Asking for forgiveness from someone we have hurt or offended can be very difficult. However, it is an important expression of our Christian identity. Our Father desires us to do this as it is essential for healthy relationships and often leads to reconciliation.
One of the most relevant Scriptures on this topic is Matthew 5:23-24. In this passage, Jesus instructs people who are presenting a sacrifice at the Temple to leave their offering if they remember that someone has something against them. They should then go and be reconciled to that person before returning to offer their sacrifice to God. Although this was directed at Jewish people presenting sacrifices at the Temple, the truth behind it is still valid today, even though we are under the New Covenant. Often, during prayer, the Holy Spirit reveals to us that we need to ask for forgiveness from someone we have hurt or offended. However, we may struggle to initiate the conversation due to fear or pride.
What does it mean to ask for forgiveness? First, let’s look at what it doesn’t mean.
Asking for forgiveness is not the same as apologizing. It is much deeper and more healing than an apology. It is not saying, “Please forgive me if what I did offended or hurt you,” as that is not taking full responsibility. It is not a cop-out. It does not mean sweeping things under the rug while hoping that time will heal the relationship. It is not simply saying, “I’m sorry.” It’s not saying, “That was not my intention.” It’s not saying, “Please forgive me,” to stop an argument, especially in a marriage or dating relationship. It’s not asking forgiveness for something we didn’t do. This often happens in abusive relationships where an abuser convinces the person being abused that the abuse is their fault.
When we go to someone to ask for forgiveness, we need to pray that God will prepare both them and us for the conversation. We need to reflect on what we did and what we’re going to say. When we talk to a person, we need to take responsibility and be specific about what we did to offend or hurt them. Saying, “Please forgive me for hurting you,” is not enough. It would be better to ask for forgiveness by including what we said or did to hurt them.
How do we know who we need to ask for forgiveness? Sometimes, someone will be brave enough to come to us and tell us what we did. We should humble ourselves before them and listen instead of defending ourselves. We can then ask for forgiveness for the things they shared with us. If we don’t know who we need to ask for forgiveness, we can pray and ask God, “Father, is there anyone I have offended or hurt that you want me to ask for forgiveness?” God has a much better memory than we do. If we don’t know how to contact that person, we can tell our Father that we’re willing to ask for forgiveness but that He needs to bring us and that person across each other’s paths.
Are we willing to humble ourselves and live as who we are in Christ by asking our Father if there is anyone we need to ask for forgiveness? If He shows us someone, reaching out and asking for forgiveness may be challenging, but this is what our Father knows is best for us and them. However, let me give you one final truth. If a person will not forgive us, then we are free. We have done what our Father asked us to do, but we are not responsible for whether or not they forgive us.