How to Ask for Forgiveness

im-sorry

As people grow closer, friction is bound to occur. Both small and not-so-small offenses are inevitable. Nobody likes to apologize, but Scripture tells us to confess our faults to one another (James 5:16), seek reconciliation when we wrong one another (Matthew 5:23), and forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32).

While a heartfelt apology can mend even the most charred relational bridge, a poorly made apology often accomplishes the opposite. When you find yourself in the wrong, make sure your apology includes the following elements.

Express regret | “I’m sorry.”

If you feel bad, say so. Give voice to your regret. This is a necessary first step.

We’ve muddied the waters by overusing the word “sorry.” We say:

  • “I’m sorry your house needs to be fumigated.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re feeling under the weather.”
  • “I’m sorry someone else hurt your feelings.”

None of these instances warrant an apology, but we use the word “sorry” to express solidarity with less-than-ideal circumstances. When you’re in the wrong, “I’m sorry about the circumstances” just doesn’t cut it. You have to go further.

 Accept guilt | “I was wrong.”

Take ownership of your fault. Don’t worry about properly assigning partial blame to anyone else. That’s not your job (Deuteronomy 32:35). An apology does not seek justice—it seeks forgiveness. (Click to tweet) Don’t bother with an explanation, unless one will help avoid a repeat offense.

Request forgiveness | “Will you forgive me?”

Asking for forgiveness places the offended party in control. It gives them the next move. They can choose to forgive or hold a grudge, and it won’t matter much to you which option they choose. Your business is to express regret, accept guilt, and request forgiveness. Whatever happens beyond that is someone else’s concern.

Never say “but”

If at any point you hear yourself saying “but” or “that being said,” stop. You’re doing something wrong. An apology should never include a defense or an attempt to share the blame. If the offended party chooses to own their contribution, that’s their business. Your objective is to mend a relationship by confessing a fault. Don’t replace the original fault with a new one by mounting a character defense.

If you’re serious about building a community of faith, you’ll need to master the art of apologizing.

We want to hear from you. Is this how you approach apologies? Do you include other elements? Let us know in comments.

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Comments

  1. says

    In a torn and constantly fraying world forgiveness is the art of restitching the frayed edges and rebuilding relational bridges. Marriage or any close relationship for that matter will at least at times require "rapid fire forgiveness at close range" ha its of constant importance for us mortals :)

  2. says

    I just put together a short teaching on sin for the children's class I teach and this is great because the one thing that Adam, Eve and Cain didn't do is ask for forgiveness they tried to blame someone else.

  3. says

    My wife and I regularly work in public schools with high school students on many topics including that of healthy relationships. It never ceases to amaze me how going through the anatomy of an apology hits home in the lives of our youth. "I am sorry I hurt you" "I was wrong" "I will try and do better" and "will you forgive me" are literal life changers…for us, for our youth, and for our relational health.

  4. says

    Truly powerful suggestions toward making a properly Christian apology. Thank you so much for your suggestions and for making this addition to the Faithflife group. God bless. How we need a return to the basis of simple Christian etiquette among, especially adult Christians in the church today. Much of the internal strife among most of our churches today would be eliminated by a simple return to the use of true Christ oriented manners in our personal relationships. We take each other for granted so much and so often, we are too soon to forget that each of our brothers and sisters in Christ are deserving to be treated as Jesus would treat them if He were here, physically on the earth. After all, He left us the Holy Spirit to enable us to act like Him while we travel this way. God help us to apply His example in all that we do!

  5. Susan Wells Murphy says

    Sometimes people have been hurt so bad it's hard to forgive. In that case I think it's good to pray, "Lord help me to be willing to forgive." I've been through that and am so glad that the Lord helped me to forgive those who had really hurt me. There's such freedom in forgiving.

  6. Susan Wells Murphy says

    Sometimes people have been hurt so bad it's hard to forgive. In that case I think it's good to pray, "Lord help me to be willing to forgive." I've been through that and am so glad that the Lord helped me to forgive those who had really hurt me. There's such freedom in forgiving.

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