Nearly every time the need for apologizing arises, I hear not only my mother but every mother’s voice ringing in my ears: “Say it like you mean it.” That may sound like a simple thing, after all I often really do feel badly about what I have done (at least since becoming an adult) because most of the time the pain I inflict is not intentional. (All the other times I like to think it is for their own good.) But I have begun to notice something that has made it all the more difficult, not only to say “I’m sorry,” but to mean it.
In a recent, shall we say “discussion” with my wife I felt this creeping goblin behind me. We had had very little sleep and were just missing each other all day. Trying to get things done around the house when it is full of zombies, I suppose, requires some level of force. The conversation came to a head, and I will not begin to make myself look good. We came to an unspoken truce and decided that we needed time to cool off. I went to wash dishes (the dishwasher being on the fritz) and began to think.
Ever notice how doing something so mundane as dishes can be a great opportunity for thinking?
Almost as if the garden window dropped a screen and showed a replay of the argument, I noticed a shadow lurking just over my shoulder. As if in a whisper, it seemed to suggest that if I would go to my wife and apologize, she had better follow suit. It was even worse than that: it was as if my apology was not really an apology at all, but a covert way of demanding that she apologize to me.
How old am I?
Yet in true Romans seven-tinian fashion, I saw my dark side for what it truly is. That gargoyle, though I would like to think it is a demon, is really my own sin nature. That sinful part of me that continues to feed on the grace that God gives me through Christ just won’t let go. Fortunately Jesus has not left me to fight this fight alone. It is the second part of Christ’s salvation, not yet complete. He saved us from slavery to sin, he is now saving us through the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification, and he will save us to meet him in heaven some day. Did you notice how that second part is a sort of work-in-progress?
My sin nature, by making my apology a demand for my wife’s, caused me to live a life of law and not of grace at that moment. Essentially, I did not believe that I needed to forgive because I had believed that I could justify myself. I did not believe the gospel for my own forgiveness and justification, so I demanded it of my wife. The whole reason that I am free to offer forgiveness is that I have already been forgiven and when I attempt to justify myself I resist the justification that Jesus provides from the cross. I have already been forgiven, not because I deserve forgiveness, because I am a sinner helpless to save myself. That and by no merit of my own, the Son of God stepped down from heaven and made a way for me. Christ has already paid the price for her wrong against me and my wrong against her. Every sin is first a sin against God and it is in the blood of Jesus that he has already forgiven my past, present, and future sins. We are free to confess our sins and share forgiveness because of what Christ has done.
I must confess that every time I apologize I do not truly “say it like I mean it.” There is always some part of me that vies for attention, that wants to steal the freedom of the gospel from my life. It is an incredible comfort to know that in Christ “it is finished.” I don’t have to continue to struggle to forgive perfectly, or to ask for forgiveness perfectly. Did you know that is what that means? When we sin we do not nail Jesus back on the cross; he died once and for all for the sins of the whole world for all time. We confess our sins, not because we need him to do that finished work again, but because it keeps us in our place: in total and desperate need for a Savior.