“I’m Sorry, But….”: How the Gospel Transforms Our Apologies
Have you ever found yourself uttering the following words, “I’m sorry for____________” and then, after a half second pause, you say “but _______________!”. You know the rest of the story. Most of us—myself included—have the tendency to be defensive when we are confronted with our sin. Blame shifting comes naturally to us; honest repenting and contrition not so much.
As an avid sports fan, I often find myself viewing a headline of some major athlete’s transgressions. The adultery, the divorces, the domestic violence and the the DUIs no longer surprise me when it comes to celebrities and public figures. What continues to mystify me is the unwillingness of people to extend a sincere and heartfelt public apology, to say, “What I did was heinous and wrong. I am deeply sorry.”
Why is apologizing so difficult for Christians, let alone for those who have not been changed by the grace of God? The reason is simple. We are prideful people. We don’t like to be confronted with our own weakness, sinful habits and moral failures. We would rather sweep these things under the rug. It’s hard to live as a broken person, even in the church. While God hasn’t called us to treat everyone in our church family like a confessional booth, he does desire that we are open and honest about our failures, and quick to ask others for forgiveness when we have wronged them.
King David is a great example of someone who understood the importance of repentance and a sincere apology. As we will see in our sermon series, David had some pretty massive faults in his character. Nevertheless, David also recognized that God had not given up on him and that God calls his children to deep repentance after sin. Psalm 51, written after the prophet Nathan confronts David about his sin with Bathsheba, is one of the most sincere prayers of repentance in the entire Bible. David does not make excuses. He offers no “but” in the midst of his apology. Instead he writes, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, and you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:3-4).
In her July 2, 2010 New York Times article entitled, “Why Is It So Hard to Apologize Well?”, Lisa Belkin notes that “A number of states have passed laws making a doctor’s apology inadmissible as evidence in a lawsuit, in keeping with the belief that patients find solace when a doctor admits a mistake.” Whether you agree with these kinds of laws or not, their point is obvious: everyone recognizes that giving a sincere apology—no “but”—is a powerful thing. When we fail to sincerely apologize to others, we fail to extend to them the grace to forgive us and we fail to extend to ourselves the grace to here the words, “I forgive you.” In short, we fail to seek reconciliation in relationship.
Perhaps there is someone who you owe an apology to. Someone I know recently extended a deeply sincere apology to a longtime acquaintance that left my friend in a place of vulnerability. “What if the person throws it back in my face?”, you might be thinking, “I can’t put myself out there like that.” Actually, by the power of the gospel, you can. By the power of the gospel, you can both say you are sorry and extend forgiveness to those who owe you an apology. How is this possible? It is possible because in Christ we have been forgiven and adopted as his children. “As the Lord has forgiven you,” Paul writes, “so you also must forgive” (Col. 313). This command only makes sense in a gospel paradigm. So let us strive by God’s power to extend forgiveness to others, and let us be quick to apologize. As we come to look more and more like Christ, that three letter word will disappear from our mouths when apologizing to others.