Redeeming Conflict: Confession & Forgiveness
The Seven A's of Confession
In his book The Peacemaker (pp. 126-133), Ken Sande offers a thorough outline for confessing our sins to each other when we sin against one another. Here are the steps, followed by a brief explanation.
1. Address everyone involved.
Sande points out that all of our sin is first and foremost against God (Psalm 51:4), so all confession begins as confession to God. When our sin is more than a thought or an attitude and it comes out as sin against others, then our confession should address everyone who was involved or affected.
2. Avoid if, but, and maybe
It's not hard to notice how words like if, but, and maybe shift the blame or turn an apology into an excuse. "I'm sorry if I offended you." "I'm sorry, but I was really tired." "Maybe I was wrong." To keep your confession sincere, leave these words out and accept full responsibility.
3. Admit specifically
There are two crucial truths to understand here. First, when we sin against others, we don't sin in generalities, we sin with specific words and actions. Sinful thoughts and attitudes come out of the heart through our mouths, facial expressions, gestures, and all the other ways we conduct the members of our bodies (Mark 7:20-23).
Second, sins have names (e.g., 2 Cor 12:20, Gal 5:19-21, Col 3:5; 1 Cor 6:9-10), so we should call our sin what God calls it when we confess to those we have wronged. Instead of saying, "I made a mistake," we can say things like, "I was wrong and lacking self-control when I expressed sinful anger and hostility by slamming the door."
4. Acknowledge the hurt
It's one thing to feel sorry for ourselves that we got caught; it's another thing to grieve the fact that our sin has actually caused others to suffer pain or loss. Godly grief recognizes, laments, and admits the way our sin has hurt others.
5. Accept the consequences
It can be tempting to use "I'm sorry" as a way to stay out of trouble, but genuine repentance involves the willingness to make restitution or accept the consequences of our actions.
6. Alter your behavior
One way to show you aren't just making an empty promise to "try harder next time" is to actually describe the steps you plan to take to grow and change. Are you going to talk to your Huddle or to a pastor? Are you going to read a book or study what Scripture says about your sin? Make a plan, put it into action, and communicate it when you confess.
7. Ask for forgiveness (and allow time)
You can ask for forgiveness, but you can't demand or force forgiveness. Express your sincere desire to be reconciled, and then be willing to give the other person time to forgive.
The Four Promises of Forgiveness
Ephesians 4:32 says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Everything we need to know about forgiving one another can be learned by reflecting on how God has forgiven us in Christ.
Psalm 103:12 says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us," and Isaiah 43:25 says, "I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." If we are to extend forgiveness as God in Christ forgave us, then we are essentially making four promises when we forgive (Sande, The Peacemaker, p. 209):
- I will not dwell on this incident
- I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you
- I will not talk to others about this incident
- I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship
For more, see Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004).