Asking Can Be Hard Day 4: Asking for Forgiveness
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32, ESV)
Bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13, ESV)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, ESV)
A few years back when my husband and I were in counseling to repair our marriage, the subject of forgiveness was often a part of our conversation. There were a few key things we learned in therapy that I clearly remember today. First, forgiveness is necessary for believers, even if the other party isn’t remorseful or doesn’t offer an apology. Second, a true apology should never be followed by the word “but.” And lastly, asking for forgiveness is humbling, and when we ask, we need to admit what we did that hurt the other party.
Let’s look a little more at why forgiveness is necessary for believers. This makes me think of quite a few Scripture references, but I’ll just insert this one: “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). Essentially, as believers, because we have received the unmitigated forgiveness of God, we are required to offer it to others without condition. This, in many cases, is against our human nature and will require help from the Holy Spirit in some of the harder situations where we’ve been offended or hurt. But keeping the air healthy and free of bitterness is imperative, which is why we must ask others to forgive us when we’ve hurt them.
In some cases, we may not receive the forgiveness we desire. Not everyone will be spiritually mature enough to forgive us, which is often a hard pill to swallow. Here is another key component to consider: when we ask for forgiveness, we should have true remorse and resolve to not repeat the behavior that offended or hurt the other person. If we are asking with a clear conscience and a willingness to change going forward, then when we are not forgiven by the offended party it cannot be held against us. We have asked well and with good intent, and the ball is now in the court of the other.
An exercise we learned in therapy was to make a detailed apology, and then ask to be forgiven. For example, “I know I hurt you when I teased you in front of other people at dinner. I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have done that and I hope you’re willing to forgive me. Will you?” This gives the other party information that acknowledges the wrong you’ve done, and then asks them if they are willing to forgive you. This is so much better than saying, “I’m sorry for saying what I said, but it was true. Will you forgive me?” Do not use “but” in your apology because it places blame back on the offended party.
Asking to be forgiven is certainly humbling, but it’s a necessary part of our lives as believers. We once asked for forgiveness of Jesus when we came to Him for salvation, and we know His character is always one of grace. Since we are His children, our aim should be to adopt His character as our own. When we hurt others, even if unintentionally, we need to ask for forgiveness. If someone asks for our forgiveness, we must grant it to them without harboring ill feelings or bitterness. Why? Because we must mirror the character of God’s grace and forgiveness. This behavior pleases our Father; refusing to do so angers our holy and righteous Lord.
If you need to ask some humbling questions today, our prayer is that you’ll have the courage to do so. And when you do, you’ll find something strangely wonderful: a release from the burden and bitterness you’ve been carrying. And if you are currently holding onto a grudge after an apology (or even without one), release that person today by saying these heartfelt words: “I forgive you!” It’s in these moments that our character as Christ followers can be seen and it testifies of His Spirit within us. Conversely, when we refuse to apologize or offer forgiveness, it is impossible to have an effective testimony for Christ.