There is a particular kind of freedom that comes when you believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Contrary to the definition of freedom that runs rampant in the culture today, the freedom from moral constraint and self-determination, the gospel frees us at a deeper level. The gospel frees us to be who we were made to be in Christ – we are free to live in the light of acceptance, fellowship, and obedience with and to God. And that kind of freedom has all kinds of “sub-freedoms” that come along with it:
- We are free from the fear of death (Heb. 2:15).
- We are free from the anxiety of tomorrow (Phil. 4:6-7).
- We are free from the law of sin (Rom. 8:2).
And the list could go on and on, getting even more and more specific. And down that list of freedom, we find something that we might not have expected. That is, that the gospel frees us to apologize rightly. And this is good and needed news, because the last several months have been a clinic in how NOT to apologize for something.
Christians, of all people in the world, should be the best apologizers. Not because they necessarily have more to apologize for, but because the gospel frees us to apologize rightly, changing our apologies in at least these four ways:
1. The gospel allows you to acknowledge what you did.
An apology has a disingenuous ring to it when it’s colored with explanation and justification. An “I’m sorry, but…” is really not an apology at all; it’s speaking out of both sides of our mouth. It is a refusal, at some level, to own the full culpability of what we did. But the gospel changes that.
Because Jesus has already owned the ultimate penalty of our sin, we can own the fault in our sin against another. And we can do without equivocation or explanation. In a way, the gospel simplifies our apologies because it boils them down to an absolute ownership of what we did wrong. Only the confidence that comes in knowing one is justified before God can free a person to stand up and fully acknowledge what they have done.
2. The gospel allows you to empathize with who you wronged.
Many times we apologize simply to get past a conflict. We want to move on quickly, so we say the words, but we never put ourselves in the place of the person we have wronged. We don’t do that because it’s very uncomfortable to do so; it makes us realize the true gravity of what we have done. But the gospel changes that as well.
Because we have been freed from the need of self-protection and self-advancement, we are free to fully empathize with another. We can, the best we are able, actually try to feel the deep level of wrong we have inflicted on another. We can weep with those who weep without self-pity. In other words, the gospel makes our apologies go to a deeper level – the level of the heart. The level of true pain.
3. The gospel allows you to own the consequences.
Sometimes we apologize expecting that if we can work up enough emotion and sincerity, that there won’t be any lasting consequences to what we have done. And if there are, then we begin to feel a sense of entitlement and bitterness because of those consequences. After all, we reason to ourselves, I apologized. Why can’t they just let it go?
True enough, the gospel frees us from the eternal consequences of our sin. And that’s good news. But there are other consequences for our sin that are not eliminated; instead, the gospel frees us to stand underneath the weight of those consequences without bitterness. When we are freed from the need to advocate and prove ourselves to others, we are also free to accept the consequences of our actions, all the while trusting that God can and does redeem relationships through His grace.
These are days of apologies. Some good; some bad. But in the public arena, as well as the private one, our apologies should not be untouched by the gospel. Like all parts of ourselves, our apologies must be informed and shaped by the cross of Christ.