We have a problem: we live in a fallen world. But it is even worse than that. Not only do we have a problem, we are the problem. It is in us. As Jesus so rightly observed, our biggest problem is not the things outside of us, but is “from within, out of the heart of man” (Mark 7:21). And the problem gets even bigger because we walk around this planet with other people who have the exact same problem. This means that our problem is compounded, exponentially. Small wonder that we make such a mess of relationships.
Since every human relationship will break down, we need a way for relationships to be reconciled and restored. In fact, learning how to rightly reconcile conflict is essential to long-term, fulfilling relationships. Because eventually and inevitably you will cause a problem that requires reconciling.
This is why the gospel of Jesus is necessary, not just to reconcile us to God, but to reconcile us to one another. The gospel gives us reconciling tools that we cannot find anywhere else. It gives us the humility to acknowledge our sin because the full extent of our sin has already been publicly proclaimed at the cross; our sin is so bad that it required the death of the holy Son of God. The gospel also gives us the ability to forgive another’s sin against us because God has forgiven us a much greater debt (see Matthew 18:23-35). We forgive out of the overflow of God’s forgiveness; like giving away one cup of water from the Niagara Falls.
Working these out in personal relationships requires two foundational practices: confession of sin (when you have sinned against another person) and forgiveness of sin (when another has sinned against you). Yet these are not practices that we are good at on our own. Instead, we usually do them in ways that minimize our sin (when confessing) or withhold full forgiveness (even when we claim to forgive). So we need help. Some of the best biblical wisdom out there comes from a great organization called Peacemaker Ministries. Their “Seven A’s of Confession” and “Four Promises of Forgiveness” from their Foundational Principles are a gold-mine of wisdom to help us do what we all need to do.
The Seven A’s of Confession
1. Address everyone involved – Confess your sin to every individual you have sinned against.
2. Avoid if, but, and maybe – If, but, and maybe undermine confessions. “I’m sorry if I offended you.” “I’m sorry, but that was never my intention.” “I’m sorry but the reason I did it was because [insert explanation].” “I maybe could have done better.” Can you see the problems? Every use of if, but or maybe minimizes and justifies your sin, rather than fully acknowledging it. If you are not yet ready to fully acknowledge the wrong that you have done, you are not yet ready to confess.
3. Admit specifically – We need the Bible’s help to rightly understand sin. So confess your sin using biblical terms. Also use a verse that addresses your sin for what it truly is.
4. Acknowledge the hurt – Your sin has done damage. So acknowledge the harm that you have done to the other person. It will mean a lot to the other person if you empathize with and understand their hurt.
5. Accept the consequences – True confession includes the desire to do whatever you can to make things right (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).
6. Alter your behavior – Repentance requires not only confession of sin, but bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).
7. Ask for forgiveness – Don’t demand forgiveness or manipulate forgiveness. You ask; you humbly make a request. You are putting the ball in the other person’s court.
The Four Promises of Forgiveness
- I will not dwell on this incident – If and when it comes up to my mind, I will remind myself that I have fully forgiven this incident.
- I will not bring this incident up and use it against you – By forgiving I fully give up my right to hold onto your guilt and use it to my advantage. I am relinquishing the right. It is no longer mine.
- I will not talk to others about this incident – Forgiveness requires silence. It is done with.
- I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship – Full confession and full forgiveness equals full restoration.