When asking for forgiveness, are there cautions I should consider?
Accountability and prayer support between husbands and wives, parents and children, and members of the Body of Christ are important elements of healthy relationships, but additional sharing with those who were not directly involved in an offense is potentially harmful. Ask God for discernment as you consider who was affected by the offense, and make an appropriate confession to those individuals.
Guilt is destructive mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It is meant to motivate you to keep short accounts with God and others. If you do not address the greatest offense first, you will have an exaggerated sense of guilt about trivial offenses and will not experience the relief of forgiveness until the major offense is confessed and forgiven.
This principle is illustrated in the confession of the prodigal son in Luke 15 and in David’s prayer of confession in Psalm 51. They identified basic offenses and avoided sordid details. Scripture warns, “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (Ephesians 5:12).
Talking too much can sidetrack the purpose of what you have to say. It may also give the impression that you are trying to justify or explain your offenses, with a goal of minimizing them.
Focus on what you are responsible for. If you explain all the circumstances surrounding the offense from your limited perspective, you can easily minimize your involvement and implicate others.
Don’t wait until you just happen to see the offended person. As soon as it is appropriate, find an opportunity to seek reconciliation. When you wait too long to ask for forgiveness, you tend to decrease the magnitude of your actions and increase the magnitude of what others have done.
Unless the other person asks questions about your faith or salvation during the conversation, don’t try to combine sharing the Gospel with your request for forgiveness. Your act of confession and restitution is a witness in itself, and opportunities to share more may come later.
It is possible that the one of whom you ask for forgiveness will be unwilling to give it. He might feel that you are not truly repentant. In his mind and emotions, he could have a balance of guilt and blame that would be upset if he forgave you. Give him time to see that the change in your life is real.
This material is adapted from the Basic Seminar Textbook, pages 72–75.