It happens often that there is a disagreement and two members of a family blow up at each other. One storms into their room in anger, slams the door, and spends a couple of hours sulking and thinking terrible thoughts of the other person. After a while they will emerge from the room, either acting like nothing happened or mumbling a “I apologize if I offended you”, or even worse an “I’m sorry” that can only be answered with “that’s okay”. The problem is that it’s not okay. We should never justify sin in our lives and it simply doesn’t cut it to say we’re sorry.
We apologize or say we are sorry when we step on someone’s toes by mistake. What is needed when we commit an offense against someone is a transaction. When I sin against someone I must ask for forgiveness. I have sinned against them and caused pain in their life. It wasn’t by mistake. It wasn’t accidental, it was on purpose and just because it wasn’t premeditated or I hadn’t had my coffee yet does not mean that it was not sinful.
Unbelievers minimize sin. Go up to any random stranger and ask them if they are going to heaven and you will hear some form of minimization of sin. In just the last week we talked to a few dozen people about the Gospel, and all except for the one Christian we ran into believed that they were a good person. We are born thinking that sin is not that serious and that we are ultimately good people. Psychiatrists have become experts of minimizing your sin and blame shifting. The danger is that many believers, even though they believe differently theologically, in practice follow the course of the world.
We all believed at the moment of salvation that our sin deserved eternal damnation. Of course we know that if we don’t believe that we deserve hell then we are not a Christian. But all of us at some point or another forget that fact and live our lives minimizing our sin and having a hard time recognizing it. We all know that our sin didn’t vanish the moment we were born again. We continue to sin, and we continue to need the Lord to forgive us and to cleanse us. It is imperative then that we work hard at not only granting forgiveness to those around us but to be in the habit of requesting forgiveness when we sin against others.
Asking for forgiveness is not simple. It is embarrassing and it is uncomfortable. Because it is something that ought to be done face to face, it is so easy to minimize and to not take seriously. Yet the Lord calls us to be humble and calls us to recognize sin in our lives and to expose it. Forgiveness is the process of walking up to someone and explaining what sin has been committed and seeking reconciliation. If I yell at my kids, it doesn’t cut it to apologize to them. I must seek their forgiveness. I must go up to my son and explain to him that what dad has done is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord and I must explain to him that daddy sinned when he yelled at him. I must ask him to forgive me. Ignoring it, because of his short attention span is not an option. Justifying it because he was disobeying me is not right. I have sinned against him and God and I must seek out his forgiveness.
When we refuse to ask forgiveness we are in great danger, but we are also losing great blessings. Even though it is one of the most humbling things to do in this life, the Lord has set it up so that if we are obedient in this area that it will be a great blessing to us. Here are four reasons we must not refuse to ask for forgiveness.
Refusing to ask for forgiveness disqualifies you from worshipping God. Matthew 5:24 says that if our brother has something against us we are to “leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” We must do our best to fix the relationship before we would ever think about doing something spiritual. Yet so many come to church week after week, take communion, pray, read the Bible and, believe it or not, get up and preach hour long sermons, and yet have unreconciled relationships. Jesus says that it is better not to worship the Lord than to do so while there are unreconciled relationships in our lives. Of course some people that we sin against will not forgive us. If they are believers then hopefully someone would step in and start the process of church discipline, but regardless, believers or unbelievers, our goal is to be reconciled while remembering Paul’s words in Romans 12:18 “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” We are only responsible for 50% of the transaction. “So far as it depends on you” is very important because if the person does not ask for forgiveness, or will not grant it, then that person is choosing to disobey the Lord, but we will have done our part to seek reconciliation.
Refusing to ask for forgiveness misses an opportunity for the Gospel. Any time we go up to someone to ask for forgiveness we are displaying a picture of the Gospel. Matthew 17 shows us that forgiveness is tied to salvation. In salvation God grants us eternal life by forgiving us our sin and casting it as far as the east is from the west, thereby giving us the righteousness needed to go to heaven through Christ. Any time we forgive someone who has wronged us we are displaying the Gospel. Some say we are never more like Christ than when we forgive, and like Stephen (Acts 7:60) in the moment of forgiving others we are displaying the Gospel to an unforgiving world. And of course asking for forgiveness to an unbeliever will probably be one of the most shocking things they will ever hear. In a world where people get ahead by lying and cheating, we will confess our sin, ask those we wrong to forgive us, and sometimes even make restitution. This opens up incredible doors for the Gospel.
Refusing to ask forgiveness blinds us. Unconfessed sin prevents us from being able to see situations rightly. In Matthew 7:3-5 Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Until we have confessed and repented of sin in our own life we will be living as a hypocrite, unable to see clearly, and unmerciful to others, and our sins will just keep increasing as we try to get the specks out of the eyes of everyone around us.
Refusing to ask for forgiveness may be evidencing your unbelief. Perhaps the reason we are unwilling to ask forgiveness is because we have never truly experienced it in salvation. If we are believers it means that the perfect God of the universe has forgiveness us, and the sin we have been forgiven would have damned us for eternity. On the other hand, one sin against a fellow sinner is far less significant. David, recognizing this truth, confesses his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah in Psalm 51 saying “Against only you (God) have I sinned”. The fact that we are convicted of sin and repent of it is one evidence that we are a believer. 1 John 1:8-10 has a strong warning to those who don’t acknowledge their sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Another warning from Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Refusal to acknowledge, confess and forsake our sin will at the very least stunt our growth as a Christian, at worst, it may be evidence that His Word is not in us and we haven’t experienced Gods saving mercy to begin with.
I have seen the effects of the lack of asking and granting forgiveness in the home and it is devastating to relationships. When I was looking for a wife I was so cognizant of looking for someone who was forgiving because I knew that in order for a relationship to last then you must have two parties who are quick to not only forgive but to recognize sin and be willing to admit it to one another. It is simply not ok to sin against a fellow human being and justify it or minimize it. We must look that person in the eye explain to them how we sinned against them and ask them to forgive us. Anything else is disobedient and misses out on incredible blessings.