Anyone can seem sincere through their words, but how do we know that this time they’re really sorry? Or how do we know that we’re really sorry and it really won’t happen again? How can we tell which apology is valid and which is just an act?
The Bible gives us a handy list of signals that help indicate whether we are truly sorry or not.
2 Corinthians 7:10-11
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
- Earnestness – I’m really sorry about this.
Earnestness speaks of sincerity. A true apology isn’t something we say in one side and take back when we’re with other people – Yeah, I said sorry, just to shut her up already. True godly sorrow is something we mean regardless of who is around.
- Eagerness to clear yourself – Is there anything I can do to fix this?
Several years ago, a friend came up to me and said a high school schoolmate of mine talked to him. This schoolmate still had a grudge against me for mocking him when we were in teenagers. I remembered the incident and was horrified by how mean I was. And I quickly asked my friend for a chance to clear the air between me and my schoolmate. Sadly, I’m not always this quick to respond when I’m at fault.
True repentance involves us eagerly looking for ways to clear the air.
- Indignation – I can’t believe I would do that to you. It’s terrible.
Indignation is anger over something unfair. Many times when we’re confronted by our mistake, we’re indignant because we feel angry for ourselves. True repentant indignation is angry that something like this could be done to someone else. In a sense, we’re angry that we could do such a thing.
- Alarm – I realize that my actions were very damaging to us.
Alarm is being aware of danger, like a smoke alarm alerting us about a fire. True repentance is alarmed and realizes the danger in our wrong actions. We are repenting because we realize we’re in danger of hurting ourselves and hurting others.
- Longing – I want us to be okay because I miss you already.
Longing is a yearning desire. It’s a desire for a restored relationship. True repentance isn’t just to say sorry now, then avoid that person like the plague afterwards.
- Concern – Your feelings matter to me and I’m prioritizing this issue.
We know the feeling of someone who doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of their offense against us. But we also make others feel that way when we minimize their concerns. True repentance is saying, “I’m concerned about how this makes you feel.”
- Readiness to see justice done – I’m willing to face the consequences of my actions.
Saying sorry doesn’t excuse us from the consequence of our actions. Some people say sorry, then are surprised that they have to make restitution. That shows they were’t really sorry. They were just trying to minimize the impact on themselves. If we really mean it, we’ll face the music.
My brother blogged about this thought here as well.
Last ideas from the first part of the verse:
- This kind of sorrow is called godly sorrow. It’s something from God for us.
- It leaves no regret. As painful as it may be to apologize, at the end, you’ll be glad you did.