How Not To Ask for Forgiveness

We all fall short. We all sin, sometimes appallingly. At different times in your Christian life, you will inevitably need to confess your sin to someone and ask them for forgiveness. You may possible even have to face the consequences of your sin--even after asking for forgiveness. That is common ground for every Christian, whether they sit in the pew or stand behind a pulpit. Yet, the manner in which we ask forgiveness speaks much about the quality of our repentance.

We have all experienced those insincere, wafer-thin apologies which only serve to aggravate the initial sin. Heart-repentance is a mark of a true Christian. It is a saving grace worked in us by the Holy Spirit. It involves a true hatred and turning from sin to God and his tender mercy, and an endeavor after the paths of righteousness. True repentance seeks not to cover, but to uncover one’s own sin before God and man. Yet, so often our repentance is luke-warm, half-hearted and self- justifying. In short, it is not evangelical and inward repentance. Here then, are five ways in which we can evaluate whether our own repentance is sincere or self-justifying.

1. Do not blame other people for your sin. This is usually the easiest way to obviate your own responsibility in the matter, and in case anyone was wondering, it is also the most obvious. There is nothing worse than someone apologizing out of one side of their mouth while justifying themselves out of the other. Your wife’s (or husband’s) apparent lack of attention to you, or worse her affair, is no excuse for your own infidelity. So don’t use it. Your pastor’s boring sermons are no excuse for you to fall asleep in God’s presence. The injury someone did against you is not an excuse for you to sin in like manner. Focusing on our own sins when we confess before men is a sure sign we have focused on our own sins before God.

2. Do not mask your sin with the language of prevailing grace. Before we hear how God has delivered you from your sin with his amazing and prevailing grace, it might be good to hear a full and frank confession. People who have been injured by our sin need to hear a full and frank confession, and a sincere and clear request for forgiveness. The more public your service to God, the more public this confession needs to be. Couching an “apology” in the language of how God has delivered you from this or that sin, while it may be true, is a way of putting the injured party in your debt, when in fact, you are the debtor.

3. Do not use political sound bites to describe your sin. Do not use words like “mistake”, “embarrassing”, “misstep”, “misjudgment” “inappropriate”. It sounds like people trying excuse their sin. It sounds like a politician seeking to scrape whatever is left of her reputation off the runway. It is not an “inappropriate relationship” – it is “an adulterous relationship”. No, be plain, clear and Scriptural: “I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. “I have done evil in God’s sight”. “I am too ashamed and disgraced my God to lift up my face to you, because my sins are higher than my head and my guilt has reached the heavens”. Moreover, actually ask for forgiveness to any and all whom you have offended.

4. Do not mask your sin with excuses. We all have hard lives. We all suffer. We are all wronged. But highlighting “feelings of isolation”, or the “heart-break and devastation” of other’s hurt toward you in your own confession of sin is simply a smoke screen. It is designed to make the reader / hearer sympathetic to you. It is designed to minimize your own sin at the expense of uncovering other’s sins. It is, in short, insincere.

5. Do not seek to escape consequences. Face up to the nature and scale of your sin and take what comes your way. Nothing says “I’m unrepentant” quite like carrying on with life as if nothing had happened. Carrying on with a relationship, calling or course of action regardless of previous sins is a certain sign of insincerity. On the other hand, when we submit to the ruling authorities of the church, or a show willingness to take a censure or make just restitution speaks volumes to the sincerity of our repentance.

The truly amazing thing about being forgiven is that it is a liberating experience. As God in Christ has set us free from sin’s misery, power and curse, so too when we confess sin sincerely to others, an enormous burden is removed from our shoulders. Insincere repentance never removes that burden. In fact it adds to is. While we may have escaped some of the wrath of man by using some of the above techniques, there remains a debt owed to God. All sin is against him. For the true Christian, unconfessed or partially confessed sin will always eat away at the conscience and attract the lovingly chastening hand of God. And you do not want that in your life. Trust me.

We fail to repent of and sincerely confess sin for many reasons: It is often because we fear man, because of our pride and sometimes because we want to retain our status. However, ultimately, the reason why we often fail in our repentance and confession of sin is because we have not apprehended the tender mercy of God in Christ our Savior. If we only saw the “tender love" that a Father has for his dear children, the fact that “he does not always chide nor keep his anger forever” and that His steadfast love is “as high as the heavens” (Psalm 103), we would surely be quicker to repent and more ready to ask forgiveness from our Father and those against whom we have sinned. Remember--as the children’s song tells us--“There’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin...”. Indeed there is, for each and every of us who will turn to Him in brokenness and repentance in the hope of receiving Christ's mercy and grace. 

Matthew Holst