These days, the words, “I’m sorry” are about as genuine and believable as a university head basketball/football coach’s signature on a multiyear contract.
In other words, they mean nothing.
“But why won’t people believe me when I say I’m sorry? Why do I have to jump through so many hoops before they forgive me?”
Let’s think about it for a minute or two.
I like the folks who think Jesus said, “If a brother sins against you, don’t get mad or judge him. Calmly let him know he hurt your feelings. And if he says, ‘I’m sorry’, believe him and let him slide.”
Honestly, there are people who think Jesus said those words.
But here’s what He REALLY said:
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3 – 17:4 ESV)
Notice Jesus said we’re to rebuke (call to account) the one who sins against us. IF he repents (acknowledges his wrongdoing and turns from it) we’re to forgive.
“I’m sorry” isn’t the same as repentance.
Paul demonstrated this truth in his letters to the Corinthian church.
In the first letter, he told them to judge (rebuke sharply) a young man who was having sex with his father’s wife (chapter 5). The idea was to help bring the man to repentance; see him change his mind as well as his actions.
In the second letter, Paul told them that their godly response toward the man did what he had hoped; it made the man face his sin and with godly sorrow he turned from his sinful ways.
Paul said, “NOW you need to forgive him and restore him…”
He then reminded them of the difference between godly sorrow (sorrow that changes one’s behavior) and worldly sorrow (sorrow that merely says, “I’m sorry”).
“I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9 – 7:10 NASB)
So why don’t people believe you when you say those magic words “I’m sorry”?
And why won’t they automatically forgive you, even though you’ve uttered those two special words?
Maybe it’s because you’re always saying them, yet never displaying any remorse or desire to change your behavior. Perhaps it’s because of your “you have to forgive me” attitude.
And it could be you have never believed you are capable of being wrong.
Yes, it’s true people should be quick to forgive; it is ALSO true people are to take their cue from God. We must forgive as He forgives.
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NASB)
God’s work of salvation, including the forgiveness of sins found in the substitutionary work of Jesus, will only be experienced by someone IF they repent and believe. No repentance, no forgiveness.
“I’m sorry, God”, is a start; but not if there’s no change of heart and mind.
Remember, we’re told to forgive “just as…”. So, no repentance, no forgiveness.
It was true then, and it’s true now.
So just because you’re quick to say, “I’m sorry”, doesn’t mean I or anyone else has to be quick to forgive.
Repentance? That’s a whole different story.
“I’m sorry”? If you say those words because it’s a habit, every time someone holds you accountable, you might as well say, “I did it, I’m glad I did it, and I’m gonna do it again; so there!”
It will mean just as much as “I’m sorry”.
Maybe, for once, along with “I’m sorry”, you could add, “Will you please help me? I don’t want to keep offending you, God, or anyone else.”
That is, if you truly mean it.
If you have true repentance.
If not, then I’m sorry; you’ll just have to deal with the consequences.