“Apology”: Is It Biblical?

Review by Elizabeth Lynn

The book, From Forgiven to Forgiving, by Jay Adams, helps to clarify the distinction between biblical forgiveness and that of apology. The latter is the world’s substitute for repentance since natural man knows nothing of their need for it. As Christians, however, we must understand the difference and recognize that we sin first against a holy God, which should bring about a penitent attitude toward our sin. Unlike the unbeliever who cannot experience the godly sorrow of conviction so as not to repeat a transgression, the believer should seek to make right his wrong by means of his repentance before God and others, as inherent within the biblical standard of 1 Corinthians 7:11.

The meaning of the Greek word apologia is “to defend oneself against a charge of doing wrong.” That is why the unbeliever will rationalize and justify himself, offering perhaps an apology, but often without genuine recognition of his offense. For the unbeliever or unrepentant believer, apology is a means to an end as well as an end in itself as it alleviates the guilt needed to educate the conscience. The words, “I’m sorry if I hurt you” or “I’m sorry that you were hurt” really is not an apology and simply expresses a feeling about what happened.

Without remorse or the admission of any real wrongdoing, apology can lack authenticity and therefore is nothing more than a self-serving, or worse, self-deceptive, motivation that seeks to gain personal relief without consequence or restitution. For the believer, this is a serious detriment, not just to the Body of Christ but particularly to the maturing of the believer. Our objective should not be to defend or deflect but to be reconciled, for without repentance and forgiveness no viable relationship is genuinely possible.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Therefore, biblical forgiveness is conditional in that it requires the offender to acknowledge (confess) his wrong and ask the one offended for his forgiveness. This then frees him from the offense and shifts the responsibility to the offended to forgive. It then rests on him to do what God expects of him. Forgiveness is a choice we make to cancel the debt, as well as a promise to never bring the matter up again to the offender, to another, and even to one’s self. It is a commitment that both parties make to settle the matter once and for all. Just as our Father and Lord remember our sins no more when we seek forgiveness, so then should we.

To not confess or forgive are acts of the flesh, willful disobedience or deception, which are enmity toward a holy God. As Christians, we must seek peace and pursue it (1 Pet. 3:11b) and be willing to confess our sins and forgive one another so that we may “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” As the Church, it is our witness to “love thy neighbor” as we extend the same grace that was freely given us for our own sins. God’s Word tells us that we have all fallen short of His glory, and embracing that truth enables us to more readily confess or biblically forgive. Ephesians 4:32 is a good reminder, as is the exhortation in the title of this book: “From Forgiven to Forgiving.”

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