I got married at the ripe old age of 24. Those early years of marriage were very formative. More than anything, I learned that my life is no longer my own. In other words, the commitment of marriage requires that I make choices with two people in mind, not just myself. Of course, there were many times that I did not meet that expectation. Failure to do so led to conflict. I learned quickly that I could settle the conflict with three words. You know them too. “I am sorry.” That phrase pretty much settles the conflict. They work until it happens again. At that moment, saying “I am sorry” is a false promise.
Jennifer is a patient woman. She tolerated my errant behavior and even accept my apologies. But, she quickly understood that my apology was a tactic to end the argument, rather than a sincere desire to change my behavior. She called me out. “Being sorry,” she said, “means that you will never do it again.” Ouch.
She may not have known it at the time, but her words mimic Jesus. When it comes to forgiveness, Jesus instructs us to rebuke the sins of other believers. Meaning that we are to let them know where their behavior is not consistent with their commitment. “If,” he continues,” there is repentance, “forgive.” This process continues, as long as there is repentance.
My previous behavior has me questioning the process. How many times have I told Jesus that “I am sorry,” with no intention of changing my behavior? I fear that much of the time, I am simply trying to end the conflict. Those three words are hollow. When they are, they do not produce the justification, salvation, and forgiveness that I need. Justification comes only with a full sense of guilt, according to PT Forsyth. In fact, “you cannot get a full, justifying faith without a full sense and confession of guilt.”
Guilt, therefore, is the catalyst for change. Now, when we experience guilt, we have two options. If not confronted, it becomes a source of shame and embarrassment. But that is not its design. Instead, Jesus wants our repentance. When we present ourselves to him humbled and guilty, he listens. More importantly, he forgives. Even, he says, “if I wrong him seven times a day.”