There are six words in the English language that people love to hear and hate to say. There is nothing special about these particular verbs and nouns, but when grouped together, they form two of the most powerful little sentences a human can utter.
It would not be an overstatement to say that these six words can alter the course of a person’s life… or even his eternal destiny. Of course, he has to actually use them and mean them for them to have any effect on his life. And therein lies the problem: people simply do not want to say them! Why is that? Because they require the acknowledgement of fault—something very few people seem willing to do.
The six words I’m referring to are, “I am wrong. Please forgive me.”
Jesus claimed that the two greatest commandments in Scripture are to love God with everything in us and to love other people with the same devotion we have to ourselves. Neither is possible without the earnest expression of the above mentioned six words.
I don’t need to tell you that receiving forgiveness for one’s sin is the primary prerequisite to entering the kingdom of God. And yet, experience tells me that while most true believers instinctively know they have been forgiven, they experience very little real affection for the Lord.
Why don’t believers love God more? I mean really love Him—something more than lip service or an occasional, fleeting sentimental feeling? Well, one thing is certain: Jesus would not have commanded it if it was not possible.
The key to solving this dilemma can be found in a simple statement He made while in a particularly challenging situation. He was eating dinner with a group of cynical Pharisees when a prostitute—clearly having just experienced God’s forgiveness for her wretched life—threw herself at Jesus’ feet and began worshipping Him. There’s much to this story found in Luke 7, but I want to highlight one statement He made that day: “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7:47 NLT)
Now, I know the Lord well enough to state confidently that His point wasn’t to say that the degree of our love for Him is tied to how much sin we have committed. He only stated it this way to accommodate these proud Pharisees. The truth of the matter is that any human being who has lived into adulthood has committed an enormous number of sins. The issue isn’t how much a person has sinned but the level of his comprehension about how much it has provoked and grieved a holy God.
To say to God, “I am wrong” in a meaningful way, indicates that the person believes that pretty much everything about himself has been wrong: his attitudes, his affections, his desires, his goals, his agenda. It’s all been wrong because it has all been conceived in his carnal, self-focused nature. To sincerely say, “Please forgive me” means that he grasps his great need for God’s pardon.
Any believer who comprehends the malignancy of his sin, the price Jesus paid to atone for it and the eternal implications of his forgiveness will find himself overwhelmed with gratitude. And it is that thankful spirit which forms the basis for real, heartfelt love for God. Yes, a person who is greatly aware of his past offenses against God will love Him a great deal, while a person who is only vaguely aware of his sin “shows only little love.”
The six words we are focused on also play an essential role in our dealings with other people—especially believers. Interacting with flesh-and-blood human beings is far more challenging than dealing with a loving, unseen Being. People get on our nerves, cross our wills, offend and even hurt us. On top of that, we have our own issues to work through. Most of us have baggage from the past which makes us suspicious of people’s intentions and overly sensitive to their remarks.
How is it possible for people with such fallen, marred natures to get along with each other? To love each other? I can tell you from having lived in “community” for a quarter century that forgiveness plays an enormous role in the process. Of course, being quick to forgive others is part of exhibiting love to others. “Above all continue to love one another fervently,” said Peter; “for love throws a veil over a multitude of faults.” (1 Peter 4:8 WNT)
But this article is zeroing in on our willingness to ask for forgiveness when we do something hurtful to another. This is not mere seminary rhetoric to me; it’s something that has played a big part in my life. There have been many times in the past—mostly during my early years—that I have hurt others with my words.
Over time the Lord softened my abrasive personality, but He also furnished me with a simple means of soothing ruffled feathers and making amends. Countless times I have gone to people and uttered those six words: “I was wrong. Please forgive me.” And nearly every time I have done so, the air was cleared and the offense forgotten.
Please understand that making myself vulnerable like this to others has never come easy. Yet, because my sins of the past and my sinful nature of today are so real to me, I find that I have no other option. I simply must humble myself when such situations arise.
Perhaps this is why I find Christians’ unwillingness to do this so grievous. In my years in the Church, I have encountered countless churchgoers who WILL NOT acknowledge fault, WILL NOT say they are wrong, and WILL NOT repent to others. People who are unwilling to humble themselves in this way are either spiritually immature or simply unsaved. Amazingly, they are usually the first ones to complain that others won’t apologize to them, being too blind to see that it is their own haughty spirits that keeps people at bay.
For myself, I plan on keeping these six words a mainstay of my vocabulary. How could I ever really love a God to whom I am unwilling to humble myself? How can I expect to love other people to whom I won’t make myself vulnerable?
It’s true, as much as we love to hear others say these six words, we find them very difficult to utter ourselves. If you have a hard time saying them, maybe you could practice them in private, just to get yourself acclimated to their sound. Go ahead, say them now: “I… am… wrong. Please… forgive… me. You might be surprised by what they will do for you!
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon