Apologies vs. Forgiveness

I was recently in an exchange on Facebook, as I do every so often, and the conversation got to a fever pitch. Emotions flare regularly with people who are not emotionally or spiritually mature to handle such a volatile topic as faith. The age of the individuals didn’t help in this instance.

When it was all said and done, some people went away mad. However, within a half hour, I received a message in my Inbox. This person, who doesn’t happen to be my friend on Facebook, wrote to apologize and used that very word. However, when you broke down this apology, it was…well…just wasn’t an apology. However, I extended grace and thanked them for writing, told them it was a commendable thing that they had written, and that we’d have to agree to disagree.

Not once did I state that I accepted their apology.

Now, there’s a reason for that but I’m not going to get into details at the moment (I know, I’m just mean. Goodness. Life is rough. Pray hard). Suffice it to say that there’s a marked difference between giving an apology and asking for forgiveness.

When we apologize, we are saying that we are expressing regret or remorse for a slight or injury. But there’s a secondary meaning and it is giving a defense or vindication for something. Many people’s apologies are a mixture of the two. They have remorse for the result of what they did, but not for what they did.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a pardon for something that has been done. When we ask for forgiveness it takes humility because we have to admit we’ve actually done something wrong with a view to repent from that act. It’s why God uses forgiveness of sin to save, not sorrow. God is plenty sorrowful over our sins but without forgiveness, we’re doomed.

As Christians, we are to extend forgiveness as many times as it is asked of us (Matthew 18:21-22). But an apology is not asking for forgiveness. It’s being sorrowful or remorseful for what someone did. It’s what Judas and Cain did and look what that got both of them. It’s not taking responsibility for it which is what asking for forgiveness entails.

Today, I’d like to encourage you not to apologize to people but ask for their forgiveness. Take responsibility for what you’ve done if anything and extend grace to them as many times as they ask. Humble yourself and God will lift you up (James 4:10). It’s how relationships heal and strengthen. It’s how love grows. That’s what we should all be about.

9 Replies to “Apologies vs. Forgiveness”

  1. The Holy Spirit dropped this exact message into my heart this morning so I decided to do a little digging. This is where it gets funny… I went to Google and typed in What is the difference between sorry and. Yep that’s as far as I got. The very first thing that popped up was What is the difference between sorry and forgiveness. So me being me, I clicked on it. (My husband is always referring to me as his personal Berean) Anyway there in big bold words was APOLOGIES VS FORGIVENESS and then I saw the clincher… Bereanhomechurch.org. That right there made me and my husband chuckle out loud. But wait there’s more… before I had even looked it up, I was explaining to my husband what I thought the difference was. So you can imagine what my response was when I read your take on the subject and it was almost word for word what I had just shared with my husband. This was just the confirmation we needed. Thank you for being so in tune with the Lord! God bless!

  2. Awesome. I’m glad that it helped you.

    The main difference, as I alluded to in my post, between the two is that one is really more about a feeling. I’m sorry means to feel sorrowful. The other is an act. Forgiveness is a noun. It’s something that needs to be given.

    God bless.

  3. So what do you think of this situation. I apologized in person after an honest conversation with someone about the intent of my actions, or lack thereof. All I did was say I’m sorry and they said I forgive you. I feel confused because I actually don’t know what I’ve been forgiven of. After reading your article I know that I need to go and ask for specific forgiveness. Thank you for your time.

  4. Hi Kala.

    From what you’re saying, you’ve done what you thought to do which is to address the person that you offended. So you don’t have to go back and re-apologized for what you’ve done. In essence, you repented which is what the Bible tells us to do.

    Now I want you to notice that from what you said the response of the of the person was that they forgave you. They understood that what you are trying to do was ask for forgiveness even though he didn’t actually do that directly.

    The purpose of the article is to bring to our hearts and minds the reality that we have sinned and we are not simply sorrowful over our sin. In the heart of a Christian, it would be both. It would be being sorrowful over the sin we have committed and reaching across the aisle and asking for forgiveness because of that sin. It is focusing on the act in our minds to ask for forgiveness instead of focusing on the feeling which being sorrowful.

    The very words we speak in reference to this matter is important. Saying “I’m sorry.” triggers something different within us than saying “Please forgive me”. The latter is very humbling. That phrase helps to change us from the inside out and goes towards us having renewed minds and hearts.

    God bless you and keep you.

  5. I recently have been treated unfairly as well as many others by “Howard” who thinks if someone says they are sorry for something, it means they are a weak person. Howard will use I apologize. However, in this particular situation, Howard came to each person he treated unfairly and did not say either. The wording used was that he had been told he had hurt them and that he should ask for forgiveness. Everyone had already offered forgiveness. There is not an admission in that on Howard’s part. Howard said that we need to forgive but did not say he was sorry or apologized. In this it does not seem as if Howard agrees that he was wrong in any way. What do you think?

  6. Well, thanks for your comment.

    I assume you are using a fictitious name to protect the guilty so I’ll roll right along with you on that.

    It sounds as if Howard has more than a few issues. But, in reference to this particular situation, Howard’s non-admission means that no forgiveness can be given. Not even from those willing to offer it.

    It is the same with God. God is willing to forgive those who have a contrite heart and ask for forgiveness (Psalm 34:15, Psalm 51:17). Confession is made unto repentance and cleansing (Romans 10:10, 1 John 1:9). But if they never ask for forgiveness, it can’t be extended. We see this is the case of Cain in Genesis 4. God asked Him what he had done not because He didn’t know but because He was willing to ask for forgiveness. But Cain never asked for forgiveness because his wickedness would not allow him. Therefore, he stood cursed.

    So, in this situation, Howard stands unforgiven and someone needs to let him know that. Forgiveness is not automatic, otherwise, everyone on the planet would be saved. We know that is most certainly the case from Scripture. If he refuses to ask for forgiveness, that sin is still on him. You can pray for him and move on.

  7. So when “He”, said to “She”, “I’m sorry for what I said and for what I did” (=repeated abuses, not spoken of nor clarified), “She”, paused and calmly, quietly replied, “you said you’re sorry, but you didn’t ask my forgiveness “. “ He” ground his jaws, then later that day, “He” moved out and hasn’t moved home since.

    Was “She” correct to feel “He” didn’t take accountability for his actions, and thus, cannot, in that sense, be forgiven?

  8. Thanks for writing and sorry about the tardiness of the delay in getting back to you.

    In these cases, in our handling of the situation, we have to be careful that we’re not accusatory. We may be right in our assessment, but not right in our approach to the situation.

    In the one which was outlined above, I would have acknowledged that they were sorry and asked if they were asking for forgiveness. This forces them to think about it differently because most people believe it’s the same thing when it’s not as I’ve outlined in the post. This is a soft way of teaching them the difference. Calling “him” on the carpet afterward after asking the question and getting an answer in the affirmative would then be justified and warranted.

    Be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

    God bless.

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