In the Sunday sermon, I mentioned how the typical American apology for wrongdoing falls far short of a true expression of repentance. However, now that we’ve seen again what repentance is from the Bible, we actually have a new model for our apologies. While not every part of the following needs to be said every time we seek reconciliation, these should still characterize our expressions of repentance to others when we sin.
Be honest and clear with a person about what you did and why it was wrong. Don’t be vague (e.g. “Sorry for what I did”); be specific (e.g. “I’m sorry for speaking to you in an angry and hateful way”). Confess not only your actions but also the evil thoughts and beliefs that led to those actions (e.g. “I was being proud and selfish. I excused my behavior by telling myself that I deserved my way after a long day”). Do not give excuses for your sin, even if others provoked you. Be clear with the person that you know that your sin was totally unjustified.
Along with your confession, communicate how understanding the nature of your sin has affected you emotionally. Declare your sorrow for what you’ve done, not simply because you feel guilty or dislike the consequences, but because you recognize how evil your acts have been before God and others (e.g. “I am truly grieved over what I have done in dishonoring my gracious Lord Christ and you who God gave to me as a companion”). Express also your hatred for sin and your zeal to set circumstances right.
Having shown that you know and feel your sin for what it is, communicate your firm commitment to turn from your sin and follow Christ. Tell the person you sinned against that you are going to walk a new way, both now and in the future (e.g. “I am committed to turning from this sin. I will no longer treat you like this, but will instead love and speak graciously with you as Christ has called me to do and as I truly desire to do”). You are not promising perfection but a fundamentally new direction. You may slip into the same sin again in the future, but it should be an anomaly and not the pattern since you have had a fundamental change of heart.
You will help yourself and the one you’ve sinned against have greater confidence in your repentance if you can also articulate initial fruit of repentance. Consider the example of Zacchaeus, who demonstrated his turning of heart by declaring the practical changes he was making in his life (Lk 19:8). You’ll want to speak similarly. This fruit will vary depending on the situation but can include: 1.) restitution for sins committed, 2.) new discipleship and accountability relationships; 3.) new reading, learning, and memorizing of Scripture; 4.) new prayer time; 5.) new participation in the ministries of the church; 6.) new times and modes of practical service for the one you sinned against; and 7.) the removal of bad influences and sources of distraction and temptation from your life.
Having sought to express and demonstrate true repentance, you should conclude by asking for the person’s forgiveness (their no longer holding your sin against you). If they grant it, great! If not, entreat them to do so that your relationship can begin to be mended. Restoration of relationships is not always instant, even after forgiveness. Rebuilding trust takes time, but forgiveness allows that rebuilding to start. Also, know that you must be committed to following through on your repentance regardless of whether the other person responds righteously or not. Though you long for harmonious relationships, your first priority is your relationship with God.
Romans 12:18, If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Questions to Consider:
1. One could easily go through the form of the above apology without a truly repentant heart, but why would this only do greater harm to the strained relationship?
2. Expressing repentance in the above way is a very humbling activity, but why should faith in Christ cause us to embrace humbling ourselves?
3. To whom do you need to express true repentance and seek reconciliation? Consider the urgency you need for this (Mt 5:23-26; 1 Pt 3:7).