“Sorry” has become a word that many use as an excuse. As a way to get people off their back. “Hey, I’m sorry, can everything go back like it was before?”
Who do you say “sorry” to the most?
Your family, your friends, your co-workers? God?
It’s important that the person you say “sorry” to is convicted of the truth of that statement. If they believe that you are not truly sorry and are using that term as an excuse, your relationship with that person will start to deteriorate if this is an ongoing process. Each individual has indicators that they use to judge the sincerity of the apology they receive. And surprisingly, or not, when one person may be sincere, their recipient may not view it the same way. Many people have heard of and utilized the 5 Love Languages, and understand that there are several ways that people show love and receive love. Now there is a counterpart titled the 5 Apology Languages. It makes total sense that different personalities apologize and receive apologies in different ways. You can take the test here and find out what yours is! You can take the online version and get a description of each language. If you choose to take the PDF version, you know what apology languages you relate to the most, but without the detailed description. When I took the test, I tied for both Expressing Regret and Genuinely Repent.
While it is important for our relationships that we know how to correctly express our sincerity in apologizing, there is someone else who has an apology language that we must learn.
Beginning in the Old Covenant, God has attempted to teach His children that there is a correct way and an incorrect way to seek His forgiveness and restitution.
The Israelites didn’t just come with the animal, drop it off at the door and say to the priest, “I’m sorry. Here is my sacrifice.” No. The person had to bring the perfect animal to the tabernacle, stand in the presence of the priest, put their hands on the animals head and confess their sin. Symbolically, the person’s sin was transferred to the animal. But they still were not finished. Next, the person was required to kill the animal by slitting it’s throat. The sinner had to slaughter the animal. Then the priest would take some of the animal’s blood to make atonement for the sin, and the person was forgiven for that sin. Can you even fathom having to personally kill an innocent animal every time you sinned? Imagine all that blood on your hands and mine, repeatedly, for our sin. It should make us think twice about the things we say and do. It should make us take into account the seriousness and awfulness of sin.
In Malachi, the offerings the Israelites produced were not what God required as offerings for their sin. Their heart was far from the apology. They offered whatever was most convenient for them. They did it for their convenience, so the guilt would go out of their minds.
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the Lord of Hosts to you priests who despise my name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?” You offer defiled food on My altar, but say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘the table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 1:6-8
Are we more sincere to others than we are to God? Because after all, we are around other people each and every day, and we want people to like us. God may seem distant and not as real as who we are around every day.
Or it may even be the other way around. We don’t see the need to be as sincere to the people around us because God is much more important. We make sure we give our best to God, we give Him the glory He deserves, but then we treat our fellow Christians like they are beneath us. Like they should be grateful for every miniscule bit of grace and forgiveness they get from us. What we did to them isn’t as bad as what they did to us. But we know that what we do to the least of these, we did it to Christ. (Matthew 25:40)
Either extreme is harmful.
Now we know that there are extremes to avoid, what does God want? And what better place in the Bible to see what God requires than Psalm 51?
1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. 6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You. 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. 16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart- these, O God, You will not despise. 18 Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.
In verse 4 we have Expressing Regret. David doesn’t make excuses or shift blame. He comes right out and tells it how it is.
In verses 2, 7, & 10 we have the language of Genuinely Repent. We see David’s verbal desire to change, and his plan of action is his plea to the only one who can cleanse his sin.
Verses 1, 4, & 5, through the phrases “blot out my transgression”, “against You only I have sinned”, “I was brought forth in iniquity”, I see David Accepting Responsibility.
Making Restitution can be found in verses 13, 14, 15, and 17. David desires to give God his due through teaching others His way, praising Him, and giving God a broken and contrite heart. We cannot make a true restitution to God, because the debt for sin is un-payable except though death. He deserves our life anyway. Even without us sinning and needing His forgiveness. But thanks to Jesus’ death, we can have restitution made for us.
Finally, Request Forgiveness. I can see this idea coming through in verses 1, 2, 12, & 14. David is asking for favors that can only come when our sins are remembered no more.
So no matter how we tend to express our apologies over what we have done to others, God deserves each and every language of apology. We must recognize the depth of our transgressions, with a true sorrow. We must have a genuine repentance and accept that sin is our fault, and ours alone. Then we need to give God what He deserves and what He will always deserve. Honestly, recognizing the depth of our sin is the hardest part in my eyes. Sin has become so commonplace that it is hard to see it in the light of how God sees it. Furthermore, the way we address apologies, sorrow over wrongdoing, and forgiveness here on earth with our friends/family will mirror itself in how we relate it to God. We must work on being good at all of these aspects so that we can then use those in our communication with God. We must take the focus off of ourselves and take a step back. See how it looks to the other person. See how it looks to God. With earthly problems, what we think about the offense doesn’t matter. We may not think that we did anything wrong, but it is all in the eyes of the receiver. Putting others above ourselves means that we will accept that what our actions/words mean to us may mean something else to others than what it seemed to be to us. But as far as our Heavenly Father goes, there must be a realization of how it feels to Him, as well as a recognition that we did do wrong. Our thoughts are not what determines whether or not it is worthy of apology. God has already determined that and it is up to us to abide by it. Without this realization of what sin really is and how it affected our Savior, and how it affects us, there is no forgiveness of sins. It’s empty, meaningless, and might as well have never been said.
We often make a mistake about God’s forgiveness. I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I will accept your apology; I will not hold it up against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. One remedy is to really and truly believe in the forgiveness of sins. A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort case can be made out in our favor. But that would not be forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.
In regard to forgiving men, it is partly the same and partly different. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think’ as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one percent of guilt which is left over. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions. – C.S. Lewis “Weight of Glory”
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The Greek word defined as ‘confess’ here is “homologeo”. Thayer defines this as:
“To say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent. To concede, to not refuse, to promise. Not to deny, to confess, declare, to admit or declare one’s self guilty of what one is accused of. To profess, to declare openly, speak out freely, to praise, celebrate.”
I love how the combination of all of these definitions fit into how we confess our sins before our Father.
But wait, how can we declare ourselves guilty and at the same time praise and celebrate?
It reminds me of the statement that I heard one time in a sermon. Satan is a liar, yes, but he also tells the truth. He lies to us about our excuses, our sins, and our temptations. But then he goes to God and tells the truth.
Revelation 12:10-11 “Then I heard a loud voice saying in the heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”
Revelation also enlightens another facet of saying ‘I’m sorry’. In order to sincerely apologize, we must love the person we offended more than we love ourselves. So we must love God more than our lives here on earth for our apologies to be sincere. If we love our lives here more than God and all He has done for us, then our apologies are simply what we do so that we can keep on putting this world first while not having to worry about judgment hanging over our heads for the sins we haven’t asked forgiveness for yet.
But going back to confessing while rejoicing, this verse in Revelation paints a beautiful picture. Imagine yourself standing before the throne of God, with Satan before you painting your sins in the most sordid detail. But your face is serene, joyous, and without a sign of worry. Satan looks at you and confusion appears on his face. It’s your turn to speak. You affirm that Satan has told the truth. You have done all that and more. You are worthy of death. But inexpressible joy is written over your face as you lift your arms up to God. “Before you, O God, I openly declare that I am guilty of sin, of transgression of Your perfect law. No one is righteous. You are so Holy that none can live in your sight without blemish. I am not proud of these acts of defilement I have committed. It grieves me to know what I have done. But I can speak freely, I can praise Your name in spite of all of this sin on my hands. Because You saw fit to send Your only Son to redeem me and to wash me white as snow. I can celebrate in the awful fact that You and Your perfect and sinless Son loved me enough, that despite my sin, He came to die for me according to Your will. By confessing my sin and living in a right relationship with You, I know You will cleanse me and will remember the wrong things I have done no more.”
There is no room for fear in confessing our sins for God. Perfect love cast out fear. If we are fearful in confessing our sins, we have not truly recognized God’s love and grace. We need to grow our love for Him, for only then can we truly comprehend the great love God has for us. To cast out fear, we must understand, and to understand, we must first accomplish.
We can ask for forgiveness in doubt, and that is just as detrimental as fear. James 1 talks about fear in regard to asking for wisdom, but I believe the principle can be applied to any request made by prayer.
“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”
While we realize that there is no room for fear and doubt in confessing, there is always, always room for sorrow. Sorrow takes up all the air in the balloon of confession. Without sorrow, the balloon will never realize it’s shape and purpose.
2 Corinthians 7:10 “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
Psalm 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart- these, O God, You will not despise.”
Sorrow is painful, and not a trite emotion. It is to be felt deeply, but not to linger once we have taken that sorrow to God.
We know by 1 John that God is willing to forgive us. He wants all men to come to repentance. We can go to God and know that He will forgive us. But never go to the extreme that because He is willing to forgive, it’s cost is cheap and any attitude we bring is accepted as long as we utter the correct words. This is another pitfall I believe that it is very easy to fall into. Because we know that God will forgive us our transgressions, it is easy to not be as sincere as He requires us to be. Even here with our worldly relationships, if we hurt someone’s feelings or treat them unkindly, and we already know that they are ready to forgive just about anything, it’s a little bit harder to be really sincere and truly acknowledge the wrong we have done. Sometimes we forget that God is as just as He is loving. He still has requirements for how we are to come to Him with our sin and request to be made whole once again. Never doubt that God is willing to forgive you and know that He does not withhold forgiveness from those with a humble and contrite heart. But never doubt that God will require that you consider and remember the great sacrifice that provided this opportunity and respond appropriately.