The first two definitions of “apology” in my Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary are 1} a formal justification; a defense; and 2) an excuse. The original word is Greek, apologia. Paul used it in Acts 22:1 and 25:16 when he made his “defense” at his trials. Understand this, in no way was he admitting wrong, and none of us would have expected him to. He was in trouble for preaching the gospel. He was defending himself, giving “a formal justification.” That is not the kind of apology I am talking about either.
Yet that is exactly the way most of us apologize—we defend ourselves. We say, “I’m sorry you got hurt,” placing the fault on the other person, instead of “I’m sorry I hurt you.” We say, “If I did anything wrong, I’m sorry,” as if to call in question the one we are “apologizing” to. We give excuses for why we did what we did to make sure everyone knows “it wasn’t my fault.” We do everything we can to avoid admitting wrong.
Webster finally gives this as his last definition: “An admission of error accompanied by regret.” More to our point, this is the definition Jesus gives: if he sin against you seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to you, saying, I repent; you shall forgive him. Luke 17:4. If he “turn again to you saying, I repent.” No defense, no excuses, no justification, just “I was wrong.” Have you ever apologized that way?
I daresay most of us have not. Yet that is exactly the way we are to apologize to God too. Have you? Or do we, in our prayers, justify ourselves with phrases about being “only human,” or about “how hard it is, Lord,” or even “how mean he was to me first—you know he provoked me, Lord.” What God expects from us is change for the better, Vine’s definition of the word. That necessarily involves admission of guilt. If not, why would we need to change? And that is the same word Jesus used in Luke 17: 4. “I repent,” plain and simple.
So I ask you again, have you ever truly apologized in the Biblical sense, what Jesus called “repentance?” The next time you begin with, “I’m sorry,” just stop after that second word. Don’t allow yourself excuses or justification. Just apologize. You cannot correct error in your life without admitting it first, and once it’s been admitted, if you truly are a child of God, the responsibility to change cannot help but affect you.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5.