Over the years, after coming clean with my wife and working with other men who want to make a change in their marriages by dealing with hidden sin and its consequences, I have found time and again that folks don’t know the difference between asking forgiveness and apologizing, or just telling a story and confessing sin. I think it is extremely important to use the right words and phrasing when working on reconciliation with someone you have sinned against. Using specific words and asking specific things transforms your thinking, and very much indicates whether or not you are taking Personal Responsibility for your sin.
As an example, I could go to my wife, take her hand, look her in the eyes and say, “Honey, I need to tell you…yesterday I went to a pornographic website and watched movies for a couple of hours.” It is surprising how many men think that qualifies as a confession, and they expect to hear, “I forgive you,” as a response. On the contrary–I did not even confess to my wife, much less ask her to forgive me! I just gave her a recital of facts.
I look at 1 John 1:9 and the word used for “confess” is ὁμολογῶμεν. The definition/connotation of that Greek term, per Strong’s, is “to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent”. It means you agree with God or others regarding what you have done. That goes way beyond just stating what was done. A confession would be, “Honey, I know it was wrong, but yesterday I downloaded and watched a pornographic movie. I betrayed your trust and sinned against you.” That states what was done and agrees that it was a sin.
It does not apologize or ask forgiveness for what was done, so it should not expect an “I forgive you” as a response (even though God says he is faithful and just to forgive our sins if we confess them to him).
Speaking of an apology, what is the difference between apologizing and asking forgiveness?
An apology is saying you’re sorry, such as saying, “I’m so sorry!” Or “My apologies!” when you accidentally run into someone while walking through the store. It is not tied to sin, since an apology does not express having committed one. “Sorry” is an even more dangerous term when dealing with sin because too often it means “I wish I hadn’t done that; I don’t like the backlash.” Sometimes it just means, “I’m sorry I got caught. I’ll be more careful next time.”
Asking forgiveness combines confession and asking someone to forgive you for sinning against them. For example, “I downloaded a porn movie and watched it yesterday. I know it was very wrong of me to do so. I sinned against you, and betrayed your trust by committing adultery against you. Will you please forgive me?”
Can you see the difference?
So why is the correct language important?
Being intentional in thought, language, action–everything– is a huge part of breaking free from bondage to sin.
And repairing broken relationships.
And building trust.
Using specific, intentional language requires that you think about what you say, which over time helps to renew your mind. It is a big part of taking Personal Responsibility for your sin, acknowledging that you have hurt others and damaged relationships by your actions. Over time, when you are tempted to sin you will recall what you are going to have to say to those whom you sin against, and it will change your behavior.
There is more to the conversation. After confessing and asking forgiveness, you need to ask, “Is there anything else you need to hear me say?” Then, once you have gone through everything that needs to be said, ask, “How does my sin make you feel?” That will lead to another round of confessions and asking forgiveness. Keep cycling through until everything has been discussed and worked through. It takes time, but the resulting reconciliation and change in the way you think is well worth it!