Seek forgiveness biblically.
- (‘The Seven A’s of Confession” from The Peacemaker*). Matt 5:23-24; 2 Cor 7:10-11
And then we have, how to seek forgiveness biblically, and on the back of this folder we gave you, you have the seven A’s of confession. And this is one of the reasons I carry this thing around. Maybe you’re smart enough and you’ll be able to memorize it, but it’s still a good thing to hand to counselees to take home with them, so that they can practice these things when they’re on their own. In my experience, especially in marriage counseling, there are many couples who have rarely ever resolved a conflict successfully. What often happens is, they get upset, they get a little heated. They fuss at each other and then time passes without resolution. And over time, anger, actually the bible talks about anger being like getting hot. Well over time, through entropy, the heat kinda goes away and you calm down and life goes on. But the issue was never really resolved. There are marriages where I’ve had a couple come in and the wife would say, well, in 20 years, I’ve never heard him admit he was wrong and seek my forgiveness. And I believe that. And actually, I didn’t hear the husband contradict me. There are other situations in which the couple kind of says, well, I’m sorry. Well, I’m sorry, too. Okay, let’s forget it. And I call that mowing the weeds. If you’ve got a bunch of weeds in your garden you can run the lawn mower over them or you can use the weed eater, the weed whacker, and the weeds will be cut down really low. Maybe you can cut ’em almost down to the ground. But what happens? They spring up again. And there’s some marriages, or other relationships where issues never really get resolved and now and then the weeds get mowed and things kind of seem normal again, but they’ve never really pulled the thing up by the root and there are more and more weeds and they get stronger and stronger over time.
And I think a lovely thing about the seven As of confession is it teaches you how to pull the weeds. How to seek forgiveness biblically. And to just give you a specific example, there was a couple and as they came to me the husband had been unfaithful to his wife. He had, when traveling to a certain place, met a woman in a restaurant and she welcomed more time with him. He started spending time with her. They were sleeping together whenever he traveled. He was buying her things, paying off her credit cards. They had this ongoing affair. The way the wife found out about it is the husband tried to break it off and he quit paying for the mistress’s stuff. The mistress blackmailed the husband and said, if you don’t keep paying me, I will tell your wife. By the way, that’s actually happened in two cases I’ve had in the last few years, of blackmailing mistresses who really want money. And so he still quit paying, and so the wife, one day, walks up to her car. There’s a handwritten note, letter, tucked into her windshield, and she reads it, and it’s this woman telling the whole story of the affair. And she takes this letter home. Shows it to her husband, who’s never told her a thing, and says, is this true? And he says, yeah, I made a mistake. I’ve broken it off. It’s over. I’m sorry. Don’t worry about it. And she even had a Christian friend, when it was still bothering her, and this is now months later when they came to us, and the friend is like, well you know, you should just move on. And the wife is saying, it’s really hard for me to move on. And I see some sympathetic looks from the ladies in the group, is that you know that, he hardly hit the weeds at all, did he? He just kinda, had a very high setting on the lawn mower. And so I went through these seven As with them, especially with him, to pull the weeds, not just to mow them.
Address everyone involved.
First is address everyone involved. In a case like this, and I’ll kind of blend it with another case, when the wife found out in one case, she’s crying uncontrollably for three days. The husband is sleeping on the couch. The kids want to know what’s going on. They find out what’s going on. The in-laws find out what’s going on. Which means the husband’s got work to do. The mess he’s made involves more people than his wife. And so, the people who have been affected by your sin. Another person that probably needs to be contacted very carefully would be your cohort in sin because, especially for a professing Christian to engage in behavior like that, it is disgraceful to the gospel and to seek forgiveness for having participated in or leading that person into sin. So, those who have been affected need to be approached and forgiveness needs to be sought. Now, if they haven’t been knowingly affected, you don’t necessarily have to seek forgiveness. If your in-laws never heard about it, and they were never affected by it, they don’t necessarily have to be told if they’re never gonna know. I would also add that if you have a really nasty thought about somebody and you just feel all these awful things and you wish they were dead. You think they’re ugly and if you didn’t actually behave in a certain way towards them, it’s not really profitable to say, will you forgive me, ’cause I thought you were a idiotic buffoon and I kept thinking these things about you and it was wrong of me. Confess that to God. Same thing if you have a lust problem or desire for somebody that doesn’t belong to you, they don’t need to know that. It actually could create real problems, right? If they’re not affected, you don’t need to confess it to them. And sometimes there’s sins that are just between you and the Lord, and we confess the sin to God and God forgives us and we move on. By the way, I should also add as a precursor to this, before you seek forgiveness from the people you’ve affected, first you need to seek forgiveness from God and fully repent before him. Like in Psalm 51, David said, it is against you and you only I have sinned. Now, he did sin against Uriah, Bathsheba, all the other people he involved in his adultery and his murder, but the sin is supremely against God and don’t go trying to get forgiveness from the other person if you haven’t sought forgiveness from God previous to that. Sometimes, for example, the man in that situation is tempted to look at his big issue being with his wife and not with God, and even put her in the place of God. So first to the Lord, then address those whom you have wronged, whom you have hurt.
Avoid “if, but, maybe.”
Then, avoid if, but, and maybe. If you want to know how not to apologize, watch politicians and athletes. Well if I offended anybody by my racist comments, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re offended. To say I’m sorry you were offended could be, I’m sorry you’re so sensitive. No excuses. It’s not, well, I’m sorry when you really, really provoked me a whole bunch that I was a little bit impatient. Confessing your own sin is getting the beam out of your own eye and not having anything to say about the other person’s sin. That can come later. But at this point, you are absolutely forbidden to bring up the sin of the other person and there is no excuse for your sin. You can’t say, well I just couldn’t help myself when she tempted me and came on to me, and I was lonely and I’d been off at war for six months and so, no excuses. 1 Corinthians 10:13, right? “If you turned to the Lord, he would have given you a way of escape.” And so, no excuses, no if, no but, no counter-accusation. You simply confess that you’ve done wrong.
And then, admit specifically. Very important, also. Many men, especially, go back to this husband, I’m sorry I was unfaithful. It’s a good start. Is that all? It’s not enough. One thing that helps is, you think biblically, in terms of the deeds of the flesh or the opposite of the fruit of the spirit. What are the sins that he committed? If you think of David with Bathsheba. Was adultery his only sin? No, he lied, he killed, he did all kinds of things. He stole somebody else’s wife, and just using the example of adultery, usually the biggest sin in the eyes of the wife, more importantly even than the act of sexual sin, is what? The lying, yeah, exactly. How many times have I heard a wife, it could be the husband, by the way, women do this too, saying, I can forgive the sex, but I don’t know if I can ever trust him again. And for the husband, he needs to be able, I lied to you. I was living a lie. I told you I was here when I was there. I broke the promise I made you when we got married to be faithful to you until death parted us, and every day I was living a lie until I finally confessed this to you. And lots and lots, thousands and thousands of lies go along with adultery, and to confess that openly, no excuses, admitting it. Other issues that often come up, like just in that case, he wasted a ton of money on this woman, and that was also a thing the wife was really having a hard time with is, we’re struggling to get by financially, we’re behind on our taxes, and you bought her a car? And you bought her jewelry? I’ve not gotten any jewelry lately. And so, he stole. He wasted money that belonged to them together and he stole from the family finances. Sin, especially the sin of adultery is very expensive, and so, we could go probably on and on with that list, but there are too many people who want kind of a quick get-out-of-jail, just, okay. I’m sorry for whatever I did. Let’s move on. Part of what the wife needs to be able to get past this is to, their husband will understand exactly what he has done. And I think the sinner tends to want to minimize it. Maybe the victim may be tempted to maximize it. But he needs to take the time to fully understand all of the commandments of God, and all the ways he’s hurt his spouse.
Acknowledge the hurt.
And then, the next A is, acknowledge the hurt as you apologize. She needs to understand that he’s at least made some effort to comprehend how this has affected her. When we sin, we kind of turn a blind eye to how it affects others, ’cause we’re so full of ourselves. But, again, thinking of a wife. I understand, for you, that this is gonna be hard. You’ve trusted me and you’ve respected me all of these years and I’ve shattered that. Furthermore, I know that it must be really hard, I’ll tell you this from the standpoint of, the wife is wondering, well what does she have that I didn’t have? What’s wrong with me? Am I old, fat, and ugly and you don’t want me anymore? And how hurtful that is to her personally about her own relationship to him, her own beauty as a wife and desirability, and, if you’re seeking forgiveness, again, repentance is when you get your eyes off of yourself and how you don’t like how this is affecting you and you begin to hate how it’s hurt other people and you have to do the hard work of understanding how you’ve hurt these other people and explain to them, I now understand how this has hurt you. And, this makes me hate what I’ve done all the more. But not just rushing through.
Accept the consequences.
And then, accept the consequences. This can vary. If you’ve stolen a bunch of money, the consequence is, you pay it back. If you have abused a child, you turn yourself in and you face the consequences legally. Often, the way God gives forgiveness, there aren’t that many consequences because of grace. But sometimes there are unavoidable consequences.
Alter your behavior.
Which kinda fits with alter your behavior, which is the last one, the second-to-last one. That for the husband to say, I understand that you can’t trust me and I don’t really trust myself. I can’t believe I did this and I would rather die than do it again. This has shown me how weak and how sinful I am, and so I want accountability, that I’m gonna meet with one of the pastors of our church on a regular basis. I’m gonna be accountable to him for my time. I’m gonna be accountable to him for how I spend money. That my email accounts are open to you and to him to look at anytime. My phone records, my cell phone, my text messages, my Facebook account. I’m gonna get rid of the Facebook account. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to protect me from sin and to regain your trust. And when somebody’s saying, well you just need to trust me, that’s not repentance. Repentance is saying, I don’t deserve to be trusted and I’m willing to live under very controlled circumstances to get the trust back for as long as it takes. Again, it’s not about him. It’s about her. So, I’m gonna be accountable.
Ask for forgiveness.
And then, lastly and most importantly, is to ask for forgiveness. Not just to say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry really is way too vague. Again, I’m sorry can be I’m sorry you’re offended so easily. I’m sorry can be part of it, is that I regret what I’ve done and I hate it. I never want to do it again, but a very important part of this is, will you forgive me? And what you’re asking for is essentially what we ask God for. The bible says, if you confess, if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So, when I speak harshly to my wife or I hurt her by my neglect. When I say, Caroline, will you please forgive me, I’m saying, will you please grant to me the same forgiveness you and I both receive from Christ? You’re wanting a transaction to take place where forgiveness is granted to you, and it’s not resolved until that happens. Now if you’re the one seeking forgiveness, I think there needs to be some patience. That if the wife says, I want to forgive you. I need some time. I think the husband’s response should be, I understand, and I understand I need to earn back your trust. If I’m talking to the wife, I’m gonna be encouraging her to work quickly on the path to forgiveness as circumstances warrant. So, that’s a summary of how to seek forgiveness and my experience is, I can explain that to counselees. I have a hard time getting them to do it without me there. A very common assignment I will give is, write down a list of your logs, your beams, the things you need to confess. And then, if you’ve made your list, confess it to God, and then sit down and go through these seven As and confess it together, and husband ideally first, then wife. Experientially, oftentimes when they come back not having really done it, sometimes they may bring back a list and sometimes the list is talking about the faults of the other person and not their own. There are times when you just have to take a whole session and say, okay, we’re gonna walk you through this. Mr. Smith, you begin. And just go through those seven As and hold his hand and hopefully taking him through this once or twice will teach him how to do it so he can do it on his own later. So, along with that, sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, when you do this, the other person comes around. If someone really does get the beam out of their own eye and humble themselves, oftentimes, especially thinking of Christian marriage or among Christian friends, if even one of you would confess your fault, so often the other person is convicted and their hearts melt and things get better very fast.