The two hardest words for a Christian to say.

Anyone who’s been around the church for any length of time will no doubt be able to recall a time when they were hurt by a fellow Christian. It’s not something that we ever expect to happen among those that are called to love even their enemies, but when we’re dealing with fallen human beings it is inevitable.

But what’s more troubling is that there seems to be a vital component in human relationships today that is utterly lost, and sadly, it’s even missing from those relationships within the Body of Christ. What I am speaking of is our inability and unwillingness to say the two hardest words in the human language: “I’m sorry.”

It’s amazing when you think of it. “I’m sorry” struggles violently to be liberated from our mouths while almost anything and everything else we say flows off our tongues without any restraint whatsoever (and is often the impetus behind many of our reasons we need to say sorry).

We are quick to displace blame, justify our actions, or simply ignore the hurt that we’ve caused another, but consider how much progress could be made in our relationships if we would simply bring ourselves to sincerely utter those two humbling words. And oh, how the gospel of Jesus Christ would be beautifully displayed.

The refusal to admit wrong is a burden that both parties have to bear. The wrongdoer for their wrong that has gone unconfessed, and the one wronged who now struggles to remain forgiving toward the wrongdoer and fights vigilantly to prevent animosity and bitterness from taking root in their hearts against the wrongdoer for not only the wrong, but also for the wrongdoer’s refusal to simply say that they’re sorry.

The wrongdoer may be able to sear their conscience enough to move on after the incident as if nothing happened, but the one wronged has to not only forgive the one who wronged them, but will spend a lot of time guarding themselves from the bitterness and resentment that will be ever-creeping at the door of their heart because the one at fault simply will not say, “I’m sorry.”

Ingrid Schlueter wrote a poignant piece on this very subject entitled I’m Sorry. Here’s an excerpt from her blog article (which I highly recommend):

“The words ‘I’m sorry’ when said honestly are the most healing in the human language. It seems sometimes like I spend an inordinate amount of time having to use those words for one reason or another. But I’m not sorry about that. Relations among professing Christians are in a shameful state because so few can bring themselves to say it and mean it. So unresolved issues lie there like rotting corpses, bringing a spiritual stumbling block to the offended, and a hindrance between God and the unrepentant offender.”

Is there someone you have offended or hurt (it does not matter whether they are a fellow believer or not) that you still have not told that you’re sorry or asked forgiveness of? If so, before you do anything else, humble yourself and do what needs to be done.

If you don’t know of anyone you need to ask forgiveness from, then seek the Lord in prayer and ask Him to show you if there is someone that you’ve hurt and didn’t realize it, then go and make it right.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

18 thoughts on “The two hardest words for a Christian to say.

  1. that’s a wonderful post because it’s so pertinent.

    I tell you what’s even a more painful morass is when you have apologized to a fellow believer and they don’t respond back to you at all.

    short example:
    I’ve been going to a blog(no names) for respect ,,, and I was unwittingly being basically a “blog hog”. It dawned on me and so I wrote this person(the blog owner) an email and sent it to them. In a tacit way they forgave me but I didn’t know so I thought it be much simpler to say 2 words. So I wrote a reply saying “All you had to do is say I forgive you”. I had no response and then I consulted a wise brother in the Lord and he told me I overdid it and to write another email to apologize for being out of line. So I did. Still no response.

    The whole time I kept hearing the Lord–(NO not audibly) just nudging me to give it all over to him — that how people respond to me should not CONTROL nor DEFINE how I respond back to them because Jesus is my all sufficiency.
    Well, I continued to go to that blog for months striving. This person IS a Christian (mind you). The whole time, I’m stonewalled, given the silent treatment and everyone else is given attention to. I kept giving this over to the Lord. For the most part my posts were posted but some withheld. Some were withheld for the right reasons as this person showed wisdom whenever I had a slight foray into being a tinge patronizing, arrogant or rude in my comments. However there were a handful of posts and my last post that were withheld for (I don’t know why).

    So, I finally wrote another email after all these months of not saying anything, and told the person how grateful I am for their discretion and all BUT on in I kindly stated that “as time has moved on it behooves me at this point that I (do) need to address you: I’m trying to be as gentle and patient as I hope to be like Jesus is with me to you, but your vagaries in handling some of my posts are (sometimes) questionable and untrustworthy in my estimation.” yadda, yadda, yadda…

    STILL NOT ONE REPLY!!
    What in the world kind of Christianity is this?
    I’ve finally decided to not go to this person’s website anymore. If I’ve done something so, so horrible then I need to know~

    But, what really breaks my heart is, if there’s something else I’ve done that I’m unaware of to this person then I need to know so I can apologize. I cannot for the life of me understand such actions that are belying to the very character of what it truly means to be a Christian. I cannot reconcile the two. And this person just goes blissfully on as if nothing is wrong`Sigh

    This unforgiveness is destroying the body of Christ. I think that many Christians don’t believe they are accountable to people on the internet

    Anyways thanks for the post.

  2. Even though I agree “I’m sorry” is difficult to say, I find other two-word-groupings just as difficult (sometimes harder) to speak:

    1) “I’m wrong.”
    2) “My fault.”
    3) “Please forgive…”
    4) “Oops.”
    5) “Obama won.”
    6) That was “My mistake.”
    7) “I’ve sinned.”
    8) “Cubs lost.”
    9) “Latter-day ‘Saints.”
    10) “Reproductive Rights.”
    11) “Praise chorus.”
    12) “Seeker friendly.”
    13) “I failed.”
    14) “Emergent Church”
    15) “Free Will”

    Todd
    Texas

  3. @Todd “Obama won” we don’t have to (say) it though.

    Now I do find it hard for many Christians to PRAY for Obama as Paul has said in Scripture we should all do…1 Timothy 2:1-3

  4. RE: not praying faithfully for Obama…..an additional two hard words…I’m guilty.
    I have prayed for him to make wise decisions, and that the Lord would guide him. I’ve also prayed that someone would remove him. I don’t think it’s wrong or a sin to pray that somehow, someway, he’d be “removed” from office in the most expiditous manner possible.

    Todd
    Texas

  5. Apologizing can be difficult..I, however, seem to have the opposite problem. I over-apologize. I apologize even if whatever happened wasn’t my fault. I have this way of never wanting to bother or offend anyone….

  6. Hi Pilgrim,
    Forgiveness is a very important quality and stems from the free and overflowing favour of a compassionate and caring God who forgives freely, willingly and joyfully all who turn to Jesus from their wrongdoing in thought, word and deed and in the way we treat others.

    When we yield to the gracious prompting of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to forgive those who have wronged us. Thanks for this reminder.

    Hi Linda,
    I am an Australian but I do not see why any Christian would find it difficult to pray for Obama., unless you hate his politics I quite like his politics, but all of us are flawed (including Obama). Most Australians see Obama as quite middle of the road in his politics, but I am not sure about Americans. Since he is the leader of the “free world”, I pray that he will display compassion, champion the rights of the poor and the needy and govern wisely.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  7. Hi Pilgrim,

    I just wanted to clarify what I wrote. Everyone, Christian and non Christian, has a capacity to forgive. All human beings are created in the image or likeness of God. Yet we all fail to forgive, sometimes.

    Yet I think that forgiveness should be more readily forthcoming in the church if people are guided and led by the Spirit of the compassionate One.Yet in may churches, it is often sadlylacking.

    If human beings are to know that we are Christ’s disciples, then our willingness to forgive others when we are wronged should be paramount. How will people know we are followers of the compassionate Jesus unless they see compassion displayed in our lives and lifestyle. Our words also should match our behaviour.

    Many thanks for your post.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  8. John Arthur,
    I don’t know if you ever get this…but when I first saw the comment…I thought it was John MacArthur commenting on DefCon!

  9. @John Arthur,, about forgiveness that we all have the capacity to forgive. Unbelievers do not have the ability to truly forgive from their hearts because forgiveness begins with us repenting FIRST. Against a holy, righteous, just and good GOD we have sinned. Forgiveness cannot be given to others truly unless we have been forgiven…

    I KNOW from my life. I speak as one who was molested by my own father. And all my life I hated my dad and I wanted to kill him. That anger, hate and bitterness made me unhappy and it also caused me to justify myself in always pointing my finger at other people as the source of why I was so hurt. In other words I was always blaming others for their sins against me.

    When God saved me back in 1997, I saw for the first time that (I ) had sinned against God and how ugly (I) was before a holy God. Jesus never, ever did me wrong and I had sinned greatly against Him. That’s the first time I measured my life properly against God’s holy standards and stopped blaming my dad.
    All that hate, bitterness and anger I had in my heart was GONE. I realized that was the symptoms of MY SINS against GOD that I was holding as a wall that only Jesus’ precious blood was able to wash away. I was hurting myself the whole time.
    Point is when it comes to true forgiveness–for the first time when I was forgiven by God and ONLY then AFTER God forgave me, was I able to truly forgive my dad and it freed me from the prison I was in. I don’t hate my dad anymore but I love him -truly love him.
    I don’t even think about all he did anymore. Before I was saved every single day of my life even when I said I forgive him was just lip service. I could not FORGET what he did before and it hurt me over and over. NOW I no longer remember it except to bring it up as a living testimony of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ in my life.

    Unbelievers cannot forgive except on a surface level. Some to a degree but it shows up in a different way in their lives and will haunt and destroy them. Whether it be alcohol to numb the pain, over eating, workaholics, losing oneself in hobbies or becoming religious etc. They’ve never been able to truly forgive because their guilt remains. Only when we go to the cross and fully abdicate our lives to Christ on his terms and according to Scripture do we finally have the genuine love to WANT to RUSH –be eager and forgive people.

  10. Hi Linda,

    “unbelievers do not truly have the ability to forgive from their hearts because forgiveness begins by repenting FIRST.”

    I think that you are confusing how forgiveness comes from God and the ability of non Christians to forgive other people. Look empirically and see how people behave. We have people who tend to be kind and compassionate and we have many who rarely are. The way we treat others does not seem to be related to whether we are Christian or not. On average, do Christians forgive more readily than non Christians? I am not sure whether we could substantiate this.

    People are forgiven by God when they respond to his free and overflowing favour. If we continually refuse to respond to God’s compassion and kindness, we reject his grace supremely displayed in the life and death of Jesus.

    While a genuine response to God’s free offer to make us whole ought to result in us becoming more whole today and tomorrow than yesterday (in spite of many ups and downs), many Christians refuse to walk in the way of grace and display the gracious lifestyle that enables us to forgive. Non Christians can, and often do, by God’s common grace ,display more forgiveness than many “born again” Christians who refuse to “walk in the Spirit”. These non Christians do so without “special grace” as those of you who are Calvinists would call it.

    I am genuinely sorry to hear that you went through so much abuse at the hands of your father.No person should be put through the pain, heartache and agony that such abuse causes.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  11. Thanks for your kind response John Arthur~

    “I think that you are confusing how forgiveness comes from God and the ability of non Christians to forgive other people.”

    Yes I agree in general people do have God’s “common grace” to forgive. But we can’t get “common grace” confused with special supernatural grace from God that only comes when we are born again. They are not the same. Unbelievers can do many things such as be good citizens and even be very moral but that’s not the same. If Unbelievers can pretty much do what Believers can do then what was the point in Jesus dying for us on the cross? Our true condition is we are rotten to the core and dead in our transgressions, Our corrupt hearts without Christ’s cleansing blood washing it clean cannot forgive

    No sir,,I’m not confusing the 2 neither. I know what happened to me and that It really does begin with God forgiving us first-(a ACT on God’s part) before we can truly forgive others. Like I stated before Unbelievers do not have the ability to forgive from their hearts because Forgiveness is supernatural.

    I know because I didn’t have the ability-I was incapable before I was saved to forgive my dad. I know also because (the moment) I was forgiven by God and the flood of God’s witness flooded my heart it was RIGHT AFTER I was saved that I could not WAIT to tell my dad what had happened to me and I could not WAIT to say “I forgive you dad and I love you”. NEVER in a million years plus could I have ever done that before I was saved. I went over to my dads house sat him down and told him at the table. That had to start with God first and knowing the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood and His Grace. I had to know God’s GRACE and His love flooding my heart FIRST before I could EVER forgive my dad. Unbelievers don’t have this

    Yes they can forgive to a degree but not truly forgive from their heart.

    Example: I have a sister in law who is not saved and one of her brothers sexually abused her when she was little… When I shared what God had done for me with her one day she was bitter in the fact that she said “I can forgive him but I don’t have to FORGET what he did to me”.. That’s not forgiveness. And I understand where she’s coming from–I WAS THERE. She can’t she’s incapable of truly forgiving. Forgiveness is forgetting what a person did to you as well. WE can’t do that before we are saved.

    You said “many Christians refuse to walk in the way of grace and display the gracious lifestyle that enables us to forgive.” I wholeheartedly agree. It takes Divine Supernatural power to forgive and it takes Christians yielding themselves to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit. It takes making the CHOICE to forgive whether you “feel” like it or not. Most of us tend to base forgiveness on our feelings rather than on choosing to forgive and let it be in the Lord’s hands. For others it may be a process that they have to learn to walk through with Jesus.

    God forgives us because His holiness was satisfied in Christ. So when I came to the cross and was forgiven of all my sins, I’m redeemed and FREE and know that when/if someone denies me that right they are not really denying me that right because Jesus already pardoned me–they are only placing themselves in their own prison of unforgiveness and it grieves my heart the suffering they are going through

    I have and all Christians have been given the POWER –RESURRECTION POWER to forgive, to LOVE, to Obey God IN SPITE of what’s going on around me, outside of me and subjective experiences and whether things go well or not in my life. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace and joy IN the Holy Spirit. Obedience comes from FAITH-Rom.1:5. Faith in Jesus Christ. THAT”S God’s LOVE and FREEDOM and that’s how Jesus loves me. ”

    Forgiveness is one of the major marks of a true born again believer-Christian. If a person claims they are a Christian and does not forgive for the most part, then they seriously need to examine their lives.

  12. Hi Linda,

    “Yes they can forgive to a degree yet not truly from their heart”.

    I know a couple of atheists who do forgive, and ,it seems to me, truly from their heart. Neither you nor I can read the depths of any person’s heart but we can observe their behaviour.

    I have experienced more compassion outside the churches than inside. Yes, “:born again” Christians are very loving when you accept Jesus as your Saviour and acknowledge him as Lord, but just begin to reflect on the faith and come to different doctrinal conclusions and see how much love there is. Make a few mistakes and see how much forgiveness there is.

    I have been kicked from pillar to post by Evangelical Christians but I forgive them. I am not attending their churches any more because I don’t want to be subject to their attempts to domineeer. I am free, free from Fundamentalism and free to love others. I am willing to have a cup of coffee or tea with them and talk to them on a one to one basis, but many of them are unwilling.

    I have found more tenderness, compassion and understanding from these two atheists than from most Christians. One was an ex-Evangelical Christian whose son went to prison while he was a committed Evangelical serving in his church. So many Christians in that church just shuned him and his wife for something that was not their fault. They used bible verses to justify their hateful behaviour. He eventually became an atheist. He has a heart of compassion for people and so does his wife. They have forgiven the shocking behaviour from Christians. They have a cup of coffee with me, quite often.

    The churches need a good dose of FORGIVENESS to be displayed by THEM towards others, otherwise the drift from the churches will just continue and the church in the western world will DIE.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  13. John you have quite a story.

    Jesus already has forgiven us at the cross but the majority of men throughout history will never ever receive forgiveness that comes from God because they won’t repent. Can’t receive what a person refuses ~

    In my estimation from your story, the atheist friend(s) of yours have shown they have not forgiven. People can go on with their lives with being happy and kind and very loving. You said that “One was an ex-Evangelical Christian whose son went to prison while he was a committed Evangelical serving in his church. So many Christians in that church just shuned him and his wife for something that was not their fault. They used bible verses to justify their hateful behaviour. He eventually became an atheist.”–

    I don’t mean to sound harsh in any way whatsoever, but I have to be frank with you–sincere and serious with you:

    If that’s truly a picture of your friend forgiving people (who is a atheist now), then why did he become an atheist? Christians don’t renounce their faith in Christ. That’s belying to their very character of who they are in Christ and contrary to a heart of true forgiveness by GOD. Your friend may not have truly forgiven anyone and especially GOD and the evidence is renouncing his faith to being an atheist.

    according to God’s word— 1Jo 2:19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

    We tend to see the social context of sin rather than its divine context. Human relationships are more important to us than relationsips with God. Consequently it shocks us when David states in his confession, “Against thee, thee ony, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight.” We ask in protest, “Against God only? What about his sin against Uriah?”

    POINT? Extremely important point: The people who wronged your friend sinned against God ALONE not your friend nor YOU. When we SIN we sin against God ALONE.

    But we fail to see the point. We fail to SEE our sins before God that WE have done the exact same thing to Jesus Christ. Forgiveness begins with the LORD.

    In either case hope is in God ALONE and it is irrelevant to how people respond whether they repent, are ugly to us, never apologize. Our relationship with people should be solely based on God. He can pardon and cleanse because of who he is “a righteous God and a Savior,”
    David chose to justify God rather than himself and WE must do the SAME even when someone offends and insults us–“I know my transgresssions…. So that thou art justified in thy sentence.”
    THOU ART JUSTIFIED not us.

    We fail to see why sin against our neighbor is so wrong and we fail to see why our “self righteousness” is so WRONG just the SAME. Our God is too small and our concepts of sin too innocuous. God is not to be used as the rubber stamp for what (we) approve or disapprove, for he is the holy and mighty defender of the wronged, the despised and the weak. Social sin is sin directed against God’s very person. How people treat us has no bearing on who we are in Christ.

  14. I want to correct this statement I made because GOD doesn’t need any forgiveness–
    “Your friend may not have truly forgiven anyone and especially GOD”–

    I I meant that your friend may not have truly forgiven anyone and is angry with GOD and has not received forgiveness from GOD by making peace with HIM.-Proverbs 19:3.

  15. Hi Linda,

    You ask “why did my friend become an atheist?” You also assume that he was not a Christian in the first place and that my friend is angry with God. You hold strongly to Calvinist presuppositions and this perspective controls the way you interpret the bible, and I understand where you are coming from. However, these are not my presuppositions, so I interpret his departure differently. I think he was a genuine Christian.

    I have known him for many years. We went through seminary together. I do not think that he is angry with God, though perhaps he may have once been. I am not sure. He simply now thinks that God does not exist. As he has pointed out to me, how can you be angry with a non existent being.

    He simply does not believe that the bible is the Word of God, in any sense. He sees it as the writings of fallible human beings in ancient and sometimes barbaric contexts. He still likes Jesus and, like me, seeks to follow his way of compassion and peace.

    Perhaps, one day he will return to God. Neither you not I know what will happen. So I do not know that you can definitely conclude that he has departed forever as you assume in your quote from 1 John.

    Shalom,

    John Arthur

  16. No sir, I don’t “Assume” anything. My basis is the word of God. There’s nowhere in Scripture that a person can be a Christian and then they become an atheist or unbeliever. Either a person according to God’s word is truly born again or he/she never was (never) a Christian to begin with. That’s what God’s word teaches systematically and I’m simply passing what Gods’ word says to you.
    This has absolutely nothing to do with “MY” subjective views but as it is the word of God and what Scripture actually teaches. It mostly it hinges on whether you’re going to deal seriously and faithfully with the word of God. I gave you a verse that is perspicuous and not ambiguous. It’s not viewed with skewed Arminian or Calvinistic views. it’s just the plain word of God`

    As far as your friend coming to the Lord, I hope he does. Until then pray that God will grant him the fear of the LORD

    May God be glorified and Magnified

  17. Hi Linda,
    John is speaking to a certain people “who went out from us” whom he calls antichrists who deny that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 john 2:18-27 & 4:1-3). This book is written to deal with this specfic problem.

    There was a group in this church who claimed to be speaking under the influence of the Spirit (4:1) and although it is not known for certain what their exact beliefs were, most scholars believe that this group (who opposed the community’s teaching) was in some way connected with Docetism, the belief of some early Christian groups that that Jesus was a spirit and was not truly human.

    It was this group that the author is referring to when he said: “They went out from us , but they did not belong to us; for if they belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out made it plain that none of THEM belonged to us”.

    The subject of this passage is not about the issue of the perseverance of the saints or as some would call it “the eternal security of the believer” and whether one who was converted could or could not fall away from grace. It is dealing with a specific group within the Johanine churches in the first century.

    Now, there are some principles that are applicable from this book to today but before we assume that someone who has left Christianity (after giving strong evidences in their prior Christian life that they were dedicated Christians with the fruit of the Spirit in abundant evidence) were never Christians, we should be careful before we apply this passage to them. We don’t know whether their departure is temporary or permanent. Don’t “born agains” sometimes “backslide” as you Evangelicals put it? After all, neither you no I can see the future.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  18. Well, I was going to reply to you,, but John I have some important things that have come up this morning that require my immediate attention with my son. I’ll have to leave this very real and important issue with someone else and pray the Lord’s will be done. Maybe I can reply later if it pleases the Lord to do so or maybe he would rather me digress~

    Take care John,
    Linda

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