What does Jesus say about apologies? Does forgiveness happen automatically? Do we still need to consequence our children if they’ve apologized? Join AMBrewster as he helps Christian parents understand apologies and forgiveness from God’s perspective.
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Last time we defined apologies “confessing sin and requesting forgiveness.”
And we saw that apologizing is so incredibly important because forgiveness is so incredibly important.
If you didn’t hear that episode, I suggest you take a listen because it we laid an important foundation to today’s discussion.
And right before we jump in, I want to thank Matt, Sonja, Ray, and Carolyn for making today’s episode possible.
We are a listener-supported ministry, and your generous gifts allow us to continue making biblically-grounded parenting material for families all over the world.
So, thank you for helping us spread God’s Word.
So, if you’re returning, let’s consider what God has to say about apologies.
3. So, now let’s take the rest of our time to consider what Jesus has to say about apologies and forgiveness.
And — if you make it to the end, I’ll have two bonus points for you that are very important as we consider how apologies work.
Okay . . .
1. We apologize because we owe something.
I believe the best place to start is The Disciples’ Prayer in Matthew 6.
Toward the end of the prayer, Jesus models this attitude for the disciples: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
The first interesting observation is that Christ uses the word “debts.”
I’m not going to suggest that “debts” is a poor translation, but I do believe that if we grapple with what Christ is saying, we’re going to understand that this has a deeper meaning.
What do we owe God? Well, we owe Him everything. In one sense, we owe Him our lives, our possessions, food, everything. There is nothing that is not His.
But, is that the point God is making? Is He suggesting that we ask Him to forgive us those debts so that we no longer owe Him for them?
Yeah, that shouldn’t sound right in your ear; so if it didn’t, good for you.
Metaphorically, this word can refer to sin. And I think it should be understood this way.
In Luke 11:4, a different Greek word is used and it’s translated “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”
Understanding our sin as a debt, is very powerful. God created us. We owe Him allegiance. We owe Him obedience. He is God, we owe Him everything He wants.
So, when we sin, we have stolen something from Him. We’ve taken His glory.
We need to see our sin this way. This will make it much easier to apologize when we realize that we have stolen something from God and/or others that needs to be forgiven.
2. We apologize because we need spiritual health.
In Matthew 9:6 Jesus asks, “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
Jesus healed many people, and He did it for many reasons. One reason He did it was to show His power, another was to confirm His authority, another was simply because Jesus is in the business of healing broken things, and another reason is that it was a physical picture of a deeper spiritual reality.
We desperately need to be forgiven. It’s more important than physical health.
This paralytic man was unable to work, function in his family, and be a profitable member of society, but his broken relationship with God was more important.
We need to teach our children to apologize because forgiveness is more important than working legs.
When our kids refuse or forget to apologize, they beleive there are other things that are more important than forgiveness, and that — my friends, is a delusion.
And lastly . . .
3. We apologize because we desire to change.
Luke 17:3-4 reads, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
You know that we parents are to reprove our children. Sometimes we call that the Interpretation Step of parenting. Rebuke is also part of that process. And our children will show their submission to God’s Truth when they willingly repent.
To repent to is change direction. Again, it’s not just stopping on their way down the wrong path, it’s a deliberate turn so that they can move the opposite direction.
A person who does not desire to be forgiven is a person who does not believe they need to change.
“But,” you say, “the guy in the parable didn’t change. He returned to the man seven times and apologized for the same thing.”
Notice that forgiveness is not a gift bestowed on the perfect; it’s a gift bestowed on the humble.
Yes, our kids are imperfect, and yes, they’re going to sin in areas where they’ve already repented, but . . . so do you.
As long as they are willing to be counseled, corrected, and they show that by a desire to repent, they should be forgiven.
If I’m heading south by a mile, and I turn around and go north for 30 feet, I still repented. Of course, I turned around again and walked another mile, but if I realize my sin, confess it, and repent again, then I’m doing what the Lord commanded — even if that means I only walk another 30 feet north before turning south again.
Now, I need to address two very bad applications from this verse.
A. The first is that some parents live as if they have already forgiven their children who never asked to be forgiven.
These parents don’t require apologies or counsel their children to apologize. In fact, I’ve heard many children say, “I’m sorry,” and the parent immediately says, “I forgive you.”
That’s wrong. They didn’t ask for forgiveness. They didn’t confess their sin.
I’ve even heard parents say, “You don’t have to say anything, I forgive you.”
Those parents are hurting their children who sinned because they’re not helping them follow this very necessary and biblical process of humbly confessing their sin and receiving forgiveness.
However, other parents swing to the opposite extreme.
B. Some parents become bitter when the child doesn’t apologize.
To grant forgiveness is that you no longer hold that sin against them. And so, if the sinner doesn’t ask for forgiveness, some people use that as justification for constantly holding their sin against them.
Well, that’s not biblical either.
Here’s what God desires for us: we need to live in a spirit of forgiveness toward those who sin against us, but we can only actually forgive them if they apologize.
Now, how does that practically work? Let me give you an example from Victory Academy.
Getting one of our students to acknowledge their sin is difficult enough. Actually having them apologize for their sin is worse than pulling teeth.
For one, most of our guys were not required to do that as a child, and the whole concept is foreign to them. We’ll get “I’m sorrys,” but no one comes to Victory with “Will you forgive me?” in their working vocabulary.
The other reason is that they don’t really believe they’re wrong or they believe the other person is more wrong and should apologize first.
I once had a conversation with a student where he admitted that he did wrong, but the moment I suggested that he apologize to the authority against whom he sinned, the student cried out, “I’m not apologizing to him!”
So, anyway, this one student sinned against me pretty hardcore. But I continued interacting with him in a spirit of love and kindness. I wasn’t going to treat him poorly because he sinned against me; that would be a sinful response on my part.
But, most people are — unfortunately — used to there being tension in a relationship after a conflict. So, when I continued speaking lovingly, he assumed all was well, and pretended like it never happened. He never apologized.
But then this student kept wanting me to bend over backward for him. He wanted me to play this game with him here and let him borrow my book there. He wanted all the benefits of a good relationship without taking any responsibility for making the relationship good.
So, I told him this — and we’ll call him Stanley, “Stan, listen, you know I love you, but you’ve sinned against me, and you don’t really care. You want the benefits of my relationship, but you don’t want to do any of the work to fix it. Please know that I will continue to love you and fulfill all of my responsibilities to you, but I’m not going to do anything additional or special just for you because there is a problem that needs to be addressed.” And then I said, “And please know that I am ready and willing to forgive you the moment you ask. But you need to humbly admit that what you did was wrong and seek to fix the broken relationship before you can experience the benefits of the healthy relationship.”
And I was consistent with him. I spoke the truth in love to Him. I poured into him the same way I did with all the other guys, but I wasn’t going to simply forget that there was a giant hole in our relationship that needed to be mended. And it could only be fixed if he wanted it to be fixed. And to fix it, he needed to confess that he was the one who broke it, repent, and seek forgiveness.
And then I could allow our relationship to be unaffected by that sin and help him take the next steps in the Christ-honoring direction.
Again, there was no bitterness or anger on my part, I had a spirit willing to forgive, but I didn’t allow him to think that everything was okay even though he was still unrepentant.
Now, there is so much more that Jesus has to say on this subject, but that’s a great starting place.
So, let me finish with the two bonus points.
4. Here is a good Apology Formula.
This is the format I use with my kids and the boys at Victory. It consists of 3 parts.
This is how it sounds in real life.
My son put a plastic honey jar in the oven to soften the honey with the over light. It works great, but I asked him not to do it because I was going to be using the oven in a few minutes. That was the Teaching step.
He didn’t take the honey out. I assumed he took it out, and I fired up the oven.
Long story short, melted plastic and honey is now all over the oven.
I confronted him with the Interpretation Step. I reproved him.
Now, there was no direct consequence in this situation beyond the mess in the oven. As his father, I realized that he understood the significance of his sin without additional consequences.
And then, without prompting, he immediately said, “Dad, will you please forgive me for not listening to you and taking the honey out of the oven?”
And in that moment I was the happiest dad on the planet. I couldn’t have been more proud of him.
I forgave him, and we embraced.
That embracing part is super important. My family always at least hugs after an apology. That’s one way of the child saying that I desire to change and fix this and for the other person to say that I’m not going to hold this against you.
“Will you please forgive me for (fill in the blank).” It needs to be specific.
And after forgiveness is granted, there needs to be something that brings the child’s mind to the need for true repentance that seeks to live in God’s reality.
This is where you’ve entered into the Counseling stage, and you can help your child correct their behavior.
5. Lastly — short note — remember that receiving forgiveness doesn’t remove us from Primary and Secondary Consequences.
Primary Consequences happen all the time every time we sin.
Secondary Consequences are part of the Reproving Stage.
Regardless of whether someone has apologized or not, if Secondary Consequences are appropriate, then they should be meted out.
Now, you may say, “God forgives us and then doesn’t send us to hell.” True, but that’s not part of the Primary or Secondary Consequences.
Eternal Punishment is a whole separate category that’s tied to the fact that an individual has rebelled against God’s authority in their lives.
And we also have to remember that Christians aren’t immune from the very real Primary Consequences that come as a result of our sin. When I sin, it hurts my Lord, hurts the person against whom I’ve sinned, and it makes it easier for me to sin again in the future.
And the Secondary Consequences of lost trust or a speeding ticket or whatever else are still likely going to happen regardless of whether I apologized or not. Just because a murder genuinely confesses and repents doesn’t mean he shouldn’t receive the consequences of his sin.
Like I said, there’s so much more that could be said, and we’re going to dip into a little bit more next time when we look at this from a different angle.
Please share this episode and join us next time as we discuss how to repeatedly forgive our kids when they’ve gotten really good at asking for forgiveness, but they haven’t really changed that much.
I’ll see you next time.
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