One of the core tenets of Christianity is the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47;Colossians 1:14). To put it another way, without the forgiveness of sins, the gospel of Jesus Christ would cease to make any sense at all. In that respect, the forgiveness of sins is an essential component of the gospel, and Christianity in general. According to the New Testament, we are to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32;Colossians 3:13;Matthew 6:13-14). Repeatedly.
A Cultural Problem
As always, when we fail to live out the commands of scripture and live godly lives, we are delving into a form of worldliness. For many of us, worldliness describes things like drinking parties, immodesty or fornication, and watching movies with swear words. But the Bible defines worldliness in a much broader way.
Effectively, worldliness is simply the opposite of godliness. Godliness is the quality of thinking about God regularly, and having your thoughts and actions influenced by Him. Being godly would be like actually looking at your W.W.J.D. bracelet all the time and following the example Christ has given you in each circumstance (1 Peter 2:21). In fact, the wrath of God is not only revealed against all unrighteousness of men, but their ungodliness, as well (Romans 1:18).
Christians are people who believe they have been forgiven much (Matthew 18:33; Luke 7:47) by God. Thus, Christians are expected to forgive one another (much). Whether we actually do that or not is probably arguable, and certainly something we can improve upon. But the problem I want to address is the worldly practice of apologizing ,or saying “I’m sorry,” rather than asking for forgiveness when we sin against another person.
What’s the Difference?
The world doesn’t espouse forgiveness as an essential tenet like Christianity does. Little children are taught from a young age to “say they’re sorry,” when they make a mistake or wrong someone. The idea that someone could even be holding your offense against you is not generally considered. But saying you’re sorry isn’t enough to remove the stain of guilt on your soul before a holy God. Nor is an apology enough to truly bring reconciliation between people in this world, believers and unbelievers alike.
When you tell someone you are sorry for something you have done, you may be sincere. You may really want them to forgive. Ask them to. Look at your brother or sister in Christ, or even your unbelieving family member or spouse and ask them if they will release you of any debt you owe them for the sin you’ve committed. Do not just say “I’m sorry,” or “My fault,” or whatever replacement phrase you’ve grown into.
Turn to the person you’ve sinned against, and, like you had to do with God, tell them you agree with them about your sin and ask them to forgive you – to absolve you of any debt or guilt owed to them. Christians especially should seek forgiveness from one another, but there is nothing prohibiting you from doing it with your unsaved friends and family. It may even lead them to consider the truth of the gospel as they see you live out a desire to be forgiven, and not simply self-justify or sweep your sin under a rug.
When you ask for forgiveness, it is implied that you are actively repenting. That is, you desire to change. That’s hopeful. That’s something which can improve relationships.
But It’s Really Hard
Asking forgiveness is really hard. When you ask for forgiveness, you are really placing control into someone else’s hands. You are humbly submitting to another person as an authority, even if only for a moment and for a special instance. Saying “I’m sorry,” is no more difficult that saying “Excuse me,” as you brush past someone at a grocery store 1. You can tell someone you’re sorry and walk away without even giving them a chance to respond.
“I’m sorry,” invites no correction. It allows for no room for the offended party to express how you hurt them. And it ultimately doesn’t demand a response. Asking for forgiveness, however difficult it may be for the offended person to handle, demands a response. It may be “yes,” “no,” or “maybe later,” but it actually frees the sinner of the burden and puts the onus on the offended party to decide if they are going to be Christlike and forgive. But a request for forgiveness may be accompanied by an apology, or any sincere expression that you understand what you did was wrong and you want things right with you and the person you’ve sinned against.
Hard Biblical Things
Dear brother or sister in Christ, you’ve been called to do the hard things that God’s Spirit empowers us to do. God’s Word says not to let a root of bitterness grow up among you (Hebrews 13:15). It is, at the very least, implied in the passages commanding that we forgive that we would also be folks who ask forgiveness (Luke 17:3) when necessary. I would even implore you that it will not hurt you to ask for forgiveness even when you’re aren’t totally sure you need it.
We ask God to declare us innocent from hidden faults (Psalm 19:12-13). Why should we be so sure we have not actually offended a brother who seems offended, just because he cannot explain it to us well? Oh how many relationships in the church and in marriage could be improved if we all had the humility to ask others to forgive us!? What a wonderful gift forgiveness is to us; what a blessing it is to really forgive; yet we often deprive our fellow man of the chance to really put it into action by not asking. Your brother may forgive you in his heart, for he is a good Christian man. But you will not know and he will not experience the joy and grace given to him through that transaction.
Let it be said among us that we have love for one another. Love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). And love that freely forgives others, and strives for peace (Psalm 34:14) through the reconciliation which only comes when two parties agree that forgiveness is necessary, to be requested, extended and accepted.
Christian, stop (only) saying you’re sorry and start asking people to forgive you.
1 When you think about it, usually when people say “excuse me” they are not actually asking to be excused, but they really mean, “Move!”
2 If you did not read the Bible verses referenced, go back through this post and mouse over them or look them up and meditate on them.