Confess, Apologize, Ask Forgiveness–What’s the Difference?

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. 

And brokenness.

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!

In Him,

George

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BROKENNESS IS ALL ABOUT ME

We were studying Romans Chapter 2 the other day, which led back to Matthew 7:1-5…

Matthew 7:1-5 (HCSB)
1 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.
2 For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye?
4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye?
5 Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

It struck me once again how God (Jesus in this case) concentrates so strongly on getting my relationship right first. I have to own up to the fact that if my own relationship with Him is not right, I have no business trying to condescendingly tell my wife, my children, my pastor, my counselor, my Christian friends, my non-Christian friends (in short, anyone) what they are doing wrong and what they need to change.

How can I possibly think that I have the right to demand someone else treat me with more respect, or forgive me better, or stop harping on the wrongs I have committed in the past, or “forgive and forget” when I still have so much sin in my own life?

What’s that, you say? I quit that sin, so I deserve a clean slate and better treatment? No, my friend, no!

Romans 2:3 (HCSB)
3 Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment?

1 John 1:8-10 (HCSB)
8 If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Brokenness begins with me, with my confession to God and to those whom I have offended. Confession not just in the sense of spilling my guts, coming clean, and dumping all my garbage on someone else so I feel relieved of the burden, but the true meaning of confession: agreeing with God about the true nature of what I have done, agreeing that it is sin, and acknowledging how I have broken fellowship with Him and others.

Without true confession, true openness, there can be no true brokenness, and thus no fellowship with God or my wife or anyone else.

1 John 1:6-7 (HCSB)
6 If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.
7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Think about it. Pray about it. Do something about it.

Peace,

George