I wrote about authentic confession this weekend. I had an interesting conversation with a friend at dinner afterwards, and she challenged my thinking on the topic of confession/repentance even farther. At issue was how to deal with partially correct accusations. I am tempted to create a hypothetical situation to illustrate my argument. But I am becoming suspicious of hypotheticals, because they are … hypothetical. It’s pretty easy to create hypothetical situations that justify particular points of view. But they are often deceptive and can be a cop out because we don’t have real situations to illustrate our ideas. So instead of a hypothetical situation, I’m going to tell you about a real one.

This week, someone dropped the ball in a way that hurt me in a ministry setting. Yet, despite the extenuating circumstances they could have used to excuse themselves, they called me on the phone and told me how very sorry they were. They didn’t offer the other good works they were doing all week as an excuse for the problem that hurt me. They just said they were so sorry and what they were going to do to repair things. It ministered much grace to me.

This person could have justified themselves.

Justify – to show by act or statement to be just or right, to defend or uphold as warranted or well-grounded. To absolve or acquit.

Instead, I think they understood that they are already justified, and not by their own works. They were willing to admit their own mistakes without simultaneously needing to look to their good works to absolve themselves. Their apology was the apology of one who understands Romans 3 for themselves.

Romans 3 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 

If you are justified by Christ, you don’t need to justify yourself. You don’t need to absolve, acquit, or generally defend yourself. You can say you are sorry for whatever wounded another and begin the work of repairing and correcting it because the gospel equips us to let go of our reputation and empty ourself of our rights. And when this kind of gospel conviction slams up against serious pain and conflict, amazing, miraculous things happen, to the praise of God’s glorious grace.

14 Responses to Justified

  1. strengthfortoday April 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    I think it is important to remember that this is a two-way street also. If such a confession is made, it needs to be accepted at face value. As the recipient, I should not unearth things to make that person feel “sorry enough”…it takes two to make this a genuinely spiritual victory. KWIM? I am grieved to remember times when my child made an apology for something and I dug up other occurrences of it from the past, or brought it up again in the following weeks or months. What on earth does this teach my children about forgiveness? We are all so clumsy at biblical reconciliation, and the ironic thing is what we hope for and can be assured of in Christ is the very thing in which we shortchange others. Oh, every day I realize more and more how much I need Him!

  2. Barbara H. April 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

    I can see the point you are making, yet many conflicts involve wrong on two sides. Maybe at the time Person A is apologizing for whatever she did wrong is not the time for her to deal with whatever Person B did wrong — then again, maybe it is, I don't know. It doesn't seem right that if Person A apologizes, Person B doesn't have to because Person A thinks she shouldn't bring it up because of what she did wrong (confusing as that may be. 🙂 )

    But yes, when we've clearly wtronged another we need to just apologize and bring up excuses. I do admit, though, that though I am supposed to forgive just based on the person's repentance, it does help sometimes to know the extenuating circumstances. So I wouldn't say they should never be brought up, but we shouldn't bring them up in an attempt to justify or excuse ourselves.

    I can think of times Paul dealt with wrong accusations.

  3. Barbara H. April 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    Oops, I meant to delete that last line because as I thought about it none of the wrong accusations he dealt with had to do with an apology on his part.

  4. strengthfortoday April 15, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    Are we supposed to forgive based on a person's repentance? Or are we supposed to forgive regardless of whether there is repentance or not, and let God have the rest of the package? In her book “Choosing Forgiveness” Nancy Leigh DeMoss advocates the latter, based upon the fact that Christ forgave us “while we were yet sinners.” (Rom 5:8) I think this is an important thing to hash out. In modern psychology circles, people talk about “closure” which usually translates into “when I feel they've repented enough” or “when I'm satisfied with the reconciliation” or some such. What if there is no reconciliation (it happens)? Is there no closure? I think closure comes when we extend forgiveness and allow God to work on the reconciliation to Himself.

  5. Wendy April 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    Thanks, Diane and Barbara. Good thoughts.

    Barbara, I hear what you are saying. There is a time to explain, and explanations can be helpful. We just can't confuse them with confession and repentance. Explaining is distinct from confession. In a small situation, sometimes explanation can follow confession fairly quickly. But in situations that are particularly charged, I think the distance between the time to repent and the time to explain is quite a bit wider.

  6. Wendy April 15, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    Diane, I need to study up on that–on the issue of forgiving even when someone doesn't fully recognize their sin. My initial reaction is in disagreement with DeMoss, but I can't remember why that is. Best not to put forward something dogmatically when you can't remember how you reached that conclusion. 😛

    However, my burden is more for situations in which the person sinned against isn't necessarily going to respond back to the sinner with grace. I am going to have to ask on occasion forgiveness from people who don't fully understand the gospel. I STILL have to confess in light of my own understanding of the gospel whether they get it or not.

  7. Steph VG April 15, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    “If you are justified by Christ, you don't need to justify yourself. You don't need to absolve, acquit, or generally defend yourself. You can say you are sorry for whatever wounded another and begin the work of repairing and correcting it because the gospel equips us to let go of our reputation and empty ourself of our rights.”

    This served my soul today. Thank you.

  8. Anonymous April 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Forgiveness… and unconditionally, oh what a difficult one for me. How thankful I am for the Lord’s clarity now and knowing obedience can come only by His mercy and power. I also have loved to use Prov 18:19a “ A brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city” to 'justify' holding onto things. I know though that it’s benefit is a useful reminder that since forgiveness is such a hard thing for us all, to try to do all I can to help make it easier when I am the offender.

    [For if I forgive other people when they sin against me, my heavenly Father will also forgive me. But if I do not forgive others their sins, my Father will not forgive my sins. Matt 6:14-15 How my heavenly Father will treat me unless I forgive my brother or sister from my heart.” Matt 18:35. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. Jms 5:16a]

  9. Anonymous April 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    I am also reminded of a very vivid lesson the Lord taught me one time when I was starting to attempt to justify some behavior to Him. He let me know that explanation of reasons are really just excuses.

  10. Clarice April 20, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    I think it's Ken Sande, in his book The Peacemaker, who talks about the difference between positional forgiveness and transactional forgiveness. We should always be in a state of positional forgiveness towards anyone who sins against us–ready to complete the “transaction” so to speak when the offender asks for their debt to be cleared (“Will you forgive me for…”) At that point, the person doesn't owe you anything anymore. They are forgiven.

    But that makes me wonder why I think anyone owes me anything! If I'm wronged it seems like the better question is to ask what that person owes God and if that debt is paid by Christ. So…offenses viewed as primarily against GOD and not me seem to be the best way to reach forgiveness.


    The above is a helpful summary of Sande.

  11. strengthfortoday April 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    What you say in your latter paragraph makes gospel sense to me, Clarice.

  12. sandygarman April 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    Wow forgiveness is such a complex issue sometimes. I found this book quite helpful, Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns. It is highly recommended as well


  13. Wendy April 22, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    Excellent recommendation, Sandy. That's a great book!

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