If I walk up to you and say, “I’m sorry I’ve been such an unrelenting jerk to you for the last twelve years and I am not going to do that anymore, will you forgive me?” what happens in your mind and heart?
Do you say, “Oh, sure! I forgive you; no hard feelings!”
Probably not. It seems silly to think that someone coming up and apologizing after being demeaning and degrading for that long would expect you to forgive them right away, but that seems to be happening more and more these days.
Or, how about the unfaithful spouse who says, “I am so sorry! I never meant for things to go that far. Will you forgive me?”
Or a person from church says, “Is there something I need to ask your forgiveness for? If there is, please tell me so that I can ask your forgiveness.”
“I can’t think of anything at the moment.” But as you ponder the conversation, a sinful character flaw that has bothered you about them for a long time comes to mind.
When you see them next, you mention the previous conversation and tell them that there was one thing you thought of after they left, and you would like to talk to them about it now.
“You’re still carrying that? I can’t believe you didn’t forgive me for that when I asked you the other day.”
What does Scripture say about forgiveness?
Forgive/Forgiven/Forgiveness is found 123 times in Scripture; 67 times in the Old Testament, 56 in the New Testament.
Of all of those, there are five instances where one person asks another to forgive them, two where a person asks God for forgiveness, and one where the people are told to ask God to forgive them.
Exodus 10:17: Pharoah to Moses, “So now, forgive my sin this time only, and pray to the Lord your God that he would only take this death away from me.”
1 Samuel 15:25: Saul to Samuel, “Now please forgive my sin. Go back with me so I can worship the Lord.”
1 Samuel 25:28: Abigail to David, “Please forgive the sin of your servant, for the Lord will certainly establish a lasting dynasty for my lord…”
Psalm 25:11: David to God, “For the sake of your reputation, O Lord, forgive my sin, because it is great.”
Psalm 25:18: David to God, “See my pain and suffering. Forgive all my sins.”
Psalm 79:9: David to God, “Help us, O God, our deliverer! For the sake of your glorious reputation, rescue us. Forgive our sins for the sake of your reputation.”
Hosea 14:2: Hosea to Israel, “Return to the Lord and repent! Say to him: ‘Completely forgive our iniquity…’”
2 Corinthians 12:13: Paul to the Church at Corinth, “For how were you treated worse than the other churches, except that I myself was not a burden to you? Forgive me this injustice!”
In these eight references, we see a couple of instances where it is obvious that the person is not repentant. They are just feeling regret because of the discomfort they feel. There is no contrition over the harm they have caused, no remorse for their violation of God’s moral code.
ALL OF THE OTHER REFERENCES – 115 of them – are either instructions for us to forgive others, describe God’s response to repentance and acts of contrition, or describe someone asking God to forgive others.
Why does this matter?
Because, nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to ask for forgiveness—not from God and not from each other—and nowhere is asking forgiveness modeled for us as part of being reconciled to one another.
We are told to confess (homolegeo), to repent, and to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, but not to ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a gift, granted by the offended party to the offender. Now, unless you’re a four-year-old, you don’t ask for a gift, do you? No! You graciously receive the gift offered to you by the other person.
Let’s look at Matthew 5:23-24:
“So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.”
Us being reconciled to one another is rooted and grounded in our being reconciled to God. And, again, nowhere are we told or shown that asking for forgiveness is part of reconciliation.
How does that transaction happen? 1 John 1:9.
Confess: The word translated “confess” (homolegeo) in 1 John 1:9 is a judicial term which means “to be in verbal agreement on the exact nature and character of our wrong.” In our judicial system today, there is a similar term used: “allocute,” which means “to speak out formally.” In practice, when 1 John was written and in American jurisprudence today, this means, “To verbally agree on the exact nature and character of the wrong [crime] without rationalizing, justifying, minimizing, or blameshifting.”
Repentance is more than a “change of mind;” it is a change of heart and of direction. Ephesians 4:28 gives us one of the best examples in Scripture of the “put off/put on” characteristics of authentic repentance:
“The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need.”
This shows us that authentic repentance means that the offender ceases from doing bad, he replaces the unrighteous behavior with the opposite righteous behavior – and continues doing so over time – and does so for the good of another (heart change).
Contrite Heart: Apart from a contrite heart, true confession and authentic repentance cannot exist. A contrite heart means the guilty party has a wide-open acceptance of their responsibility — without minimizing, without blame-shifting, and without excuse — for the evil someone else has suffered as a result of their sin choice.
1 John 1:9 tells us that God forgives when we are repentant. That’s how it works. We don’t ask for forgiveness, we receive it from Him as He gives it graciously.
So, let’s stop asking for forgiveness, stop teaching our children to ask for forgiveness, and start being truly repentant. A truly repentant person does not expect or demand forgiveness. They graciously accept it when it is given. Period.