Saying We Are Sorry
Just as we need to make things right with God, so we need to try to make things right with those whom we have hurt by our sin. In fact, Jesus said that reconciliation is so important that it is worth interrupting worship for. “If you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Unlike in our relationship with God, we do not repent to other people when we have wronged them by our sin. But we do apologize to them. The same humble attitude is required whether we are healing our relationship with God or healing our relationships with other people.
We can take the first three prayers of repentance (“I am wrong,” “I am sorry,” “Forgive me”) and turn them into statements of contrition to use with other people. Someone who has gossiped about a friend, for example, can go to the friend and say, “I have wronged you by telling stories about you behind your back. I am sorry for that. Please forgive me.”
Of course, when we apologize like this, we do not have control over how the other person will react. For our part, we open the door to reconciliation. Perhaps the other person will slam it in our face, or perhaps he or she will step through. All we can do is be ready to embrace the other if we get permission.
And then, along with reconciliation, another part of making things right is restitution.
When a crooked tax collector named Zacchaeus put his faith in Jesus, he volunteered, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” (Luke 19:8). Perhaps Zacchaeus was inspired by provisions of the Old Testament law stipulating that thieves were to pay back two or more times what they stole (see Exodus 22:1-4).
Thievery provides a clear-cut measurement for restitution: if I have stolen a thousand dollars, I need to return the thousand dollars—if not more. With other kinds of sin, the restitution may not be so easy to measure. But that does not mean we cannot still find ways to make amends.
We can set the stage for the Holy Spirit to heal the damage our sin has done to other people and to our relationships with them. Along the way, we will also be completing our duty toward God, who cares not only about how our sin has affected Him but also about how it has affected others. In this way, making things right with others can be considered a part of our repentance to God.
Repentance is essential when we have been caught in a web of sin. It takes us one long step toward healing of the soul. But it is not the last step. We cannot relax yet, because some of the fiercest fighting may lie directly ahead.