How to Ask for Forgiveness

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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Written by
Ray Deck III

Born in WV, Ray escaped to North Carolina at a young age. He came to Logos after an 8 year stint at a faith-based nonprofit in New York. When he is not assembling sequences of words, he’s probably running, surfing or shooting skeet, but you should probably go look for him. He has a terrible sense of direction and is probably lost.

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Written by Ray Deck III