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

5. Accept the Consequence.

Repentance is not a plea-bargain or negotiation. Repentance is not a time when we establish the “acceptable terms” for our sin. If our repentance and confession are sincere, then the need for consequences-as-punishment (to open blind eyes and soften a hard heart) is absent. However, consequences can still play a disciplinary role (reinforcing life lessons and solidifying prevention measures) and a trust-building role (providing tangible fruit to the otherwise unverifiable desire to change). It is acceptable, and often wise, for the forgiving person to request consequences of these latter kinds. However, it is not your place to define what is punitive, disciplinary or trust-building.

Begin by stating the obvious. If there are clear changes you need to make, state them in your repentance. Do not phrase them as, “I will do [blank] for you,” as if these actions were a favor or concession, or “If you insist, I will [blank],” portraying change as punishment. It is more in keeping with repentance to say, “Because I see my need to change, I will [blank].”

End by asking an open ended question. Honest questions are a sign of humility. They reveal that we are not presenting a contract or deal, but that we are seeking to be restored to a person. A simple, “Are there other ways I can show you the sincerity of my desire to change or make you feel honored?” would suffice.

6. Alter Your Behavior.

The repentant conversation is not the culmination of the journey. It is merely the drawing of the map and acknowledgement that the map is needed. If we stop at verbal repentance our lack of effort gives the person reason to say, “You didn’t really mean what you said.”

Read Luke 14:28-33Part of embracing the Gospel is counting the cost of following God and embracing the sacrifice. Obviously, it’s worth it. We give up our life of sin and its misery and we gain a life being transformed to what God intended and Heaven. But it feels painful and often we want to back out because of our doubt. The same is true with repentance, because it is rooted in the Gospel paradigm of dying to self to find life.

7. Ask for Forgiveness & Allow Time.

“I‘m sorry” is not the same thing as asking for forgiveness. “I‘m sorry” is an appropriate statement after a mistake. “Will you forgive me?” is the appropriate statement when we have sinned against another person.

Remember, forgiveness is commanded by God, but Scripture never calls on the confessing party to be the one who reminds others of this command or to insist that it be obeyed. As a general rule to promote humility and patience, allow at least as much time for forgiveness as it took you to come to repentance. It is hypocritical to expect someone else to process suffering (your sin against them) faster than you changed your sin.

8 Marks of a Bad Apology

This material was originally posted as a blog at the Biblical Counseling Coalition site.

The recognition that there are healthy and unhealthy forms of repentance is both common sense and biblical (2 Corinthians 7:8-13). On this everyone agrees; secular and sacred. The difficulty is in discerning disingenuous repentance. Mature and discerning people can witness the same conversation and walk away with distinctly different impressions about whether a given expression of remorse represents genuine repentance, sorrow for being caught, or a tactic to gain relational leverage.

In this post, I hope to accomplish two things. First, I will attempt to clarify two common misperceptions about manipulation. Second, I will discuss a series of phrases commonly used in repentance which can be red flags that the remorse being expressed will not lead to healthy relational restoration.

Misperception #1:

Manipulation is about motive (why or how something is done) more than method (what is said or done). There is no way to make a list of “manipulative phrases.” Every phrase listed below has a context in which it could be legitimate and appropriate. Manipulation is about motive (resisting change, minimizing responsibility, blame-shifting, etc.) and is most effective (in a negative sense of “effectiveness”) when that phrase/action used seems legitimate.

Implication – The explanation after each phrase below will be important to understand. If the description of how each phrase can be a part of manipulative repentance does not fit a given use of that phrase, it should not be considered manipulative.

Misperception #2:

Manipulation does not require “malice aforethought” or intellectual cunning. From my experience in counseling, most people who are using remorse to gain an advantage or avoid responsibility are not aware, in the moment, of what they’re doing. They just want to escape the discomfort of the moment. This driving desire (i.e., to escape) shapes the way they define words and frame questions.

In reality, that is what manipulation is: Manipulation is defining words and framing questions (by verbiage or emotions) in such a way that makes a healthy response from the other person seem selfish, mean or unreasonable.

1. “I know I’m not perfect.”

Your expectations that I responded decently are unreasonable. You are holding me to a perfectionistic standard. In order to avoid being confronted by you, I would have to be perfect. You should feel bad for being judgmental and harsh instead of asking me to seek restoration for what I did.

2. “I’ve never pretended to be someone I’m not.”

You knew who I was when we started this relationship so you are being unfair by expecting me to be decent. This confuses genuineness with righteousness; authenticity with holiness. By this standard, someone could be consistently hurtful and we would still be to blame for their sin because we chose to be in relationship with them.

3. “You are bringing up stuff from the past.”

We can only talk about events, not patterns of behaviors. Often this impasse is reached when the individual repenting is unwilling to see that the event (for instance, intoxication or belligerence) in question was part of a larger pattern (i.e., addiction or abusive speech). If there is a pattern of behavior and this pattern goes unacknowledged, then the level of efforts toward change will be inadequate to produce the necessary change.

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Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in  Durham, NC. He also serves as Instructor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and has authored several books including Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends and God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles.