Pastoral Perspectives

When Should We Say “Sorry”?

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that it is never easy for us to say “sorry” when we are caught with wrongdoing. Firstly, there are occasions when we genuinely do not know that we are in the wrong or are unaware of what is wrong with a certain attitude, behaviour or action. For example, my daughter, Sophia did not know that she is not supposed to doodle on a note-book that was in her school bag. She was unaware that the note-book was provided by her school as a means of communication between her teachers and parents.

Nevertheless, it was appropriate for Sophia to apologise on her own accord when we explained to her what she had done. If she had become defensive and resisted saying “sorry” by pleading ignorance, that would be a greater concern for us than the fact that there were doodles on the pages. Indeed, it is only right that we learn to grow in humility and apologise for our wrongdoings even when we did not know that it was wrong at the time of our offense. In this instance, the apology is an expression of our remorse and a recognition that our wrongdoing has brought about undesirable consequences.

As Christians, we need to continually rely upon God’s grace as we guard our hearts (Prov 4:23) and be wary of choking the wellspring of our lives with self-righteousness and pride. In addition, the Bible reminds us that “whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life” (Prov 10:17). There is certainly much more to be gained from being teachable and learning to receive loving correction. It is also God’s will that we be “wise as to what is good” (Romans 16:19) instead of remaining spiritual babes.

Secondly, we all suffer from some degree of spiritual blindness in that we tend to be quick to see the weaknesses and failures of another person. More often than not, we think of ourselves as more righteous than others and sometimes even when we have done wrong, we still think that we are right. The Pharisees are the classic example as they hardened their hearts and expressed contempt when confronted by Jesus about their spiritual state (John 9:39-41). When this happens to us, it becomes difficult for us to embrace loving correction. After all, when we are convinced that we are right, it is unlikely that we will desire change or desire the help that can make change happen.

On the other hand, when we learn to grieve over our respective sins, we know that God’s grace will continually be available for us and bring about transformation in our lives.  Hopefully, as we journey together as God’s people, we will grow to understand that confession and repentance need not become scary things that we do our best to avoid. As one Christian counsellor, Paul Tripp puts it, “sin, weakness and failure shouldn’t be the constant elephant in the room that we all know is there but can’t (or won’t) talk about”. God’s Word also clearly encourages us with the promise that mercy and healing come with confession (Prov 28:13, James 5:16).

Admittedly, there are always risks involved when we seek to be authentic. Christians need much wisdom and discernment with regards to who we should confess to and how much details we should share. However, we can be sure that keeping quiet with our struggles or persisting in our old ways will only end up destroying ourselves and possibly hurting those around us.

The good news is that because of what Jesus has done at the Cross, we need not excuse our wrongs or fear being exposed of our wrongdoings. We can thank God that even before we are truly sorry for our sins against Him and others, the Bible tells us that God in His abundant grace had already “made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Whether it is a leader of a church, a Christian relative, friend or colleague, we should pray for them as well as for ourselves that we will learn to run to God to find grace in facing our failings squarely. Our wrongdoings and failings need not have the last word in our lives. Not when in Christ, there is forgiveness and the hope of real and lasting change. Besides, the Gospel of Christ would hardly be good news if the sovereign and loving God ever has to say sorry to us fallen Man instead.

Pastor Edwin

September 8, 2013