Dan’s friend said, “If you just tell God you are sorry, He will forgive you.” So Dan asks, “Is sorry enough? Isn’t there more to it?” Dan of course is right. “Sorry” doesn’t do it.
When I was a kid, if two children fought, they had to “make up.” Supervising adults would have them shake hands and say to each other, “I’m sorry.” This surface remedy at least demonstrated to us the mechanics of how to confess our wrongs, ask for forgiveness, and how to express forgiveness. But times have changed. Our culture has changed. We’re far less knowledgeable of Jesus’ command to forgive one another. And with that perhaps, we have forgotten upon what basis forgiveness is found.
Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is not even a change of heart. “Forgiven” is a legal term, letting a transgressor or debtor off the hook. And when it comes to breaking God’s laws, “I’m sorry,” just doesn’t cut it.
There is a verse stating the value of “godly sorrow.” But that verse reads:
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
2 Corinthians 7:10
God’s forgiveness depends on where we bring our sorry state. That is, do we go to God with it, or to people? Does this sorrow lead to repentance towards God? Repentance is more than a turning from sin. Healing repentance doesn’t just turn from sin. It then turns towards God.
“….testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Some are sorry that they were caught sinning? Some are sorry because they now suffer from public shame, a disease, or broken relationships due to their transgression. Sorrow is a start, but where we take sorrow makes all the difference. Thinking God will forgive simply cause we are sorry, misunderstands the human relationship to holy God.
Peter and Judas Iscariot both failed Christ. Peter was sorry when he denied Jesus three times. Judas regretted he had betrayed Him. Peter took his bitter sorrow to God in prayer. Judas however, took his regret to his co-conspirators. Although sorry, he didn’t turn to God. “What is that to us?” they told Judas. They didn’t care. God cares.
Folk who grew up in the faith may take this for granted, but believers who came to faith as adults; those who can recall sinning outside of Christ, know certainly that the difference between sinning without Christ and sinning as a born again person, is huge! The unregenerate heart agrees with its flesh and is eager to sin if it can get away with it. But when the born again child of God sins, it is not a pleasure. They immediately feel duped and are cut to the heart. The Holy Spirit then prompts them to take their sorrow to God:
“…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”
James explains further that God is not the source of our temptation. Sinning for saints is indeed a drag! Finding no real relief in sinning, once convicted, we know immediately that we have grieved our Lord, and godly sorrow may result. The unregenerate feels he’s gotten one over on his enemy. The born again child of God feels he has betrayed his loving Father! Ultimately both are mistaken. Sorrowful perhaps (or not even yet), we in Christ turn our eyes again to God, having turned away from our wrong. Though some actions of sinners and saints can appear alike on the surface, God sees the heart. When you sin, where do you take your sorrow?
M.Craig Barnes notes, that while Peter calls Jesus “Lord,” Judas only calls Jesus “Rabbi” or “Teacher.” Many consider Jesus a great teacher, who won’t have Him as Lord. God knows His own.
Not every sorry person is free to repent. Esau was sorry, but he found no repentance. He wept bitterly when he’d forfeited the blessing. Though sorry, he didn’t turn to God. He lamented only to Isaac. (Genesis 27:38). Then he nursed a grudge. Hebrews describes Esau as “godless,” explaining:
“Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.”
God’s pardoning of our crimes is not based on “sorry.” Sin's penalty requires a payment of blood. It always has. Abel’s blood sacrifice was accepted while Cain’s bloodless one wasn’t. The Jewish laws required blood from specific and unblemished animals to atone for their sin. These blood sacrifices were a foreshadow until the Messiah would come. Because:
“… it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
When Jesus came, John the Baptist pointed to Him saying,
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Jesus let His unblemished blood be shed on that cross, to cover the debt of all our sin. God may see our sorrow, but where’s the blood? Blood was always the price God demanded for sin.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
My blood is tainted by sin, and so is yours. Only Jesus’ blood would do. Jesus was not only a man who never sinned; but also unlike us, he inherited no sin from Adam. He was conceived by the Spirit of God; not by fallen flesh. His blood alone cleanses. That is why the old hymn proclaims:
“What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”
God’s not looking for sorry. He’s looking out for His children's good. I remember once sitting with brother Mehmet, who though growing up Muslim, was now a follower of Christ. He asked me if there were a list of specific sins, found in the Bible. So we went to Romans chapter 1, starting with verse 18. When we got to both “slander” and “gossip,” he really wasn’t clear on the difference. When I described gossip to him, he understood, but he was surprised “gossip” was listed as sin. In his culture, slander was bad, but gossip was just part of conversation. We read on and two or three “sins” later, I was in the same boat as Mehmet. In verse 30 it reads,
“…slanderers, God haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful, they invent ways of doing evil, they disobey their parents.”
At, “they disobey their parents” my friend Mehmet, groaned. He groaned as if he wholeheartedly agreed! In his culture, disobeying parents is truly horrible. To be honest, I felt nothing. My generation in the US, grew up trained to question authority. When I was young, friends jeered at those who honored their parents’ wishes over their friends.’ To me, “they disobey their parents” now looked odd, placed in the same category as “God-haters.” But to this Turkic man, and apparently to God too, these two sins belong right together.
The point is that Mehmet and I could both agree that all of the sins listed (and there are many more) in Romans 1, are things God wants out of our lives. While some of these we may feel, others we’ll just have to trust that God knows best. I could start better honoring my parents. And Mehmet could catch himself whenever he finds himself talking about those not present. Regardless of our different upbringings, we could agree with God’s assessment of things over our own. What a fun discussion we had pouring over this list of sins, after we understood this! We asked God what else we might be letting slide in our lives.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Hey, whether you're feeling sorry or not, the next time you are convinced of sin, just bring your "sorry" to God. You’ll find yourself worshiping! Since sorry isn’t the remedy for your sin, move on from the “I’m sorry” part, to the: “Thank you Lord, for your Son Jesus Christ, who shed His blood and was crucified so that I could be forgiven! Thank you, thank you Lord!”
Born again children of God, don’t let your prayers for forgiveness start and end with, “I’m sorry Lord!” That is one way to start. That isn't why He's forgiven you! For those not feeling particularly sorry but yet who are convinced of some sin, “Lord, I know I have sinned,” is as good a start. Feelings aren’t the point. To enter worship, the prayer needs to get past your self to, “So thank you Lord, for the blood of Christ, that has covered the debt of my sin, and which cleanses me from all unrighteousness!” It will flow from there. And you will find yourself in the presence of the Lord.