One of the first steps we learn to take as followers of Christ is to ask for forgiveness when we sin against someone. Since we are such great sinners this asking should be happening regularly. Asking for forgiveness is a sign of humility and of trusting God. As we ask for forgiveness, we are taking a most important step in restoring an injured relationship.
Often a sinner will ask for forgiveness by saying something like this, “I am sorry that I have upset you. Will you please forgive me?” Unfortunately, with this request there are a number of problems.
- There is no acknowledgement of any wrong being done, much less sin.
- There is no acknowledgement of the offended person’s real pain from being sinned against.
- Also, there is no acknowledgement of what will happen in the future when the sinner is again tempted in a similar manner.
When a person grants forgiveness to another, they are making a number of deep promises. Ken Sande says that when granting forgiveness, the forgiver has actually decided to make these “Four Promises of Forgiveness” to the offender.
- “I will not dwell on this incident.”
- “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
- “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
- “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”
Since the forgiver has to make such deep promises, the sinner should make it as easy as possible for the forgiver to make these “Four Promises of Forgiveness.” When asking for forgiveness, the sinner should take this opportunity to fully engage with the person who has been sinned against. This can be done by having their request for forgiveness speak to three aspects of being human: the mind, the emotions, and the will.
1. Engaging the Mind
First, a godly asking for forgiveness must truly engage the mind of both parties. Since we ask for forgiveness when we have sinned against another, the sinner should objectively state how they have sinned, which engages the mind of each of the people involved, both the sinner and the one offended. King David realized that to properly confess, he must speak forthrightly of what he had done.
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).
For us, a request for forgiveness that engages the mind of all involved may be something like this, “Beth, please forgive me for not only coming home later than I told you, but for actually lying to you about when I would be home. I knew earlier in the day there was little chance that I would be able to come home by the time I told you.”
2. Engaging the Emotions
Second, a godly request for forgiveness must try to engage with the emotions of all involved, both the offender and the one offended. God has given us proper emotions and feelings for our good. Since they are an important part of being a person, they should never be ignored. When a person is sinned against, it is reasonable for them to feel deeply hurt.
Also, if a person is truly sorry about their sin, they themselves should be greatly pained about the hurt they have caused. King David declared the necessity of his own felt pain over his sin by saying, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
When asking for forgiveness, the sinner should acknowledge both pains that their sin has caused. An example of asking for forgiveness that engages everyone’s emotions is, “Beth, I understand now how deeply my lying hurt you. You trust me to always tell you the truth. Because I hurt you, the one I love so much, I am greatly troubled that I was so callous toward you.”
3. Engaging the Will
Third, a godly request for forgiveness must engage the sinner’s will. They should state how they would respond in the future when they are again presented with a similar temptation. An example of a request for forgiveness that engages the sinner’s will is, “Beth, my lying to you must stop completely. I desperately want my communication with you in the future to always be truthful. I have asked for God’s help in this area. On Monday, I am going to fast so as to talk with Him further about this. I desire a pure heart as I relate to you.”
One of the last steps in asking for forgiveness is to have all the above aspects stated together to the offended person in a gentle, humble way. And finally, the sinner must ask, “Will you please forgive me?” Hopefully the response by the originally offended party is a glad, “Yes, also with God’s help, I forgive you.”
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What additional principles would you suggest for asking forgiveness?