wrong, and I am very sorry, but I couldn't resist the temptation. I'm not sure how much I hurt the guy, but I am sorry and I am asking God to forgive me and give me strength to not make one more error.
It is good that you are sorry for what you did. However, "sorry" is just a word. It is a word that can be used as a kind of excuse, or as a way to try and make things right without much effort. And the word "sorry" really is not worth anything if you do not deeply regret your actions, such that if the same situation were to occur again, you would not hesitate to do what is right.
The story you tell has some interesting details that give us insight into your thinking. You say that you considered returning the wallet when you found there was a lot of money in it. Do you believe that stealing valuable things is more wrong than stealing less‑valuable things? Is it OK to steal one hour's wages, but not OK to steal twenty hours' wages? Who gets to decide when it becomes wrong to steal? The Eighth Commandment doesn't say, "Don't steal anything worth more than five dollars." Instead, it commands that we should not steal anything at all, ever.
1 Whether you steal a strawberry or a diamond ring, you still break the commandment, and breaking the commandment is sin.
You say that you had time to think about it while the teenagers were gone from the shop. You had time to regret what you had done. You had another chance to make it right. But instead, you didn't regret it or change it. When they came back, you lied. That's breaking the Ninth Commandment.
2 You found that the guy had documents in his wallet that showed he was from another country, but you threw all but the money in the trash. Even having kept the money, you had the option of contacting the guy and giving his documents back. Or you could have mailed the documents back to him. But you obviously didn't care about how much trouble he would have replacing them. Nor did you care if he had been saving the money for a long time with a special purpose. You didn't think of his needs; you only thought of yourself. You wanted what he had, and didn't care how he would be hurt. That's breaking the Tenth Commandment.
3 You broke three commandments at one time, one after the other. Because you wanted what someone else had, you did whatever you had to do -steal- in order to get it. Then stealing led to lying. One sin led to another. That's the way sin is. It always leads you, step by step, down the wrong path.
So what can be done now? It depends on whether you are truly sorry.
If you are, then you can ask for God's forgiveness, and He will forgive you. But that's not enough this time. You must show that you are truly sorry by changing your actions. You must give back everything that you have ever stolen. You may not be able in each case to give back to the person you actually stole from, but you can give to others who are less fortunate than you are. The Apostle Paul's advice to those who have stolen from others is:
Ephesians 4:28 "The thief must no longer steal but must work hard and do what is good with his own hands, so that he might earn something to give to the needy. that they work hard so they can give to those in need."
4 If you have a home to live in and food to eat, then you can give to others who are homeless or hungry.
5 You must also find a trustworthy person to tell about your temptations. If you know that the person is going to keep you accountable for your actions, you are not likely to steal again. Keep in close contact with this person as long as you continue to be tempted to steal. If you have access to a professional counselor, we would recommend that you take advantage of those services.
Can you imagine how you would feel if you were the guy who left his wallet in your shop? How would you feel if you were the homeless person? We recommend that you make an effort to put yourself in others' shoes to experience life from outside your own perspective.
Telling us your story has been a good first step. We hope you will now take the next steps that we have suggested, not only to clear your conscience but also to make things right with God and others.
Linda and Charles
1 Exo 20:15
2 Exo 20:16
3 Exo 20:17
4 Eph 4:28