[Today’s guest post from Martha Burton examines the distinction between apologies and repentance, and why it makes all the difference in the world.]
I have never liked receiving apologies from people. In fact, on a deeper level I can honestly say they anger me but I don’t know that I have really ever understood why until now.
In light of all of the upheaval within our American culture in the past few years over a myriad of different topics all of which somehow relate back to human dignity and the image of God wrapped up in the personhood of every human being it has become increasingly clear why apologies just don’t sit well with me.
I have come to realize that apologies are easy which is why they are so often chosen over actual repentance.
Apologies require nothing from the one giving them except words but everything from the one receiving them.
Apologies do not require change only forgiveness; they have become veiled excuses.
An apology according to the American definition is telling someone that you are sorry for their inconvenience or unhappiness. Nowhere is there recognition of fault or a call to change behavior. There is no promise of reparation or sign of regret or remorse for an action. An apology acknowledges nothing except one individual’s unhappiness over another’s unhappiness for their actions against or towards them.
Apologizing under scrutiny
We have seen a media storm of people lately whose sin has been found out both in the secular forum as well as Christian. Many of them have come forward and given public apologies. Everything from “I apologize but you must remember I grew in a time when culture was different” to “I apologized and took every step to respond in a Biblical way.”
They all sound like good apologies on the surface but is an apology what is required? Is an apology what will change the sin in a person’s heart or provoke another to forgiveness?
An apology is like using a get out of jail free card from monopoly. You don’t have to serve your time for your crime or make reparations of any sort. My five year old uses the art of the apology quite often to get out of trouble.
“I’m sorry mommy. I won’t ever do it again.”
Then five minutes later, literally, I catch him repeating the disobedient behavior. I catch him…he apologizes…and the cycle continues. There is absolutely no understanding gained, trust restored, or behavior changed.
It is only when my son has realized that he has truly hurt me or someone else that I see him repent and confess although in a five year old’s world this still sounds like an apology. However, it is the heart that is different and it is evident both in how he apologizes and how he acts going forward.
Apologies don’t require that the sinner take responsibility for their actions, agree with the one they sinned against that the actions were wrong and call for a complete change of behavior from that point forward.
Repentance, however, requires all of them.
Repenting from apologizing
Not once in scripture are we given instruction to apologize. What we see instead are instructions for confession, repentance, reconciliation and restoration. But what do these words mean and how do they respond to each other?
Confession is to agree. Repentance is to change your mind or purpose. Reconciliation is to make right through a change. Restoration means to be brought back into harmony.
Confession and repentance must take place before we are to forgive. Reconciliation is only accomplished after repentance and reparation.
In scripture we are told “if your brother repents, forgive him.” We are told to forgive as God forgives. God requires repentance not an apology before He issues forgiveness. Make no mistake, through the blood of Christ forgiveness and reconciliation are made possible for everyone for all time but repentance must take place through confession before that forgiveness is obtained on a personal level.
We are told in scripture that if we see a brother sin we are to rebuke him. Quite an unpopular act in today Christian culture but we are to employ it never the less. We are also told that if our brother has something against us we must go and seek reconciliation with that brother before attempting to offer our sacrifice to God. We are to confess and we are to receive confessions with forgiveness. We are instructed to restore the repentant brother.
There is a relationship presented to us in scripture between confession, forgiveness, repentance and restoration.
If we are going to witness a true change within the body of Christ today; if we are to hope to have God’s blessing upon our lives and ministries we must replace our feeble apologies with the biblical mandate of true confession and repentance that seeks out and results in forgiveness and reconciliation not a get out of jail free card. We must stop demanding that people forgive when there is no true confession and repentance given on the part of the offender.
A lack of confession and repentance on the part of the offender shows the true state of the heart. There is no remorse for their sin or the damage it has caused in an apology. There is in its place self-justification from a place of willful egocentric behavior. To forgive without the demand of confession and repentance is to damage a brother or sister. This pseudo forgiveness and restoration leaves them in their sinful state without a provocation to change or live a life of accountability. They are free to continue in an unresolved state within themselves. Yet Hebrews 10:24 tells us clearly that we are to provoke one another to love and good works.
Church let’s stop apologizing and start repenting through confession so that we can have true reconciliation and restoration. Let’s stop demanding people offer forgiveness without repentance for by doing so we have demeaned the holiness of God, harmed the brotherhood of the body of Christ and removed godly instruction from our lives. We have adopted worldly philosophy and have become a people unrepentant yet demanding forgiveness. We no longer require change only empty words.
Born in Kansas City, MO, Martha Burton is the 45 year old mother of two and wife of a Baptist Minister. She holds a Bachelors of Religious Studies and Church Leadership with honors from Central Christian College of the Bible. She is a Christian writer and blogger at Auntie M’s Bookshelf, and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter too. But most importantly she is a daughter of the King; a follower of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) who has a passion to see God’s people live out the life He has set before them in a way that brings honor to His name, unity to the church and speaks salvation to the lost.
- Cambridge University Press. Cambridge Dictionary. n.d. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/apologize (accessed 1 20, 2018).
- Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.,, 2003.
- New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995: Update.
- Thomas, Robert L. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition. Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.