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7 Marks of a Good Apology vs. 8 Marks of a Bad Apology

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Repentance is an essential part of the Christian life, relational health and maintaining an accurate view of the world. Repentance is when we quit trying to make our dysfunction “work” and embrace the life-giving alternative to our sin that God offers. When we direct repentance toward a person we have offended, we often call it an apology. For this reason, Christians should be better at a good apology than anyone else.

In the context of offense (when we are the offended party), it can be difficult to be objective about whether a good apology or a bad one, healthy or unhealthy, genuine or obligatory. Motives are subjective and rarely all good or all bad.

In this post, I pull from several previous posts and resources in order to try to identify the markers of a good apology (i.e., God-honoring) and markers of a a bad apology (i.e., one that fails to accomplish God’s redemptive agenda after an offense). I hope these help us repent well when are the offending party and discern wisely when we are the offended party in a conflict.

7 Marks of a Good Apology

Ken Sande in Peacemaking for Families, his excellent book on conflict resolution, describes seven elements of repentance (bold text only). This outline is developed in the order that words of repentance would typically be spoken in conversation. Explanations and applications will be provided for each point.

* This material is an abbreviated excerpt from the mentoring manual for the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication seminar (unit 5), so while in places it has a marital focus it is applicable to any relational context.

1. Good Apology: Address Everyone Involved.

If someone was directly or indirectly affected by your sin or observed your sin, then you should seek their forgiveness. When you fail to seek forgiveness you leave that person believing you think your actions were acceptable to God (particularly damaging for children and others over whom you have leadership responsibilities). Our repentance is often used by God to awaken us to the far-reaching, unintended consequences of our sin.

Mentality: Think of relationships scarred by sin as rooms of your home infected by termites. Sin is a destructive force that enjoys doing residual damage until is it exterminated by repentance and forgiveness. There is no such thing as an “insignificant termite” in your home. Likewise, there is no such thing as an “insignificant effect of sin” in a relationship.

2. Good Apology: Avoid If, But and Maybe.

Our first tendency in repentance is to soften what we admit. Words like if, but and maybe have no place in repentance. “If” calls into question whether what you did was really wrong. “But” transforms repentance into accusation. “Maybe” indicates you are not convinced your actions were wrong and invites a conversation (or debate) that is likely to go badly and, regardless, is not repentance.

Acknowledge you violated God‘s character. Repentance is about more than acknowledging sub-optimal behaviors. It is an admission that I misrepresented the character of the God whose name I bear when I call myself a Christian (i.e., literally “little Christ” when the title was first given in Acts 11:26). When we seek forgiveness we are saying, “I failed in my life purpose to be ‘an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)’ and I want clarify what I distorted to you.”