Can Christians be prone to over-asking for forgiveness?
I don’t mean asking for the forgiveness of too many sins. 70 x 7 = more than 490. Christians are commanded, empowered, and eager to forgive when sinned against. And because of the gospel, Christians are liberated to ask for forgiveness. Jesus’s blood changes everything about us.
The trend I've noticed is the abuse and misuse of saying, “Forgive me?”
Have you ever seen a Christian asking for forgiveness when something was not a sin? Have you done this?
- “Forgive me for not texting earlier; I was in a meeting.”
- “I can’t make it because I already have plans. Forgive me?”
- “Forgive me, I ran out of flour to make cookies.”
When we use “forgive me” as a synonym for “sorry” or apologizing, we dilute and cheapen actual, biblical forgiveness. Generalizing forgiveness guts how we understand the power and fruit of the gospel, how Christ paid for sins. Careless handling of forgiveness erodes the wonder and amazement that God forgives us. How can we avoid this error? By remembering a word from Colossians 3.
Bear & Forgive
The apostle Paul shows us two buckets of personal interaction when things go south—bearing and forgiving. He wrote to the Colossian church:
“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:13).
Some interactions between Christians need bearing, and others need forgiving. Annoyances, incongruent preferences, unintended inconveniences, quirks, and anything that isn’t sin needs bearing. Many things are beyond our control that we bear no responsibility beyond acknowledging and sympathizing with the bummer, frustration, and unmet expectations. "Yeah, sorry about that." No forgiveness needed.
And on the other side, we cannot toss sin onto people. When our wants are unmet, our preferences are not preferred, or we are annoyed by someone's odd habit, we cannot label it as sin. We bear with one another. But when sin occurs—lack of love, selfishness, lies, pride, slander, anger, etc.—admission with forgiveness is the request. And forgiveness is given. Christ died for these things. He rose to set us free from these things. The Spirit grows us all in these moments, applying the power of the gospel on this two-way street of human relationships.
Are you prone to raise things to the level of sin that aren't transgressions against God's word?
For example, if we call bad traffic a sin, “Forgive me, a train was stuck on the tracks,” we welcome accusation and condemnation from Satan's factory. The gospel puts an embargo on these lies, and it will never be lifted. Jesus exterminated all imports and exports of these accusations. There is great danger in exporting and assigning unbiblical cargo to people freed by Christ. If we have non-biblical labels of sin, we are dabbling in the false spirituality of the Pharisees and their spreadsheet of codes. Grace melts our manmade religion.
Immersing in the Scriptures is the best way to protect against this virus. God's word continues to liberate us from all unhelpful spiritual practices, habits, or reflexes. The more that biblical truth becomes our operating system, the more we will reflexively embody a gospel-centered Christianity. A gospel-centered theology with a gospel-denominator spirituality and a gospel-exponent to the nth power teaches us we are free indeed. All gospel. All the time.
While we see that not everything needs forgiveness, everything is informed and empowered by the Spirit, the love of Jesus, and the word of God. Jesus helps us bear with one another. Jesus helps us apologize and acknowledge. Jesus helps us live in his community and experience real forgiveness.