Replacing Repentance with Apologies

[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.

***

Citations:

  • 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.

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16 Responses to Replacing Repentance with Apologies

  1. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Problem is (in general, not just the church), Apologizing(TM) has become a Magickal Mommy Kiss.

    With the added feature (not bug) of shifting blame onto those who Did Not Accept The Apology.

    • JYJames says:

      “Now, Rapist and Injured, if you two will just kiss and make up, all is well.”
      “There, there, all better now. Forgive and forget. Never happened. Second chances and all that.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        That’s no exaggeration, JY.
        Just check out Wartburg Watch for examples — with the addition of “God Saith”.

        • JYJames says:

          Well, honestly, you answered my exact question when I commented, which was: “Is this an exaggeration?”

          Furthermore, “Is this over-reacting and unfair?” and “Is this ‘not being nice’ or ‘unkind’?”

    • You nailed it on the head when you mentioned blame shifting. This apology tactic we have been using is exactly that. Shift the blame on the victim, the offended, the accuser and avoid responsibility.

  2. Anu Riley says:

    I wish I could “love” this enough. I have so many thoughts that ran through my mind as I read this!

    First of all, you did a FANTASTIC job! Well done and well written! I hope this blesses, encourages, and yes—convicts many. Perhaps many readers will go back to the one they have offended and actually repent—with real fruit and hard work to back it up. NOT works (which do not cover sin) I mean inner work, through the Holy Spirit.

    Perhaps we apologize because as you said, it doesn’t require seeking God to ask Him to actually change us. Once the apology is made—we think “all is good” and I probably won’t do it again (I may, but I can always apologize again and start over! Tomorrow is a new day!)

    “It’s the offended one that needs to change” is the typical attitude out there. I’ve noticed this when Christian leaders sin. They publicly apologize, admit wrongdoing (sort of) but will not consider resigning their positions (they fully expect to maintain their jobs, their authority and standing in the church). More than likely, no criminal charges will be filed and no police authority will be brought in to investigate (depends on the situation of course. Not all sin is a criminal offense requiring the law).

    They put in all on the offended party to accept the lame apology, act like nothing has happened, and if they waver from that—they are accused of having a hard heart or a unforgiving attitude. They are blamed, shamed and shunned—while the offender is applauded, lifted up and embraced with warmth and positive attention. He or she apologized! Publicly! Used such wonderful language and emotional words. Quoted from Scripture! This persons is truly repentant! God is moving! God is working!

    No, they aren’t repentant. AT ALL. They duped you, and Christians need to STOP being duped. How can you tell the difference?

    A repentant person will ALWAYS think of who they have offended FIRST. Their personal needs or feelings are second, and secondary to yours. They will work those out with the Lord on their own time. But-you are the priority. You’ve been hurt, and I did it to you. I chose to do it, even if I honestly didn’t realize it (it happens). If I did intend to hurt you, well that just shows how sinful I am! And you paid the price. You were the victim, or victimized. How can I help you? How can we maintain a relationship, if that’s even possible? Do you need space? Do you need time?

    I feel more sorry for you, not for myself! (this is a very typical dodge to avoid repentance) did it, but I also had a miserable childhood. Feel sorry for me, and that abates my sin because I too was once a victim. Sorry. I’m sad for you, but that is still no excuse).

    No expectations. No demands. No excuses. No deflecting blame (I sort of take responsibility, but others are to blame too) If you are a leader in the church, you will not care about your ministry, your book deals, your reputation, your speaking engagements, your authority. Nothing else matters but making it right with the Lord, and with who you have sinned against. Everything else takes a backseat.

    Apologies are manipulative, and are easy to fall for because the person seems so sorry, cries real tears, and plays on our desire to forgive. Yes, the offended party usually does want to forgive! So badly that sometimes they’ll forfeit their right to see real change and real fruit that ONLY repentance, through the Holy Spirit, will bring about.

    Forgiveness, and restoration takes patience. God does not change people overnight. He is a Potter, not a pill that we take and then you feel better the next day. And also, the offended party needs time to heal, too. Christians lack patience (myself included). I’ve been told: what’s taking you so long? Why aren’t you over this? Because God isn’t like you. He’s not “modern” where everything is push-button and automatic!

    • Any Riley, yes, you get it! And thank you for the encouragement. I do believe apologies have become a tool to shift blame and responsibility. Hoping this post gets us thinking and acting in the right direction.

      You can read a few more of my thoughts on my blog at http://www.auntiemsbookshelf.blog spot.com if your interested. I have not kept the blog up to date but am being convicted to get back to it on a regular basis. Thanks again for reading and responding.

  3. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is really good: an excellent reminder to move beyond superficial apologies to true reconciliation.

    • Jeannie Prinsen, thank you. Yes, it is. I have found since writing this that it has indeed made my life a bit more difficult in that I have become consciously aware of how often I use the apology tactic without even realizing it at first.

      In talking with friends they have pointed out that it almost seems like second nature to just throw out the “I’m sorry” and move on. But after reading this post it forces us to stop and really consider what we have done and how to approach another person properly, discuss the offense, and correct behavior for reconciliation. It’s much harder but completely worth it.
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      Martha Burton
      http://www.auntiemsbookshelf.blogspot.com

  4. Please pray for me and my family.

  5. Yes, Yes, and Amen! Too many of us have been told, “I’m sorry you felt I hurt you. Now, if you talk about this any more you are obviously just bitter and unforgiving.” This amounts to nothing more than using “I’m sorry” as if it were a magic incantation. Suddenly everything is all better and the damage done is miraculously non-existent. Sometimes this is followed up with “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” But as I’ve said to people on occasion, if you accidentally drop a brick on my foot and break my toe, I still have a broken toe, even if you didn’t *mean* to break it.

    Either way, it puts the onus back on the injured party to suck it up and pretend that nothing is wrong. If they can’t or won’t do that, they are then blamed and shamed. And if they dare to ask for action to go with that “sorry”, all hell breaks loose! Nothing is ever dealt with, and the behaviour that first caused the problem just continues to damage to more people 😦

    • Exactly! By continuing this type of “apology” pattern we are damaging not only the victim but the offender as well.

      I used to believe the blame when I was told that I was bitter or unforgiving. After doing the research for this post and writing it I now understand that I am not. I believe because we are created in the image of God and His morality and law are written on the hearts of human beings as part of our nature though now it is deeply marred by sin that we need repentance and that apologies conflict greatly with this God instilled law of morality placed in the heart of every human being. So in refusing to repent we are acting against what God instilled in us. We are living in conflict. Human beings cannot live conflicted like this for long without serious psychological damage being done. This repentance/apology issue isn’t just a matter of words or semantics. It matters greatly for all of us!

      Thanks for reading and responding. I have been asked by a friend to do a few follow up posts on this topic of repentance so I will be writing more on this topic in the future on my blog over at http://www.auntiemsbookshelf.blogspot.com if you are interested.

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